A Pox Upon Your House

Originally Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

It started with a stiff neck – I couldn’t turn my head, and it’s hard to be Mommy when you can only move like Batman. I did the standard things: Advil, a massage, and physical therapy before I finally gave up and went to my doctor admitting, “I need drugs.”

Armed with a few days of muscle relaxers, I got on with my life . . . dinner still had to be made after all. But a week later my neck felt sunburned and my lymph nodes began swelling. I figured the whole thing was some kind of a nasty cold, so I took zinc, and once again attempted to get on with things . . . minivans to drive, snacks to dole out.

But then, there was blinding pain. I’ve never had a migraine, but both my mother and mother in-law have suffered from them, so I knew the symptoms and resigned myself to the inevitable. They survived, and so would I.
Except after 48 hours, I thought that perhaps I would not survive. Around 2 a.m. I stumbled out of bed, brushed my teeth and washed my face. I was pretty sure that I would be found the next morning lying on the floor and some part of my pain-riddled brain thought that what mattered most was to not have mascara eyes or morning breath.

It’s the little things.

But I did survive the night, and in the morning quickly went to my doctor’s office, who even more quickly sent me to the ER to run a flurry of scans and tests. At one point they injected pain medication directly into my head, (which I was not terribly brave about). They determined I had nerve damage in my neck, but they weren’t sure why so they sent me to a neurologist.
He immediately put all the pieces together. I wasn’t dying. I didn’t have a brain bleed. What I did have (besides a clean face and fresh breath) was shingles.

“Shingles!??” I started laughing. “No way! I’m not even 40!!” (Don’t tell anyone Regular Reader, but I will be 40 by my next column. Shhhh, it’s our secret.)

He smiled.
”It’s not the norm, nevertheless you have shingles on your C2 nerve which explains all your symptoms over past few weeks.”

Well. I was relieved to not have some life threatening condition, but the pain and burning was still enough to floor me. He explained the medications they would arm me with. He explained I was only contagious to people who had never had chickenpox, or chose not to be vaccinated. He explained that I could not spread shingles because shingles came from your own dormant chicken pox virus from the first time you had it.
And then I was sent on my newly diagnosed way to spend the week lying on the couch with bags of frozen corn on my head to numb the pain. Fortunately by the time February vacation rolled around I was functional, and it turns out that shingles is way easier to endure by a pool in the tropics.

After a week of pure Vitamin D, I declared myself cured with only a lingering headache. Our family came back to the tundra rested, tanned, and in the case of our nine year old daughter, covered in bug bites. Sooo many bug bites. Bug bites on her face, on her hands, in her hair . . .

“Oh my word!”I stared at her. “You have chicken pox!!”

Really!? Yes, really. And yes, we vaccinated her. But at age three she had a mini ‘breakthrough’case and had not been a candidate for the second childhood vaccine. In hindsight that proved to be . . . wrong. But hindsight is worthless when it’s your kid on the couch taking her turn with the frozen corn. Clearly I had given my daughter a rare second case of chicken pox from my rare early case of Shingles.

We were a mother daughter statistical anomaly. We were the pox upon our house.