I spent these past few days in a near-panic. I usually meet problems with a drill, ready to crash through the issues at hand. In most situations, I believe that “Shit is gonna happen, so you just have to deal with it.” On any normal day, even if I break down, I’m back on task an hour later.
On any normal day, I’m not in pain. In most situations, problems don’t terrify me. I usually have an idea what to do, but this past week was not normal. Something was encroaching on my body, growing steadily across my back, and adding stress to my shoulders.
A rash ran across the right side of my back.
At least, that’s what I saw on Sunday Night.
While packing up items for the following morning, I noticed my back was a bit itchy. Running my fingers across my back, I discovered bumps and concluded that I must have some bothersome pimples. I started examining the pimples so I could target them in the shower. I removed my shirt, revealing a stretch of red bumpy skin running from the center of my back to under my right shoulder blade. Great, a rash, now what could that be from? BreAnna indicated my computer bag as the culprit. My mother suggested a new chemical might be the cause, so perhaps the addition of fabric softener when washing my clothes was a bad choice. I activated my astounding powers of deduction and concluded that New Fabric Softener + Irritation from Computer Bag Strap = Rash. However, I still had two problems 1) Yesterday was laundry day, and 2) I still needed to carry my computer around.
My best solution for this issue was to shift my computer bag around so that the strap would run under my left shoulder blade.
My right side felt sore, but I had to carry my computer bag on my right shoulder because I didn’t want to irritate the area under my right shoulder blade with the bag strap. I was beginning to worry, and by evening I’d trashed the concept that my muscles were sore. Instead, I had to accept that my rash was causing me pain, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Each morning I looked at the monstrosity developing on my back. It wasn’t getting smaller, in fact, it seemed the red area was reaching further under my shoulder blade. What creature had attached itself to my back? Could it be a mold? Why won’t it stop? It’s hurting worse, and I don’t know how to prevent that. I’d taken a shower, washed the area carefully, applied skin cream, and in response, the rash claimed more of my skin for its own.
In class, I was accosted by burning sensations alternated with throbbing pain of various degrees. I wanted to run home, weave a cocoon, and shed the diseased skin from my body. I couldn’t focus on class, feeling pain each time I moved my arm or shifted in my clothes. My salsa dancing class was only distraction I received from the alien patch on my back. Dancing from step to step, learning to keep up with the fast beat, I forgot about the rash until it sent me a wave of pain every time we paused to learn new steps.
I began seriously considering seeing a doctor, but I wondered if I could still possibly solve the rash issue myself. Then I woke up on Wednesday.
10 minutes after I woke up, I wanted to cry. Pain was screaming through my shoulder and I located definite confirmation that the rash was taking over my body. The rash that covered my back had crawled onto my chest in the course of one night. I started to freak out, saying, “That’s it, I need to see a doctor!” I arrived at Professor Trader’s to babysit Jade, and I mentioned the rash to him. He listened to my description of the rash, and said it might be shingles. I Googled shingles, and learned that shingles is adult chicken pox, appearing as a blistering rash with burning pain. I reexamined my rash in the bathroom and discovered that the “pimples” on the “rash,” were actually blisters. Holy Shingles! I finally had a name for my rash, but the only thing this did was convince me I needed medication.
That evening, I was still babysitting Jade because Dr. Trader had a meeting. Jade wanted to play a monster game, but moving was painful for me, so instead we watched videos on my computer. Soon, my friends in Maryland began getting on skype, and Jade had a chance to chat with my friends (her new favorite activity). My boyfriend, Anthony, and I had a minute to talk on skype, and I explained my medical problem. I nearly cried, but Jade was sitting nearby and I didn’t want to scare her. The entire week I had been holding back tears, but I wasn’t about to let them lose just yet.
When I arrived home that night, I examined my Hungarian insurance card and discovered that the number I needed was a 24-hour number for people who speak English. I immediately called, and after some confusion over the spelling of my name, I was told someone would call me in the morning to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Thank goodness.
That night, even though I had released some stress, I couldn’t sleep. The searing pain on my back compelled me to shift from side to back to front to side in my bed.
I woke up exhausted after only a few hours of sleep. I’d set my alarm for 7am because I was not going to miss the call for my appointment. I woke up and forced myself to stay awake. Every few minutes I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t come and gone. At 8:00, BreAnna and I headed off for school, and I was probably stressing her out as I worried when the company would call me. Right before class, around 8:20, my phone rang, and I nearly dropped my phone as I tugged it from my pocket. The insurance company shuffled me around from one person to the next, with frustrating music filling the minute or two between each person. At one point a man, who I believe was a doctor, got on and asked me to describe something. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but after making him repeat himself 5 times, I grasped that he wanted me to describe my symptoms. When I finished, he told me, “Don’t worry, it’s only a rash.” I could have screamed loud enough to smash a window. Instead, I very firmly told him, “No, it hurts too much. It hurts, and it won’t stop. I don’t know how to make it stop. I want someone to look at it.” By this point, I was frantic, and he shuffled me down the line to the next person. I felt I was finally getting somewhere with the last woman, but then she told me, “I’ll call you back.” All I could manage was, “ok.”
I flopped down in my seat for class. Luckily, we had individual work to complete, so even when the pain caused me to halt my work, I wasn’t missing anything. When class ended at 10am, and I hadn’t received my call, I was a mess. Since I hadn’t yet set up the morning appointment I wanted, BreAnna, Clare and I decided to go to the immigration office instead. On the trolly, I finally received my call, and the woman told me I had an appointment for 1:30pm. I agreed, determined to make the appointment, no matter what I had to miss.
When I called the insurance company on Wednesday night, I knew if I had to, I would miss class, the immigration office, meeting BreAnna’s friend, almost everything we had planned for Thursday, just to see a doctor. Instead, I was able to make class, and go to the immigration office. Then shit happened again. Clare and I were taken care of within 5 minutes, but after 25 minutes BreAnna was still waiting for assistance. Since she was supposed to meet her friend at noon, I volunteered to pick up her friend, Elise, who was visiting from Spain. I met Elise and gave her directions and an update, then rushed off to my apartment. I got to my apartment at 12:45 and looked up directions to the office for my appointment.
1:00pm, I ran back outside, with 30 minutes to reach the doctor’s office. I jumped on the trolly for a few stops, located the metro and emerged a few blocks from where I needed to be. Luckily, I had 10 minutes to find the office. I reached the correct street, and then had to ask for assistance at which point I learned that I was merely on the wrong side of the street.
In the doctor’s office, I described my symptoms, and he named it as “herpes zoster,” the official name for shingles. He then took a look at my back to confirm his assumption. Professor Trader’s guess on Wednesday was correct, I had shingles all across my back. For more details on shingles, please see: Shingles (Herpes Zoster).
“Shingles,” is a really creepy name, and it fits the disease which is itchy, gucky, and painful. The doctor gave me three prescriptions; an anti-viral pill, a pain-killer, and an anti-itch powder. I returned home armed with my prescriptions. I was relieved to gain the appropriate medicine, but by this point, I was pretty hungry, so I met up with BreAnna and Elise for lunch. Then, I headed off to babysit for Jade. However, the pain was still haunting me, and I could only take the pain killer twice a day (once in the morning, once in the evening), so I was waiting until it was nearer to my bed time.
After explaining to Jade that I was in serious pain, she suggested I just relax on the couch. I tried working on my computer, but I was still in pain, so I took her advice and lay down. I never intended to fall asleep, certainly not while I was supposed to be babysitting a 6-year old, but I lost consciousness. I woke up suddenly to find Dr. Trader and Jade debating whether or not I was alive. Apparently, I scared Dr. Trader because he told me I woke up with blood-shot eyes, and as I tried to get off the couch, I kept wincing. It was time to take the pain medication.
I mixed the powdery pain-killer into water, took a sip, and nearly spit it out. It was a vile mixture that made me gag as I attempted to drink it. After watching me force part of the drink down, Dr. Trader got me a spoon-full of honey. Mary Poppin’s advice wouldn’t work in this case. Sugar can’t coat the tongue in the same way honey does, and I was able to slowly consume the rest of the medicine. Then, the pain left. It didn’t completely go away, but diminished enough that I nearly cried.
I could relax. I learned what was causing me pain, I got medication, and I knew the rash would soon heal. I finally cried, sobbing out the pent up fear and stress I had been carrying all week.
The shingles are officially healed. I still have a slight rash, but the medication was only for 14 days. The rash is slowly disappearing, and other than a bit of itching and a few pricks of pain, I’m fine.
Read Full Post »