5:30 am in an ER and I wasn’t totally ready for jokes. But I still laughed when the doctor breezed in, glanced at my neck, and diagnosed me. He was already scribbling a prescription when I explained. “No, I’ve seen the commercials and I’m not old? Don’t you have to be like 80?” He handed over the slip of paper and pointed at my jawline. “Here too.” I’m 34! Is it even possible? HOW?! A word on the way out the door from the good doctor – “Stress.” And that’s how I found out the searing pain radiating from the back of my neck was not a bug bite or an infected cut or a cyst… I was 34 and I had Shingles.
Such enthusiasm in this shingles vaccine stock photo! Such enthusiasm and such age! Go get that vaccine, old people!
Admittedly, it had been a tough year. But who among us hasn’t had a tough year?? And besides, I was leaving THAT DAY for the French Riveria! The ultimate in relaxing? With a side trip to Paris to relax MORE? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
I had told my Mom earlier that month that my new thing was NOT worrying. Couldn’t change things anyway, so I was just going to NOT worry. Just let things roooollll right off. Travel plans hard to lock down? Doesn’t bother me. Drowning at work? Oh well, it’ll cycle out again. Biological clocks and aging bodies. WHO EVEN CARES.
Ah fuck. I cared. And we also moved that year. To a house with a mortgage payment. Four sisters, two parents, 5 nieces and nephews, in-laws. All the regular family, health, relationship things that bubble up in a big family. A better question would have been how did I not get Shingles before?
The nurse told me to take the pills and it would clear up pretty quick. Hopefully even the residual heat from the burning nerve ends wouldn’t last too long- in OLD people it can stick around for years. She was hoping mine would be gone in a few months. WUT. It also meant that I did not have stubborn acne curving up my jaw, just more Shingles! So that was cool.
Shingles Heat Map.
And the acne/shingles on my face did clear up in time for the Paris leg. I ignored the photosensitive warning and swanned all over our rented boat and sat on the rocks at our private beach with my face tilted towards the Mediterranean sun. I ignored the alcohol warning and drank champagne in Monaco and with oysters at lunch. I had more espresso at more cafes then in healthy for a healthy person. I shopped. HARD. (This did not contradict any warnings.) And every day I cried. Just a little, once or twice a lot. In the shower mostly, under the hottest water you can find in old Parisian hotel rooms. I was fucking sad and tired and in over my head and not caring meant just pretending not to care. Duh. That’s what that usually means.
So my bod hit the self destruct button and sent flames running all over the left side of body. It worked. I took the pills. Cried in the shower. Dressed up and went dancing. Told my friends why I was sad. Told my husband that I was strugs. By the time I boarded the last flight back to Chicago, the burning had subsized to a dull heat. The tightness outside and inside my head broke up. My stomach untangled and my heart slowed down. A tough year was inevitable but I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t happen.
The second part of the prescription was for a vaccine. I went to get it six weeks after the initial ER visit. As it turns out, insurance WON’T LET ME get it. I’m TOO YOUNG.