So Sure and So Wrong
They were the treacherous triumvirate that hid like trolls under fairy tale bridges waiting to snatch unsuspecting saddle-shoed children as they skipped merrily by at the close of an otherwise carefree day. Mumps, Measles and Chicken Pox. Though rather Seuss-ian in name, make no mistake, in the days before vaccines for these three, they barred the way to our adulthood like invulnerable dragons. We simply had to let them do their worst before we could pass. How well I recall the heavy discomfort and freak show visage I had with the mumps. When the measles struck I ran a fever so high I still remember all the furniture shimmering like liquid. But I was always too fast for chicken pox. Try as they might, they could never quite manage to catch me. It is a part of my family lore and legend: I never had chicken pox. “Remarkable!” “Amazing!” These were the astonished comments uttered by the mothers of my playmates as they placed cold compresses on the foreheads of their itchy, irritable children and warned them not to scratch. I myself vividly recall being quickly packed up and bundled away from any spotty child who happened to be anywhere in the vicinity.
As an adult it was, I’m ashamed to admit, with a mixture of pity and unflattering smugness that I watched the television ads for the new shingles vaccine. As the poor sufferers recounted their tales of woe, I stared blithely down from my safe, impregnable mountain secure in the knowledge that their affliction could never touch me. It is a well known fact that one cannot get shingles if one has not had chicken pox and I, it was just as well known, had never, no never, had chicken pox.
So here I was, on the eve of epiphany, staring like a codfish at my doctor as she squinted knowingly at the small, oddly painful, spot on my forehead and stated emphatically, for the second time, “Shingles. Yes. Absolutely."
“But, but”, I began again. “I’ve never had chicken pox.”
“Yes. As you’ve said. But I’m telling you that’s impossible. No doubt you had a mild case,
or even an asymptomatic one. It happens. But there is no way you made it to adulthood in this country, before the vaccine, and didn’t have chicken pox. No matter now. You had them. And you have shingles. Now go home, take your medicine just as I’ve told you and go to bed.”
So I drove home with a couple of bottles of pills large enough to choke a horse sitting beside me and thought. I was so certain. My parents were so certain. I called my very first friend to tell her and even she was so, so certain. But we were all wrong. About what else could I be so sure, and so wrong? It was most disconcerting. I thought of oysters, pea soup and asparagus. Long ago I decided I hated them. Maybe I don’t now. Perhaps I no longer look embalmed whenever I wear yellow. Could it now be possible I might be good at math? Ballet? Could I sing harmony now? It gave me much to ponder on the road to recovery, I can tell you.
*A personal note: I know without a doubt I have the most thoughtful readers in the land. The notes, the cards, the little movies! You all were so sweet and your correspondences made my dreadful week much less so. Thank you! Now all of you go out and get the shingles vaccine. Trust me. You don’t want this. I was most fortunate to catch it very early, when just a teensy spot on my forehead, and start strong anti-viral medications that, although they made me feel pretty crummy themselves, did the trick beautifully and stopped the process cold. I cannot imagine the alternative, though I know many people have experienced it. Now, go get the vaccine!