Bet You Thought I Was Writing…

Happy new year (if a bit late) to you all. If you’ve spent any brain cells at all wondering where I’ve been lately (admittedly unlikely), you probably thought it had something to do with openSUSE Unleashed. Oh, and then there were the usual December holidays; you may have been a little busy with those yourself. As for what I was doing, for the most part, you’d be right; at least until the week before Christmas. Since then, I’ve had to deal with assorted varieties of the chicken pox virus (and the US health care “system”). Lucky me!

It began when my wife began developing a rash on her face after fighting a seemingly-endless battle with a cold/sinus infection. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then the rash started scabbing over, looking moderately horrendous. Here’s where things get interesting. You see, while we’re incredibly fortunate (for US citizens) to have health insurance, neither one of us ever got around to designating what they call a “primary care physician,” that is, someone who used to be called “the family doctor,” and is now the main point of contact to the insurance company.

As a result, we had to go to Urgent Care, a standalone clinic with extended hours, but not as expensive as a hospital emergency room. This was not as bad an experience as we had feared, as she was seen swiftly and with little bureaucratic hassle. The diagnosis and identified treatment was equally swift: “Shingles”: what happens to folks when the chicken-pox virus somehow gets dislodged from its dormant state in the spine, perhaps after sneezing too much. She got a week’s worth of antivirals and some pain relievers which proved useful as the week went on. We also moved our Christmas Eve party from our house to my stepdaughter’s.

Though the doctor never asked me if I had chicken pox as a kid (you may have already gathered that I didn’t), my stepdaughter did tell us at one point that it was possible to transmit the virus via shingles. Once a week or so had gone by, we both thought I’d dodged this particular bullet. Until the last Friday of 2006.

It had been a quiet and productive week, bookwise. But when I woke up that Friday morning, I began to feel like something bad was about to happen. While I’m always tired, this was different. I made it into work (one of maybe 10 folks in my area who bothered on this last work day of the year), but it got worse as the day went on. Soon I could barely keep my eyes open, in a very literal sense. It was time to go home, which I did.

Saturday was awful, since I really couldn’t do much of anything. I had a nasty fever, no energy and the like. Despite this, by the time it was “bedtime,” I couldn’t sleep. Then a really bizarre thing happened: my fever broke, and I woke up rested, comfortable, and thirsty. Having put our New Year’s Eve plans on hold, we started unfreezing them — until I went to take a shower. Red spots had begun to appear on my chest.

Oh man, here we were, having heard a billion awful stories about adult chicken pox, and it was Sunday, and New Year’s Eve. The urgent care center we used earlier was indeed not open that day. The good news was that we arranged to have a nurse call me with information at some point later in the day. Waiting two hours for the call was moderately annoying, but after a brief recitation of the symptoms, she agreed that this is probably what I had. And they did have a different clinic open!

I saw a different doctor, who had a little difficulty believing that relatively-healthy me could get chicken pox via shingles. So he made me get a chest x-ray and give up some blood to confirm the diagnosis. I got a lengthier course of antivirals than my wife did, a mask to protect the rest of the world while I want home, and no painkillers, as he warned that if I got a really bad headache, the virus could be attacking the brain — joy!

As with the fatigue earlier, the next day was the worst. While the drugs worked to catch up, my entire head got incredibly itchy. Since then, it’s been manageable. I can’t leave the house yet, but I’ve been able to get a fair amount of reading done. Only now can I really sit at a keyboard for any length of time, though. With some good fortune, I can go back to work (both kinds) later in the week. Wish me luck! The rest of the year has to go better, dontcha think?

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