O Marks the Spot
I was feeling really lazy that week when I discovered the first spot on my body. It was a tiny thing right above my belly button. The blister was staring innocently at me like it was saying “Who me? No, ma’am, I am just a little bubble here.” I felt a rush of excitement (cool, my excuse letter would say I have the pox instead of dysmenorrhea) then, after 15 seconds, I was horrified at the thought of what would happen to my skin. One of my four sisters got sick in the previous week and she really looked like someone used voodoo on her. At that time, nobody in the family had been immunized for chicken pox probably because it was not available yet.
My First Trip to the Dermatologist
After whining about what chicken pox would do to my face (not that I had a reputation or beauty title to protect but I was plain enough that I couldn't risk trying my luck), I went to the doctor with my mother. The doctor (our family pediatrician) was a pretty lady who didn’t waste time to convince us that we should just let the virus run its course. I knew what I wanted and just plainly told her that I don’t really care about other symptoms—I just didn’t want scars of any size or kind. For me, that was like my first trip to the dermatologist with vanity as the only clear motivation and my mother was supportive all the way. She prescribed an antiviral agent that can limit the severity of chicken pox if taken within 24 hours of the first rash appearance. It does not cure, it will only minimize the rashes, itchiness and other symptoms. It was very expensive at that time.
My Hibernation Period
At home, I posted a warning that I had chicken pox just to make sure everybody knows I am going to hibernate with three thick novels waiting to be read and Star Movies programs to watch. (This was back in mid-1990s when cable TV was being tested in Cagayan Valley, Philippines). No household chores for me, please, until further notice. I was ready for it like a soldier for a big and cruel war.
Then came the crops (this is how one health website called it and it is not exaggerating). Rashes developed in crops everywhere like my body was a long stretch of agricultural land. I had blisters in my eyelids, lips and private areas. The amazing thing was I didn’t have other symptoms. I was a little itchy here and there as the rashes turned into blisters and then to scabs. Using mild soap only, I took a bath every single day.
Health websites say that symptoms are more severe in adults and complications like pneumonia and encephalitis are rare but possible. I did the right thing when I asked for the antiviral drug. Everybody else in the family also got chicken pox and the older the patient was, the worse the symptoms. When the disease finally got to my father, his case was the worst I have ever seen. If we didn't know better we would suspect it was leprosy complicated by fever and cough. I don’t exactly remember why he didn’t take an antiviral agent but I can fairly assume now that, like most people, he thought it was wise to just leave the virus alone.
My family’s approach to caring for the sick was consistent across age and diseases. No fever means you can take a bath (much to the horror of some old folks we know). No appetite means you’re just being wimpy—you have to eat like it’s just another day. No chills means you don’t lie in bed with a thick blanket or wear a jacket.
Healthy Again At Last
After missing my college classes for five days and staying indoors during the weekends, I was off the pox finally with no tell-tale signs that I had it. I felt like I had cosmetic surgery or had scars peeled from my skin. If I felt anything at all, I suffered from information overload from reading cover to cover, doing movie marathons and bloating from drinking too much water. Word of caution, however, some diversions like reading could be stressful for some types of diseases. Sleep or rest if you must otherwise do something to make the house arrest less boring. These days, this can be done easily if you have Internet connection at home.
Moral of the story? If you have any information about your illness, ask your doctor about it so you can make informed decisions. I read about antiviral agents from a health book at home. Good thing I acted just in time and I was able to take the antiviral drug within the 24-hour time frame for chicken pox.
Photo was taken from an article in About.com Dermatology.