I recently found out I had shingles. Not in the oh-man-I’ve-got-this-excruciating-and-painful-affliction but rather that I had – past tense – shingles. Now, if there’s anyone actually out there as medically inept as me who doesn’t know the difference between aspirin and acetaminophen (God help you, too), I must explain that this particular ailment is beyond awful: bouts of chronic internal pain followed days later by blistering, festering sores on the skin above the pain area. I know right, I cringed, too when I heard.
The realization of my condition came about rather absurdly. A friend and I found ourselves poking fun at our husbands (naturally) for being, well, men. You know, running off to doctors for every sniffle. Constantly popping every kind of pill, vitamin or placebo all in the name of keeping out of the obituaries. Annoyingly proclaiming WebMD diagnoses to anyone who’ll listen. Face it, we’ve all got one (mine swears by slathering Vicks around his neck and tying a handkerchief on top at the first sign of a cold. ALL my friends know this.) As part of our cheeky conversation, I innocently (maybe proudly) remarked that I’d been dealing with “this hip thing” for three weeks now and had barely mentioned it to my husband. She half-jokingly asked to see it. I lifted up my shirt to expose my back and her brow wrinkled uncomfortably. She asked a couple of questions (she manages a medical office so this is sort of her thing) and got quiet. “You need to get to a doctor” she said a bit too sternly for my liking. “You’ve got shingles.” Of course she then explained what that was (have I mentioned I’m a medical moron?).
A few hours later at the hospital a rather confused physician confirmed my friend’s earlier diagnosis. “You’ve had this for how long?” he asked. Shrug, followed by my barely audible response “Mmmmmmcoupla months…?”
“How did you manage the pain?” he wanted to know. I blinked. Was he kidding? Did he realize he was speaking to a woman? I’ve given birth four times. To date I’ve chosen to risk paralysis three of those four times by having a needle inserted into my spine to make THAT pain go away. Perhaps I should have explained my mother’s German lineage by admitting her maiden name was Schellhammer. Clearly I’ve been raised to manage pain by denouncing its existence. “I don’t know, I took some Advil,” I said lamely. He looked baffled.
“How did you treat the sores?” he inquired, remarking they were almost completely dried up, virtually healed. I felt like a child defending the Pythagorean Theorem to a teacher who suspected I’d cheated on the test. “Um…” I hesitated. “I thought it was poison ivy.” I skipped the admission of covering them up with band-aids bigger than my fists while on the beaches of Mexico recently. In my defense, at the time I was really holding onto the salt water will surely cure this confidence my German mother instilled in me.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The worst part (evidently) being over, my case was too far gone for drugs or remedies. I handed over my co-payment and took his recommendation with a smile: sure, I’d follow up with my regular doctor in a week or so. I found it interesting that he held an assumption I actually had a doctor who might recognize me from the waist up. But sure, I’ll go do that.
It has become eye-opening (in an irritating kind of way) to find that it would take a nasty cluster of pain and blisters to force me to get myself a real doctor but honestly, it’s been on my list for a long time. Along with the daily oatmeal, herbal foot cream on the nightstand, yoga classes and all those other things that I resolve to get to right away but never, ever seem to find the time to do.
Of course it’s amusing when everything works out in the end but this unspoken rule of priority that I adhere to is infuriating at the same time. If my husband can take such impeccable care of himself why do I continually put myself fifth in line? Why has he had more cholesterol tests in our marriage than I’ve had haircuts? And why do I – or women in general – or mothers – allow this nonsense?
When I went online and researched shingles I was (justifiably) stunned. It is, to be blunt, horrific. And though it is familiarly known as adult chicken pox, the suffering it brings bears little resemblance to the mildly uncomfortable children’s version of the virus. It is usually caused by stress or at times worse, a weak or deficient immune system but either way it was a blatant slap in the face that I’ve not been taking care of myself. I am — thankfully — angry enough to finally take some sort of demented stand for myself.
At the end of the day this is my own fault. And I know I am so far from alone on this. That my kids have never missed a dentist appointment should be a shining accomplishment, not an excuse. And that my house is clean and refrigerator coils are vacuumed is nothing but ridiculous when I’m only catching up to my annual mammograms every nineteen months, if I’m lucky.
My shingles were my wake up call to eradicate the skewed priority system of my life. I am done existing as a living, breathing Mom cliché and I hope other women join me. We may continue to wait five months for our next available Pap smear but dammit to hell, at the very least we’ll be sporting some truly fabulous haircuts when we get there.
A bonus: did you know you can actually refuse/bypass/politely say No thank you to stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office? Geeze, had I known I probably would’ve started going years ago.
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Read any good books lately? Start one here: A Collection Of Eyerolls: A Momoir
Chapter 2, Click here: https://tinadrakakis.com/2017/08/13/chapter-2-sometimes-kids-suck-a-lot/
Chapter 3, Click here: https://tinadrakakis.com/2017/09/22/chapter-3-sorry-were-tied-all-kids-are-filthy/
Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements. (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore). A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram.