Facing one’s mortality is never easy. As I have gotten older I seem to measure my life in increments of ten, forecasting what’s to come in the decades that I hope still lay ahead of me. Recent events, from Terri Schiavo, to the Pope’s passing, and even the disclosure of Peter Jennings’ lung cancer are constant reminders that we are all just decaying vessels from the day we are born — and that’s if we are one of the lucky ones.
I have always been vigilant in keeping my children healthy, making every effort to weigh normal childhood illnesses against possibly severe infections — I generally tend to favor the overly protective route. With each new passing virus and infection, I am becoming my own expert on what needs a doctor’s attention and what needs Tylenol and rest. My win-loss percentage is about 90% on the accurate side. But this week I learned that neglecting my own health is as serious as neglecting my children’s, for without my vitality intact, I am not able to do my job in maintaining theirs.
Despite having Lily vaccinated for chicken pox, she was exposed (most likely due to other neglectful parents) and happened to be one of the 10 to 20% of the population who had a breakthrough infection. Her case was mild, barely registering a blip on her radar screen and a handful of itchy spots — but causing great alarm to me. I have never had chicken pox and was never vaccinated; worse yet, I knew I was vulnerable and chose to do nothing, assuming that I was invincible and would never be in contact with it.
Upon finding out that I had been exposed to this sometimes lethal virus (especially in adults, even those who are quite healthy), I went through various stages. Anger at the parents who allowed their child to expose my child, denial that I had been stupid in not taking care of this, giving in to be sick, and finally deciding to fight back even if my efforts were futile.
I spoke with my sister, who had unfortunately also been exposed as an adult and did contract the virus. She was what set the wheels in motion. She explained that she became deathly ill, missed six weeks of work, was horribly uncomfortable, and had to be admitted twice to the hospital for possible pneumonia — fortunately she survived, but she made it clear that I was not to just sit there and wait for the bomb to go off.
What could I do? Search the Internet of course. There were some measures to take. One was to get vaccinated immediately and hope that it would provide some immunity before the full-blown virus took hold of my immune system. Second was to limit my exposure to Lily and try to keep Alex from also getting sick. Coincidentally, he was vaccinated the same day we got the call from Lily’s school that she was suspected of having chicken pox.
I have no idea at this point if I am going to come down with the virus. My suspicions are that I will get some form of it, but perhaps not to the extent that my sister did. The doctor who administered the vaccine made it clear that I was playing a dangerous game with my body and told me a horror story of a patient she had who was only a couple years older than I am and had been in the ICU and on the border of death. A stark warning.
I am to receive viral suppressors should I exhibit symptoms — this will not cure me, but may lessen the symptoms.
Everyday since this first started, I have lived in a constant state of paranoia; checking my body for every itch, every sniffle — picturing the dreaded outcome that my sister described.
It’s like knowing you are about to be hit by a mack truck, but just not knowing when.
I had catastrophic nightmares last night. Me, my children and husband being eaten up by tsunami like waves of biblical proportions, only to escape and then be captured by warring conquistadors who ripped my children from me and held me captive in dark hole, screaming profanities at me in a language I couldn’t understand.
This is the fear that has gripped my subconscious.
And geez, this is only chicken pox — I can’t imagine if it were something horrible like Ebola or the Avian flu.
We are vulnerable beings, our perceived strength and vigor just a virus away from us being crippled like the poor Pope or Terri Schiavo. As I prayed to God to help my body remain strong, it made all my other problems seem so small and insignificant, and ultimately made me thankful for the small graces given to me each day.
Do not take your health for granted and for heaven’s sake, don’t put off any measures that can protect your most valuable asset.