Not last weekend but the weekend before, I got a little cluster of mosquito bites on my side. They were itchy as hell, and although I tried hard not to scratch, I did give in and rub them through my shirt a few times. By last Monday, the bites were swollen into welts and the itch was unbearable. They were right at the edge of where my bra sits, so they were constantly irritated. Over the week, the bites just got worse, and I even took Benadryl for a couple of days with no effect.
Then, two days ago, I woke up with another cluster of bites, closer to the centre of my torso. And I freaked out, because all I could think was “I’ve got bedbugs!” I ripped my bed apart looking for signs of an infestation. I have serious bug issues, so I was near tears as I inspected the seams of my mattress and pillows, the edges of my bed frame, the baseboards, the dresser… I could not find a single trace of bugs, but I know bedbugs are tricky, hidey little sneaks, so I remained anxious.
I went online to check out various insect bites and rashes to see what else it could possibly be. Sweet flaming tutu, I should know better by now than to Google anything of concern. It could be spiders, chiggers, bedbugs, scabies, or many other pests. It could be allergies, lupus, dermatitis, or many other conditions. It could even be a simple (!) stress reaction. From the benign to the permanently disfiguring, I saw enough images and slideshows and read enough blurbs to make me freak out even more. And meanwhile, the itch, the bloody itch, the maddening itch! By the end of Sunday, the second set of bites had swollen up and reddened as well, and the first set was getting dark and sinister.
By Monday morning, the outer edge of my left breast was red and painful, and the pain was moving up into my armpit. Lymph nodes, I thought. An infection. But the reddened skin at the side of my breast looked bumpy and so of course my next thought was inflammatory breast cancer. The “bug bites” were looking less bitey and more rashy, and I was feeling a little bit lightheaded. I figured I’d give it one more sleep before calling the doctor’s office.
Sure enough, this morning things were worse. I whimpered trying to find the least painful bra to wear (I would have loved to forego the bra, but boobs like this take on a life of their own when not contained). As soon as my clinic opened, I was on the phone making an appointment with my nurse practitioner, who could see me before lunch: “Would you like to come in this morning?” “DUH!!! THAT’S THE DUMBEST QUESTION I’VE EVER HEARD!!!”
So I left work and drove over to the clinic, my frazzled mind jumping between planning for the bedbug exterminators and making a will and figuring out who would take my pets when I die. All for nothing, because guess what I have, people and bots? I have SHINGLES!!!! Herpes zoster, a nice little follow-up to my childhood chicken pox. A painful, rashy, itchy, pretty darn icky outbreak that will, as my nurse practitioner so kindly put it, “get worse before it gets better, my dear.”
And I am thrilled! Shingles! No problem! Not bedbugs, not scabies, not breast cancer, not any of the horrific things I imaged it might be! Just some itch and some pain. Some pills and some cream and some washing of sheets and towels in hot water. (Also over $300 in meds and it looks like Blue Cross won’t cover one of them… but hey…)
It hurts. Man, it hurts and itches. And apparently this is really mild. I’ve started treatment with antivirals (which won’t do anything for the older blisters but which should mitigate the course of the rest of the outbreak), and some cream whose ingredients include lidocaine, and I am young enough that I should have little trouble with the postherpetic neuralgia. It’s not near my eyes (yay! no vision loss!), and I have access to soap and clean water so I shouldn’t get any secondary infections. The antivirals have to be taken with food, which I understand to mean “with ice cream,” for example. Or “with cheese and olives.” Really, this is the best case scenario.
Except for the people around me, who are going to hear me whine and moan and complain for as many weeks as this itch lasts. Let’s see how soon my coworkers beg me to take sick leave!