By now, some of you would have got wind that I had contracted shingles and had taken medical advice to avoid social activities and take as much rest as possible for a week, meaning to stay home and sleep as much as possible. My first close association with shingles was in July 2004 when Rosita caught it and was in great pain. She was hospitalized, but before that, had been having steroid for other complications from other medical issues. She got over shingles relatively quickly, but not the others.

For those who haven’t had it, and I hope you never would, shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. It can occur anywhere on the body, and typically looks like a single stripe of blisters that wraps around the left side or the right side of the torso. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. The good news is that one can’t give shingles to other people, but other people can catch chickenpox from a sufferer if they haven’t had it before. If one has shingles, one can be contagious until the last blister has dried and scabbed over. We are told that most cases of shingles last three to five weeks. The first sign is often burning or tingling pain; sometimes it includes numbness or itching on one side of the body. Somewhere between one and five days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will appear.

Looking back, and I had relayed this to the dermatologist recommended to me by my good friend Vincent Lam, I think I had caught the virus last Saturday or Sunday morning, which was slightly more than a week ago. The Friday before, I had consulted Vincent, who is a chiropractor specialist, to relieve chest and back pains which we thought had been inflicted from my shifting bags during travels and other old issues. The pain got worse, and by Tuesday morning, blisters developed on the chest so that Vincent got me an immediate appointment with the dermatologist on the next block, for which I am very grateful. I was given medication for a week and instructed to rest at home as far as possible. Oddly enough, after I texted Vincent in the early hours of Tuesday, Vincent came back at 7am to suggest that it could be shingles. I dismissed it instantly, but asked for an early consultation with him, at which point he got me to see his dermatologist friend. Just another lesson on mindfulness.

Now, Su has been reminded time and again by her mother that she has never had chickenpox, implying that she doesn’t have the immunity and can be infected by me, through contact or respiratory droplets. She has therefore been ultra-cautious sine. First, she would sleep in the living room and would not touch the linens and beddings in the bedroom. We would use separate bathrooms, had our clothes washed separately, and we would clean our own bowls and plates, and so on. But she would help me apply the prescribed cream on the affected places on my chest and back, in gloves of course. I wouldn’t know how it could have been done without her assistance and for which I am extremely grateful.

Such are the vagaries of life. It doesn’t take a lot to weaken the mind and moral of a person. I was in such great pain at times, even before I was diagnosed; and I felt so helpless. I kept telling myself to learn to be more mindful, but it’s easier said than done. Sickness and pain indeed are great teachers in mindfulness and character building. I have just learnt that a very good friend had shingles twice in six months, but he was lucky that his wife detected the symptoms early so that he had medication early and avoided more unnecessary pain. I have also learnt since from anecdotal sources that shingles patients typically take three to five weeks to recover, depending on circumstances, but the pain could last much longer, which was why I spent the last two days cancelling or rescheduling my appointments in the next two to three weeks. One of the first things I did after coming back from the dermatologist was to put out all the blogs on my last travels. It was mainly cut and paste from notes I kept on the phone, suitably adapted and redacted. I don’t expect it would have a great following, but like what I have often said, I have not written those blogs to attract likes or followings.

I read up parts of the log I had kept in 2004 on the last three months of Rosita to remind myself when she had contracted shingles. There were lots of stuff there, and indeed, I suspect that before long I might be unable to figure out in full parts of what I had recorded in shorthand. I had decided against using the materials for my first memoir. I need to take a view on what to do with the log, soon.

I would see the dermatologist next Tuesday, and until then, I would keep my fingers crossed.  

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