‘Chicken Pox’. The word ‘chicken’ makes it sound quite cute, as if someone, somewhere back in time decided to take the edge off and make it sound appealing to its usual victim – children. And in some respects it does because although it’s never pleasant, it’s usually less horrific on children. But when you get it as an adult it’s not cute. It’s medieval. It’s THE POX.
It started with an itch. And then some lumpy bumps on my face. Around about day two the strange new look my face was worthy of a selfie. Then it became more and more unpleasant until the night of day three when all of the redness and lumps gathered forces and marched north to my scalp where they settled into a pulsing, agonising itch that drove me absolutely fucking insane.
While my son – the deliverer of the gift he picked up from the germ pool also known as nursery – slept soundly nearby, I itched and scratched on the sofa all through that night. TV failed to distract and a 3am viewing of ‘Sweat the Small Stuff’ had me feeling that life was no longer worth living.
The grim news from the NHS website (still more appealing than Grimmy) informed me that I had one of two things: Hand, Foot and Mouth (1 week) or Chickenpox (2 weeks). And so I settled in for the long haul…
It’s nearly nine months since all this happened and looking back at the daily photo updates, I’m reminded of the incredible changes – horrific and hilarious in equal measure – in my appearence over the following few days as the spots took over my entire body. What I remember less well is just how unwell I felt those first few days: feverish, roaring temperatures and exhausted.
By now looking like a fully paid up lepper, I pulled on a hat as low as I could without losing all vision and headed to the doctor. She visibly shuddered, confirmed it was chicken pox, then shrugged and prescribed me some pills with the admission that they’d almost certainly have no effect. This wasn’t strictly true. Whilst they didn’t have the effect of curing me, they did give me powerful hallucinations. Fun for the first day or so – I remember flying with a swarm of bees – but the drugs quickly began to really addle my brain and so I knocked them on the head.
Meanwhile the outbreak of spots had levelled off to a state of utter carnage and I was begining to warm to them as they had clearly warmed to me. Could this have been Stockholm Syndrome on top of Chicken Pox? By now I was a week in and settling into a homeopathic routine of cool baths garnished with a heavy splurt of Aveno lotion followed by concerted hours of watching Wimbledon on the TV. It worked.
The insanely irritating itching had only lasted the first few days. The fever another couple of days. And then it was just me and the spots. Spots which initially threatened to crush my morale but by day ten I felt I was cultivating them like a proud farmer growing tiny, crusty radishes all over my body.
It was two weeks before I felt the compulsion to pick them. Naughty I know, but with the greatest will in the world, there will always be a place or two where a little scar won’t do any harm. Picking and sitting, no longer itching, the third week was one of feeling much, much better, interspersed with visits to the bathroom where the mirror reminded me that I still looked absolutely ludicrous. Will it ever end?
It did end but slowly. Spots and scars remained for some weeks yet as did an inglorious beard and an unwelcome lesson learned. Until my brush with the pox, I’d been dismissive of the reports that delightful young children could become carriers for far from delightful illnesses. Especially – I thought – my little Fred. How wrong I was. And I’ve got the photos to prove it.
There is a postscript to this story. Poor little Fred – the cute carrier – who had had a small dose of the pox himself before passing it onto me, clearly hadn’t had it hard enough to build up the antibodies. So while I was on the mend, he was breaking out in a vigorous new batch of spots which eclipsed his earlier outbreak. And as his constantly down turned, sulky and sad bottom lip reminded me of the shitty feeling of the pox, I wished – far too late – that we’d just got him vaccinated in the first place.