For the past few days, I’d been complaining of a very sore shoulder and arm… muscle strain? One night about a week ago, I noticed a rash on my neck and left shoulder with tiny little blisters, the kind you get from poison ivy or a bad sunburn. When I fell in the woods the other day, maybe I fell into something poisonous? The next morning, I noticed the rash had spread down my left arm. The pain in my arm had increased as well. Time for a doctor visit.
We located a GP doctor not far away and tried to call. Just a message came up that we didn’t quite understand. We headed to his office and hoped he was available. Let me explain a doctor visit in Italy. We walked up two flights of stairs in an old 18th century building into a 1960s vintage doctor’s office. There were a few plastic molded chairs and a receptionist area, but no receptionist. Several offices had doctors’ names on them with a paper schedule taped to each door. We found the doctor we were looking for and the schedule showed he was in. There were 2-3 people waiting in the outer office and one fellow spoke English. I explained I wanted to see the doctor and asked how I might go about it. “Just wait your turn and then go in.” Really?
We waited my turn and both went in to see the doctor who spoke limited English. Luckily, the word ‘rash’ in Italian is ‘rash’. I showed him the rash, talked and gestured about the pain in my arm and within two minutes he said ‘varicella (herpes) zoster’. Chickenpox? David and the doctor were both typing into their Google translators furiously and said ‘Shingles’ at the same time. What? I had to come to Italy to get shingled? After paying €30 for the office visit, we left with a prescription for an antiviral med (Acyclovir) to be taken 5x/day for a week. We stocked up on Ibuprofen for the pain.
A word here about shingles. It seems that if you had chickenpox as a kid, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in your nervous system for years. I figure I was about 5 when I had chickenpox. That’s a long time to remain dormant and pretty sneaky, if you ask me. There is no explanation for why it becomes active again. It just does. It just did. Did I have the shingles vaccine shot? No, it was $217 and not covered by insurance plus it was only considered 50% effective. About 1 in 3 folks over 50, get shingles. I played the odds and lost. There is a newer shingles vaccine currently available which is considered to be 95+% effective. I might have considered this.
Anyhow, what now? Well, we had rooms scheduled for a few nights in different towns up the road. We canceled what we could and decided to move to the town of Montefiascone where we had a reservation which we hoped to extend for a couple days to sort out our plans. This kind of throws a monkey wrench in the works, if you know what I mean.
I was able to carry my pack to the bus station, but it was a bit painful. David offered to make two trips with the packs which seemed a bit extreme. Once in Montefiascone, the B&B, La Bertina, was only a few blocks away. The room was bright and airy and overlooked a garden. Taking off my pack seemed like heaven.
Unfortunately, La Bertina was booked over the Easter holiday and we found another place to stay for three days. Il Piccolo Borgo was not as nice as La Bertina, but was adequate for our needs. And yes, you’re a bit behind in our travels, but now you’re catching up quickly.
So, a few takeaways from this experience that I’ve gleaned…
1. Our son, Brennan, reminded me that I could have broken a hip instead. Yup, I’m lucky.
2. He also mentioned that it could have occurred while we were on a trans-ocean passage. Also true.
3. I’ve totally forgotten about the big blister on my left big toe.
4. I could have shingles anywhere … might as well be Italy.
5. The later we arrive at St. Berrnard’s Pass in Switzerland, the more likely that it will be open and snow-free.
I’ve been quite uncomfortable with the rash which, you’ll be glad to know, is scabbing over nicely. The pain in my left arm and shoulder keeps me awake at night even with the maximum daily dosage of Ibuprofen. That said, with the new Flay Pain Scale David has conceived, I think my pain level is only about a 0.5.
It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be able to carry a 20 pound pack for any distance in the near future. Even with the antiviral meds, shingles can hang on from anywhere between 10 days to six weeks. We haven’t figured out Plan B yet, but we’re working on it. Stick around … it’s never dull!