About a month ago we made our annual pilgrimage to Florida. This post isn’t about that trip, which was fine, but not our best vacation ever. We did our usual eating of fried foods, drinking of Cuban coffee, and letting our children play with alligators.
See? Not Maine.
This trip was not the best for a few reasons, not least because Michael developed an odd rash the day before we left. We pondered it for a bit, but as he didn’t seem in immanent danger of dying and we had packing to do, we ignored it and went on our merry way.
And merry it was, until the next day when we realized the rash was spreading and that it was becoming increasingly painful. All the image searching of rashes that we could do (and, please, don’t search rash images unless you really, really have to) seemed to suggest that it was shingles. But it couldn’t be shingles because Michael’s never had chicken pox. So we searched and searched and finally he showed the rash to his mother.
“Oh, sure,” she said. “That’s shingles.”
“But I’ve never had chicken pox,” he said.
“Sure you did,” she answered. “You had it the same time everyone else did but you only got two or three spots.”
And just like that, we learned that not only had Michael had the chicken pox after all, rendering moot years of discussions about how we’d handle chicken pox in our kids, but he also had shingles, a disease generally limited to the elderly and the infirm.
Now, shingles, for those who have not had a reason to extensively research it, are caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. After you have the pox, the virus stays in your body, hanging out in the nervous system until a weakened immune system allows the virus to gain a foothold. At that point, the virus travels along your nerves until it reaches the skin, where it causes a rash. This sounds creepy and painful, and it is, and it pretty much ruined Michael’s vacation. It didn’t do a whole lot for the rest of us, either, as we tried to accommodate a downed member of the family.
Everything we read suggested that it was possible to catch the chicken pox from someone with shingles, but it was pretty rare. For transmission to take place, a non-immune person essentially has to come in direct contact with the rash.
“So just don’t rub the children’s faces on your oozing sores and it should be fine,” I said, looking up from my father-in-law’s computer.
“Got it,” Michael said. And he kept his shirt on and washed his clothes separately and that was that . Or so we assumed.
Because we are dumb.
About a week after we returned home from Florida, I found myself in the bathroom getting the kids ready for bath. I pulled Annabel’s dress off and immediately noticed three small, red dots on her stomach.
“Huh,” I said.
“What’s that?” she asked, curious but not scared.
“I don’t know, but it looks like it may be the chicken pox.”
“COOL!” she yelled. “I have the chicken pox!”
I was less enthused.
The next day I took her increasingly spotty self to see the doctor, which I had to do in order to make sure that her immunization records showed that she’d had the disease.
“Yup,” he said out in the parking lot where he came to look at her, so we didn’t infect everyone else. “That sure is chicken pox. Do you know where she contracted it from?”
“Well,” I said. “Her dad had shingles.”
“Really?” he said. “When did he have them?”
“He still does, a bit.”
“And you don’t know anyone else who had chicken pox?”
“Wow,” he said. “That’s a pretty compelling case. But, honestly, the chance of getting chicken pox from shingles is so rare it is practically theoretical. This is amazing!”
I, again, was less enthused.
Because I believe in giving full credit where credit is due, I need to tell you that Annabel really was a superb chicken pox patient. She rarely complained, she tolerated quarantine even when it required her to sit endlessly in the car while I ran errands, and she was generally excellent company. But by the of the mandated six-day sequester, she was healed up and quite ready to go back to preschool.
I packed her up, sent her on her way, and assumed it was over.
Because I am dumb.
You may wonder why I was so casual about the whole thing considering that I have another child in the house. The reason is this: Sam had received the chicken pox vaccine. We had intended for neither kid to get it until they started school, believing that natural immunity had a slight edge over vaccine immunity during the course of a lifetime (though we went back and forth on this a lot especially considering–remember?–we thought Michael had never had the chicken pox). But we learned when reviewing Sam’s vaccination records at his three-year check-up that somewhere along the way he’d gotten the shot.
We didn’t really mind either way, and, frankly, by the end of Annabel’s bout with the pox I was tired of calamine lotion, hideously behind at work, and pretty much done with the varicella zoster virus altogether. Plus, I was feeling pretty lucky that Annabel’s case was as moderate as it was and I wasn’t really looking to roll the dice a second time.
But, hey! Guess what! A week after Annabel went back to preschool I was pulling Sam’s shirt off for bath (seeing a pattern?) when I noticed tell-tale red spots all over his stomach and back.
“Look!” Annabel yelled gleefully, “You have chicken pox, too!”
So I hauled him to the doctor the next day, which happened to be yesterday.
“Sure does look like the chicken pox,” the Friday doctor said. “I don’t see this much anymore, honestly, what with the vaccine.”
“But he got the vaccine.”
“Right. We tend to see that cases with the vaccine are much milder. Is his milder than his sister’s was?”
“No, it’s worse.”
“Really? But he has fewer spots?”
“No, he has more.”
“Interesting. It looks like the vaccine didn’t help much here.”
“This really is unusual. Believe me.” And I believe her.
Because I am dumb.
My 37-year-old, generally healthy husband developed a illness usually limited to the elderly and the infirm from a childhood disease he never knew he had.
He then gave this disease to our daughter in a manner of transmission considered so unusual that it is “practically theoretical.”
Our daughter then gave the disease to our son, despite his being vaccinated against it with a vaccine considered around 90% effective.
When I was at the doctor with Annabel, he seemed oddly pleased with her contraction of the pox. “The thing is,” he said, “she will now have a 99% chance of being immune from this for life. That’s actually really good.”
I had the chicken pox when I was a kid. I don’t remember having it, but I definitely did. I’ve never in my life worried about getting it a second time. But right now? I’m looking at how percentages are running for us and I’m thinking, boy, I am basically guaranteed to end up in that 1%, aren’t I?
A few friends who have followed this saga have mentioned that I should buy a lottery ticket. It seems to me that the luck we’re running is actually the exact opposite of what is needed to win the lottery. What would happen if I went to buy a lottery ticket is that I would somehow bump into the person behind me, causing them to slip and fall and sustain tremendous injury. They would then sue me for everything I have, including my family, who I would be forced to sell for cash, and I would end up destitute, penniless, alone, and covered in the first-ever-known simultaneous case of chicken pox and shingles.
So buying a lottery ticket doesn’t seem like the right move.
But I might do it anyway.
Because I really am that dumb.