My daughter has herpes. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? It is, but I think the word herpes has so many negative connotations in the English-speaking world that it sounds something other than it really is. She has Herpes Zoster which in Ireland (and elsewhere) we call Shingles and use faith healers to treat – or was that just my brother? Anyway, it’s a reactivation of the chicken pox virus causing pain and a rash of disgusting blisters on the skin.
In this case, her left arm is covered in what look like cold sores, and there’s the odd isolated blister in other places on her body too, including her face. When, on Monday, I asked the holiday cover doctor at our local practice (Dr Frog, whose mother named him Rolf, God bless her) if it was Shingles, he didn’t know what I meant and so I went away thinking she had a viral herpes rash which wasn’t contagious and would go away without any treatment other than keeping it clean to avoid bacterial infection. While taking a sample of fluid from a blister with a cotton bud, he burst the blister, viral fluid exploded all over his face and then he dropped the cotton bud on the floor, picked it up and popped it into the sample container. Poor guy. The results won't be available until after the practice re-opens on July 20, by which time we're out of the country and will no longer, hopefully, care about rashes.
A little reading on-line, a day of worsening food poisoning for me to the point where I was barely able to crawl around the house, and the appearance of blisters near Caoilin’s eyes meant my husband had to take her to see a private doctor on Tuesday evening when he stepped off a plane from Stavanger. The diagnosis was confirmed (in Norwegian) as Herpes Zoster. This time, I guess with less consideration of the cost, the doctor prescribed anti-viral meds and anti-herpes ointment to be applied five times a day. I’m annoyed she didn’t get to start the medication sooner as this is crucial for the efficacy of anti-viral tablets, and that the first doctor didn’t prescribe the ointment at least. Perhaps he wanted to save the state money- the tablets cost almost 500 kr for ten days worth - not realising that my daughter doesn’t get free medication as she wasn’t born in Norway, so I’d have had to pay anyway. I would at least liked to have had the chance to get them for her earlier.
Shingles per se is not contagious but can cause chicken pox in those who haven’t already had it, such as Aidan. Caoilin never had chicken pox, but she and her sister were vaccinated against it in the Philippines. Now I have proof at least that the vaccine worked –I was never convinced after a doctor tried to give her a live measles vaccine that was three months out of date when she was a baby, and so possibly not so live after all. The shingles blisters themselves however can pass on the virus so I’m being mighty careful when applying her ointment and the dressings to cover it. I'm also slightly concerned about Dr Frog's face.
We’re calling it Shingles, despite the Norwegian insistence on saying herpes, as it sounds so much less awful. Even my husband, who I would consider to be an eminently sensible man, couldn’t bring himself to say the word herpes on the phone to me while standing in line at the chemist with her prescription lest anyone might overhear. Still, I’m thinking there might be mileage in the word yet. In two weeks and one day we fly to Ireland; once, hopefully, Caoilin will have healed and Aidan will not have contracted chicken pox. I wonder if we might get more space in the plane in if I were to say something like, ‘Wait until Granny and Grandad see your herpes scars Caoilin, won’t they be impressed’.
I think it might be worth a try ;-)