The aftermath, desert ghosts

I served my thirty minutes on jury duty today, the defendant deciding at the last moment that he wanted a trial by judge. I left city hall as pleased as if I had escaped an encounter with a poisonous snake, so much did I dread the judge’s and lawyers’ questioning. The judge himself came to the jurors’ room to dismiss us. I watched him looking around as he spoke, and imagined him trying to decide which one of us was the son-of-a-bitch who sent him that provocative letter.

Peggy and I took a three day weekend to camp in the Oregon desert this week. I never saw a desert until I was grown, but I thought I knew all about them from cowboy movies, their chief features being perpetual heat and drought. On this trip, we were snowed upon as we crossed Santiam Pass into the "rain shadow" of the Cascades; were hailed upon the next day as we scrambled up Gray Butte; and were sleeted upon the third day on Grizzly Mountain. I wore my long johns the whole time and slept in my clothes beneath three blankets. I don’t mean to complain, the trip having been a good one—as are all our trips. If the precipitation was a nuisance, it also served to intensify the fragrance of sage and juniper, surely two of nature’s most sublime scents.

We stopped at a small cemetery near where a town used to stand. Oh, but I love those little ghost town cemeteries. What touching reminders they are of mortality with their marble tombstones commemorating the importance of “my darling,” or “the light of our lives” to people who are themselves buried and forgotten. They lie there together beneath the scrub, among barren mountains that they would have looked upon everyday of their lives just as I now look upon them. The brevity of it all! the anonymity! How little we matter; no, we matter even less than that before a sightless universe. Such a wonder is it all, to come, to go, and there be no reason for either, not the least point in us having happened.

I am surviving shingles better than I could have hoped. My sickest day was Monday of last week when I was too ill to walk more than a few feet, yet I was able to climb a mountain on Monday of this week. My left eye aches and feels scratchy, and the top of my head itches, but I consider my ordeal to be but a hint of what I might have suffered. I see an ophthalmologist tomorrow to be sure my eye remains infection free, but I will be astounded if he finds anything.

The nature of shingles

Shingles information from the FDA:.

People who have had chickenpox (varicella zoster) in their youth can develop shingles (herpes zoster) in later years. During an acute attack of the chickenpox virus, most of the viral organisms are destroyed, but some travel up nerve fibers along the spine, and lodge in nerve cells where they may lie dormant for years. A decrease in the body’s resistance can cause the virus to reawaken decades later. It then travels back down the nerve fibers to the skin’s surface.

Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, upset stomach, and a rash of small fluid-filled blisters on reddened skin. The pain can be intense and is often described as “unrelenting.” The rare and most dangerous form infects the eyes, nose, and face.

Occasionally, the rash will appear as a single spot or cluster of spots on the tip of the nose, called Hutchinson’s sign. This means that the ophthalmic nerve is probably involved and the eye may become affected, possibly causing temporary or permanent blindness.

Most people are surprised by how ill they feel with shingles. This seems out of proportion with the extent of the skin involved. Depression is often a feature of shingles, as in many other viruses. You may need up to three weeks off work.

Many experience a complication called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This term refers to pain that is present in the affected area for months, or even years, afterward. PHN is difficult to treat. Described by sufferers as agonizing, excruciating, and burning, the pain can result in an inability to perform daily tasks of living, and lead to loss of independence and, ultimately, depression and isolation.

I’ve had all these symptoms except PHN, and have seen three doctors this week, the last an ophthalmologist who verified that I have Hutchinson's sign, and said that the eye infection will appear in about a week if at all.

I only had one day when I was too sick to do anything. That was Monday when I spent four hours in a crowded clinic for a follow-up to Sunday’s eye exam (a follow-up that I now know was unnecessary since it’s too early for an eye infection). I went to bed when I got home but hurt too much to sleep (I didn’t want to take pain pills) and kept thinking about all the things I needed to do. I got out of bed three times to work on one project or another but was too weak and muddled to get organized.

Today, I awakened feeling pretty good and set out to run several hours of errands, but came home after thirty minutes so weak that I was afraid to drive. During those thirty minutes, I went to three businesses and must have seemed like an idiot to the proprietors since that was how I was treated. At the tire company, I couldn’t make the exasperated man understand where the tire was supposed to be mounted (he said I kept contradicting myself). At the bank, I asked to use a phone and was told to use line three. I kept hitting numeral three instead of line three (much to the annoyance of the woman on line one), and someone had to come do it for me. Now, what kind of people have to be shown how to use a phone? Multiple choice: retarded people? people with dementia? shingles’ sufferers?

I know that such limitations will pass, yet I also know that they are a harbinger of what awaits me as I grow older.