Australia I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

(We interrupt your regularly scheduled Where in the World Wednesday for a truly scary Halloween post. Fair warning, this post contains a couple photos you don’t want to see while you’re eating, and some graphic descriptions of my gruesome illness.)

Australia is trying to kill me. Not with the expected methods–shark attacks, spider bites, bloodthirsty dingoes, or calculating crocodiles–but with something far more bizarre and at the same time mundane. I’m stuck in Australia with a bad case of shingles.

SHINGLES. Like you get when you’re 80. I’ve had mysterious ailments all week, and finally on Monday I saw a doctor who said, “Oh yes, that’s a bad case of shingles you have in your eye.” IN MY EYE. And all around it. Y’all, I do not even need to dress up for Halloween this year. I’m going totally natural. Naturally gross, that is.

Scary monster

I hope this photo conveys to you just how nasty the left side of my face is right now. Lesions from my forehead to my eyebrow, in the little crook of the eye where you get eye gunk at night, and all down my nose. A sprinkling on my cheeks. And then a bright red eye peering out between swollen eyelids. The most comfortable position is for me to have the eye closed, but that does not mean I am comfortable. I’m constantly leaking tears, which I have to be careful when dabbing so as not to disturb the lesions on my face. (LESIONS. Like a freakin’ leper over here.) Despite all the leaking, the eye isn’t lubricating much, so it’s dry and sometimes I feel the lower lid sticking to the eyeball. The eyeball itself is alternately itchy and sore, like part of it ripped, so even when my eye is closed I feel that. All this eye leaking means some of the liquid is going down the nasal passage, so I’m blowing my nose all the time too. All the bones in my face ache, and while the lesions aren’t too painful right now, the doctor assures me they will be. Oh, and I have a stabbing pain in a specific spot on my head, like someone sending an electric shock through my brain every 10 minutes or so. Shingles: they are not fun.

Seriously.

What is going on with me? If you had chicken pox when you were a kid, it’s possible you could get shingles later. If your immune system is compromised, the chicken pox virus might come out to play, and it takes the form of shingles. What happens is one nerve branch is affected (maybe more, on me it seems to be just this one), so all along that nerve branch you get lesions and pain, and in bad cases, the nerve damage can be permanent and sometimes you can even get scarring. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, the doctor thinks I got to him in time for the antiviral drugs to be effective, which should keep permanent nerve damage out of the picture, but you don’t know until it’s over. And since it’s a virus, it just hangs out in your body and comes back when conditions are right and it’s feeling malicious. As with other ailments, if you’ve had it once, you’re more susceptible to having it again. GOODY.

Well, how did I get here? By doing too much, too fast on this trip, is how. The last few weeks before I left were highly stressful (leaving a job; discovering bedbugs–yes, that’ll be another post; saying goodbye to everyone I know and love). I did relax in Hawaii, although as you’ve seen from the blog posts, we did pack a lot in as well. When I got to Australia, I thought I was pacing myself okay, but it might’ve been too much for my exhausted body to handle. Illness is rough enough without thinking that you probably brought some of it on yourself, and it’s all compounded by my annoyance that I couldn’t handle it. I thought after 29 years of inhabiting this body, I was a pretty good guess on what it could do. It’s frustrating to be told in gross, lesion-y terms that I was wrong.

Watego’s Beach, Byron Bay

Now, out of the whole country of Australia, this is the place to be stuck. I’m staying with relatives in Byron Bay, and they’ve generously offered me a room for as long as I need to heal. I’m in a home and not a hostel, I have my own room and bathroom, I share meals with the family, and when I’m feeling up to it, I can walk into town for people-watching and cheesecake-eating. I’m hugely grateful to them for putting me up, and for ferrying me to the doctor as well!

Also, there are a couple of these guys keeping me company

I should be clear that although going full throttle probably contributed to getting me in this state, I had a lot of fun doing it. I hope the Where in the World Wednesday posts and occasional Facebook updates convey just how beautiful Australia is, and how much I’ve enjoyed seeing it.

I’d hoped to be in Melbourne by this time, but that’s just not going to happen. It hurts to open my eye for too long, so I’m not sure how much writing I’ll be able to do, but I do plan to catch up somewhat. I’ll take it slow and easy, and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to carry on. These aren’t the adventures I was hoping to have on my trip, but such is the nature of travel: you truly never know what’s next.

The glamorous approach to protecting my hideous eye

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18 thoughts on “Australia I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

  1. Oh, Lisa…not fun, but I am glad you are where you are being cared-for and loved. That virus is not fun. It manifested in me as Bell’s Palsy. Twice. Not fun. Not sure I can compare it to shingles, though…Let’s just say both are not fun for different reasons. Get some good rest, okay?

    • Thanks, Tammy! I didn’t know the virus could manifest in other ways. It sounds like one of the trickiest ones out there–and from something so seemingly benign as chicken pox, yeesh. I’m resting up and listening to lots of music, which is soothing.

  2. Sad! I’m so glad that it hit you when you’re somewhere you could relax and recover. (Sometimes it feels like the body just knows, you know?)

  3. Oh Lisa, that’s horrible! Believe it or not, I’ve known 3 people in their 20s/30s who’ve had shingles. (Including myself, after I lost my job last year … yeah, that made for fun interviews.) It definitely is a signal to slow down and de-stress, so I hope you get lots of rest and TLC with your relatives. Also do be very careful and vigilant — the eye is one of the most dangerous places for shingles to appear, and the riskiest for long-term damage. Not to scare you, but just to note that you have hopefully dodged a bullet. Get well soon and don’t let this ruin your trip! Hugs from someone in Chicago who barely knows you but, literally, feels your pain. 😛

    • Eek, that is scary! I hope I’m dodging the bullet on long-term damage. I won’t feel totally better about that until all traces of this are gone.

      Thanks for the support and hugs! They’re much appreciated.

  4. Oh no! Glad you got to a doctor and are at a comfy place, so sorry for the icky shingles! I wonder if the kiddos of today, who get the chicken pox vaccine instead of the chicken pox, can still get shingles?

    I also hope your doctor’s visit was not too expensive! Because I am a policy geek, I am curious how that all worked, with your traveler’s insurance and whatever health care system Australia has.

    As for me and Halloween, I have developed a very strong opinion, bordering on a core tenet of my belief system, that it should always be a half day in elementary school. Wiped out.

    • Dear Lisa- Amazing World Traveler: Not everything has a psychologic explanation requiring self-blame! Shingles can just happen, even in well-rested kiddos with no stress. Forgive my long distance medical advice, but here you would have been seen by an ophthalmologist pronto! Shingles that involves the eye like yours does, needs special care from a skilled eye doc…please get an appointment today with an eye doctor. Hugs!

      • Thanks, Nancy! The doctor who diagnosed me on Monday is actually an ophthalmologist. I went in because the eye drops an optometrist had given me on Friday seemed to be giving me an allergic reaction, and he referred me. Turns out it wasn’t an allergic reaction, it was the shingles coming out full force. I have a follow-up tomorrow. I hope he has some more advice, because I’m super worried about any long-term damage to my eye.

        I don’t mind the long distance advice, I love it! Hugs back to you.

    • Good question about the vaccine, Pam. Apparently there’s a shingles vaccine, which I recommend everyone ask their doctor about. Because this is the worst.

      Doctor’s visit was $75, medicine was $100. I’m paying everything up front and then gearing up for going through the insurance rigamarole, although I can’t handle that right now. I’ll need to be a bit stronger before I can face insurance companies.

  5. You’re always welcome to Melbourne, whenever you get better — and if your travel plans allow. But honestly, if you miss out, it’s fine — you’ve seen some of the better places in Australia already. Melbourne’s more about living here than visiting. So don’t worry that you’ve missed out too much.

  6. Oh darling! That just sucks! I had shingles when I was 24, and during a very stressful period in my life. Fortunately, my case was fairly minor but still so painful! I’m glad to hear you’re seeing an opthamalogist. I’m curious though how he said the pain wpuld worsen. I felt immediately better once I got the rx. Also, I was under the impression that once you got shingles you couldn’t get it again. I hope it clears up soon!

    • My doctor says you can get it again, although I was wrong in thinking that having it once makes you more susceptible. Just having had chicken pox as a child makes it possible for you to have shingles multiple times in your adult life. Ick!

      I do feel better with the drugs. I think he mostly meant the itchiness of the sores (which is intense) and the sensitivity to light (which is almost unbearable).

  7. I would hope that the anti-viral drugs – and seeing an opthalmologist early on – should give you good odds for no permanent eye problems. Our daughter Tina had shingles in her eye at age 29 when she was pregnant with her first child and the medical decision was no drug treatment. She has a lesion on that eye, but overall it has not hampered her vision much. Hang in – and ask when it is safe and appropriate for YOU to get the shingles vaccine – not to mention the rest of your family and friends.

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