(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.
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.
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.
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!
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.