It turns out I’m not the only Poxy Lady in town. Barbara Walters—who’s 83—came down with chicken pox in January after kissing actor Frank Langella at a New Year’s Eve Party. Apparently Langella was unaware he had a case of shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox and is highly contagious. Like me, Barbara Walters never had the chicken pox as a child, so she contracted the disease two weeks after the New Year’s smooch with her friend. The question is how did I catch it? I wonder if I could have been infected at the fabulous wedding I attended two weeks ago. One thing I’m sure of is that I didn’t kiss any famous actors.
The symptoms started early last week when I noticed three large, ugly pimples on my forehead. Oh no, I thought, now I have teenage acne AND wrinkles. I covered the pimples with make-up and tried to forget about them. But instead of drying up, the pimples swelled, itched and grew red and angry. At the same time, a few new bumps sprouted on my belly, and those itched too. Please, NOT BEDBUGS, I prayed, unable to repress the thought that, despite all precautions, they’d somehow managed to sneak under my mattress. On-line I found the comforting news that bed bug bites were more commonly found on arms, not on the face.
New bumps arrived on my neck and chest on Wednesday so I made an appointment to see my dermatologist the next morning. Her first thought—and mine—was that I was having an allergic reaction. But what was the allergy? I was eating the same foods, taking the same vitamins, using the same skin products.
“Could it possibly be chicken pox?” I asked the doctor. I’d never had the disease as a child, but I’d taken the vaccine when my children did. The dermatologist dismissed the diagnosis of chicken pox because I didn’t feel sick, wasn’t running a fever, or experiencing the usual serious symptoms of chicken pox in adults. After examining me, she declared: “I’m not sure whether you have a virus or an allergic reaction, but either way, I know how to treat it.” (Famous last words.) She prescribed prednisone, steroid cream and Benadryl.
I filled the prescriptions immediately. But instead of getting better I woke up Friday morning with bumps covering my breasts, back and torso. My scalp itched, and I even had a bump in my ear. I started to panic. I knew it was possible for symptoms to worsen before they improved, but the onslaught of itchy bumps seemed too extreme and unusual to be an allergic reaction. Again I called my dermatologist, described the army of invading bumps and explained how some of them had hardened and turned yellowish white. We decided she should do a biopsy.
“You have the chicken pox.” The colleague stated matter-of-factly in response to my nod. Pointing to a bump on my inner arm, she advised my doctor, “Biopsy that one just to confirm.”
I was shocked but relieved. At least I knew what I was dealing with and it was treatable. “How did you miss it yesterday?” I couldn’t resist asking, annoyance creeping into my tone. I didn’t want to think about how much sicker I might have become if I’d believed the doctor’s original diagnosis and just kept taking the medications she’d prescribed through the weekend.
“It’s very unusual to see chicken pox in someone your age who doesn’t have a fever or seem especially sick. Also, chicken pox usually occurs in spring or summer, not the fall.”
I didn’t know that chicken pox had seasons. Live and Learn. Now I had to ask a lot of questions: First of all, why hadn’t the chicken pox vaccine worked? Apparently, the doctor now explained, the pox can “break through” in a small percentage of adults, especially those like me who never had the booster. This also meant my kids were somewhat at risk, because they were exposed to me when I was most contagious, before I had spots.
Her advice was stay away from babies, sick people, and others like me who hadn’t had chicken pox. Otherwise—if I felt up to it—I could go out to dinner with friends who were immune—which is just about everyone I know. The doctor advised me to stay on all the medications till the biopsy came back. And of course, she couldn’t tell me how long my particular case would last.
Thank God the biopsy confirmed that I have chicken pox. I had been having a terrible reaction to the prednisone: feeling light-headed, dizzy, weak; having no appetite, insomnia, restlessness and mood swings that made me feel like I wanted to kill someone. Luckily, I could finally go off prednisone.
About two hours ago I took a Xanax and started feeling calmer—until I looked in the mirror and saw the gigantic scabs in the middle of my forehead. Hopefully, they’ll shrink and fall off without leaving craters on my face.
All I can think of now is a variation on the Jimi Hendrix song, “Foxy Lady.” You make me wanna get up and scream