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My itchy and scratchy show

I told my son not to claw at his chickenpox, but a week later I was having a hard time heeding my own advice

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

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I managed to reach the semi-ripe age of 39 without contracting chickenpox.

I considered myself inherently immune. I had been around people who had broken out in spots before my eyes while I remained spot-free.

Then my four-year-old went to a birthday party and brought home a little extra something in the loot bag. And it wasn't crayons.

It started with a mild fever and the spots soon followed. A doctor friend suggested I get a blood test to reassure myself that I was immune. It was just a formality, a little peace of mind as I tended to my pox-covered offspring. I would be just fine.

As the last few scabs were dropping from my son's body, I began to look a bit wan. I developed a fever and then I collapsed in my bed with body aches and the odd "spider bite."

These pinkish spots surely must have been the work of some dastardly spider roaming the halls and walls of my house, because it couldn't possibly be chickenpox. No. I was immune.

Then I received a phone call from my doctor friend that went like this:

Doctor: "So, I received your blood test results and you don't have the antibodies."

Stunned silence.

Me: "Okaaay. So what I'm looking at are probably not spider bites?"

Doctor: "Probably not."

As I put the phone down, I confess to shedding a few tears in fearful anticipation.

The following morning I awoke to discover a spot described in medical texts as a "dew drop on a rose petal." Either I was about to bloom, or the pox were on the march.

The morning after that I awoke to a body invaded by spots. I was hit. Hard. It was, as one of my friends so aptly put it, "ugly."

The previous week I had admonished my son to not scratch or he would be scarred for life. I was having a more difficult time heeding my own advice.

So I got creative. I didn't scratch, exactly. I grazed the walls as I walked through my house.

One desperate evening, I repeatedly smacked myself in the face with my feather pillow.

My husband called me out on that one. "Stop that. I know what you're doing," he said.

I fantasized about rolling in pine needles, bathing in mud and other animal-like behaviour. I considered flying to Israel — on what would have to have been a private plane — for a dip in the Dead Sea. Anything to relieve the incessant itching.

My daily affirmations of "I am not itchy" were an abysmal failure. I was irritated and irritable.

The oatmeal baths that I had promised my son would "take all the itchies away" were, I was certain, at worst a hoax or at best a well-intended placebo. I imagined stabbing my spots with a pin to end the itching.

Aside from looking horrific, feeling crummy and wanting to wash my face with sandpaper, I was bored.

There are not a lot of invitations issued when you're a walking weapon of mass infection. I sat around reading about chickenpox on the Internet while eating chocolate chip cookies a friend had baked for me. Mostly, I schlepped around my house in my pyjamas, averting my eyes whenever I passed a mirror.

I was, however, intrigued by the evolution of my spots, or vesicles as they are known. This was beyond watching paint dry: It was watching chickenpox lesions dry. Some seemed to vanish quietly and without much noise. Others were eking out their moment on the stage of my body by stubbornly clinging to my epidermis.

I resisted the urge to help them along. Normally, any fluid-filled eruption on my skin is fair game. I like to squeeze things.

But I knew if I launched the two-thumb attack at my spots, I would be scarred for life and live with the constant reminder of my weak-willed rampage.

And then, approximately one week later, in the midst of eating what was surely my 89th cookie, it occurred to me that I wasn't itchy. The spots had dried. Then came the scabs. I was finally free to venture into society.

Society, however, recoiled from me. I couldn't blame people for gawking. I looked like I had an unfortunate case of adult acne.

I wanted to stick a sign on my forehead (mostly to cover the scabs) that said, "I had the chickenpox. No. Really. They're not zits." But I didn't.

The upside of all this is I finally have chickenpox immunity. The varicella zoster virus can't get me again. Of course, it can. It's just highly unlikely.

I'm also scar-free thanks to my unflinching willpower.

Recently, friends and neighbours have been sharing their shingles stories with me. Shingles? Isn't that a roofing material?

Amy Sharman-Phasey lives in Orillia, Ont.

Illustration by Catherine Lepage.

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