I had very different plans for this week’s article. As is often the case, events transpired throughout the course of this past week that changed things dramatically. A very dear friend of mine made a statement in a conversation we had within the last week or two that seems especially poignant, now. He said: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
This story is about the human spirit, its perseverance, and how it can surprise you at the darkest and most unexpected times. Even a cynical bastard like me can be caught off guard from time to time and blindsided by how great people can be. There are in fact shining rays of hope for humanity after all, and sometimes I just need a reminder.
I’ll now chronicle the events of the past ten days or so. This story will seem sad at times, but the underlying message is that there is still goodness in people. Sometimes it just takes extreme darkness to find that glimmer of light. The last week or so has been a rollercoaster ride of both emotional and physical pain that can only be described as tumultuous at best.
I’ll start at the beginning. About ten days or so ago, my wife received a phone call in the middle of the night. This was to inform her that her grandmother had passed away. This loving woman unfortunately expired just days before her 98th birthday. I know what you’re thinking. No, she didn’t lay down her motorcycle while racing. No, she didn’t perish as the result of a mishap while sky diving, rock climbing, or swimming with sharks. She wasn’t trampled while attending a European soccer match or leaving a Metallica concert. She simply timed out. I don’t mean to seem as if I’m making light of a tragic event. It’s just that 98 years is a pretty impressive run. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing her intimately, but by all accounts from some pretty reliable sources, she was a loving, caring, and wonderful woman. She earned and deserved each and every day of her 97 plus years. To me, she was the first domino to topple spawning at least three generations so far of truly amazing people. I am fortunate and blessed to have married into her bloodline and kept it going. She is loved dearly and will be sorely missed.
Her services were to be held in the Baltimore area. My wife and I mutually agreed that it would be best if she went with the newborn that is still nursing, and I stay behind with our other two daughters ages 7 and 13 months. I spent my next day off making sure that our van had a fresh oil change, all fluids were topped off, tire pressure was checked, gas tank filled, and it was cleaned and detailed inside and out. I wanted no problems on this road trip as our van would not only be transporting my wife and our new baby, but my wife’s sister and parents as well. They all had enough on their plates without being stuck on the side of the road because I hadn’t kept up my vehicle. As I was cleaning my vehicle, I noticed a mild skin irritation on my left shoulder and neck that seemed to be getting progressively worse. I didn’t think much of it at the time but it will come into play later in our story. I just assumed it was a bug bite of some sort or mild sunburn. There were more important things to take care of.
As my family prepared for departure the next morning, my wife checked my shoulder again before she left. The rash had gotten substantially worse overnight and had migrated to my back and left upper torso. She pleaded with me to visit a doctor while she was gone should the opportunity present itself. I assured her that I would try, grossly underestimating what I was in for over the next 36 hours. In addition to my own two daughters, I was left with the sometimes daunting task of taking care of my in-laws dog while they were gone. She’s a sweet old dog, but she’s about 16 years old and in excess of 100 pounds. She can no longer see or hear properly and she needs assistance with literally everything except sleeping and farting; both of which she does very well and in abundance. Unbeknownst to me, the dog would prove to be the least of my problems over the next day and a half.
Apparently, someone slipped into my house undetected at some point. They must have emptied out the Enfamil container and replaced the baby formula with pixie stix and some form of powdered Red Bull. The one-year-old was absolutely nuts the entire time. She worked me like she was a drill sergeant on the first day of boot camp. I had to constantly make sure that she wasn’t stepping on the dog’s tail or doing anything that may irritate the poor pooch. She’s a sweet, loving dog, but at her age with all of her ailments, I couldn’t count on her to not bite the baby. I tried desperately to keep the two separated by the baby gate. The problem is, that they constantly wanted to be together and on the same side of the barricade.
I tried unsuccessfully to keep the child out of harm’s way yet make sure the dog had access to her food and water. On four different occasions, my daughter picked up the dog’s water and food bowls and dumped them all over herself and the tile floor. The first time, she surprised herself and tried to run away from it. She hit the puddle, slipped and looked like a cartoon character trying to catch its balance on a frozen pond. I think she did about thirty paces in mid air before hitting the floor hard and bouncing her head off the oven. She immediately started crying hysterically and I ran to her assistance. I hit the wet floor and fell on my ass sprawling out next to her. There we were, both soaking wet and in pain with kibbles stuck to us. By the end of the day, my entire kitchen floor was lined with beach towels and my daughter had been through more wardrobe changes then Celine Dion during one of her purgatory-esque torture sessions she calls a concert.
My wife, baby, and in-laws arrived safely at my amazing sister and brother-in-law’s house where they would be staying. All the while, my condition continued to worsen. The rash was spreading and I was slowly losing the use of my left arm. But I couldn’t possibly attempt to go wait in a hospital or doctor’s office with my two girls. One of whom was now behaving like a cross between Foghorn Leghorn’s hyperactive nephew and the new poster child for both Mountain Dew and Ritalin. My intuitive bride, reading between the lines of me saying: “everything is fine” on the phone, decided to do a little research into my ailment. Between the Internet, and talking to other people, she concluded that I must have shingles.
I had heard of shingles, but I really never knew anything about it. I remember thinking that I hope I never get it because it’s not even cool to say. It just sounds awful. It sounds like something you were forced to purchase when you discovered it was raining in your guest room. Then you would spend the next two weeks being awakened at 7:30 every morning by the sound of underpaid migrant workers hammering on your roof while listening to salsa music at an unacceptable volume. Shingles? Yeah, nothing at all cool about it. It doesn’t flow, and it sounds like something you should be ashamed of. Some however at least have a ring to them. Like Montezuma’s Revenge for example. But there’s nothing sexy about the condition. It’s essentially explosive diarrhea as the result of a gringo heading south of the border and consuming tap water. But at least it sounds cool. Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a horrible condition not to be wished upon anyone. But it’s named after an iconic American hero. I’m pretty sure there’s not much threat of Bubonic Plague anymore, but it has a ring to it. Scarlet fever, another one I believe to be obsolete, but it sounds kind of badass. Hell even Chlamydia, horrible as it is, sort of rolls off the tongue.
As unpleasant as it is to the ear, I was about to learn firsthand how unpleasant shingles was to the rest of the body. So I’ll tell you a little bit about it in case you’re like me and knew nothing about it prior to this week. Apparently, if you have chicken pox as a child, you can never get them again. The virus however, stays in your body forever. There may come a point later in life, when an extremely high level of stress, anxiety, and a subsequent weakened immune system can wake the virus up and trigger illness. Hence was the case with me. A newborn baby who can’t yet distinguish day from night with her sleeping patterns, a one-year-old who’s cutting teeth at the rate of a Mako, very late nights at work, and trying to run on three hours of sleep every day finally caught up with my body. The virus sat dormant in me for 39 years before waking up. What am I a freakin vocano? Since the upper left quadrant of my body looks like I was caught in a lava flow, that’s an even more fitting analogy. Shingles will first manifest itself in the form of a rash which gets rapidly and horribly worse and continues to spread. Then it attacks your nerve endings forcing them to go completely haywire with electrical impulses and causing debilitating excruciating pain.
Unfortunately, my omnipresent penchant for verbosity has gotten me into a literary pickle again this week. I’ve just about run out of space and there’s so much more of this story yet to tell. Many different lives come into play and upon writing this, the story is still playing out. We’ll have to pick up next week with this. I know this is a pretty crappy cliffhanger, but I assure you, it comes back full circle and becomes a nice human-interest story. One that shows how loving and compassionate people can be during the worst of times. And don’t worry about me. Things are getting better. I’ll fill you in on the rest next week.
Thanks for playing along,