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This Is What Happens When You Don't Vaccinate Against Chicken Pox

27/02/2016 6:11 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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macro photography of a syringe ready to put a vaccine

I never understood how much I took my health for granted until the day I got adult chicken pox.

This virus overwhelmed my body and my spirit for so many weeks that, had I known a few months ago what I know now, I would have asked my doctor for the series of vaccinations available to adults.

I had never contracted the disease as a child and my immunisation status is hazy. Even if I was vaccinated as a child, only 80 to 90 percent of people are protected. So I was a prime target for the full pox assault.

Two days after I showed initial symptoms -- like a general flu but sans a sore throat and snotty nose -- the pox army was in full formation and had conducted a swift and hostile takeover of my body. Hundreds of mini, volcanic pustules brimming with virus-laden fluid pushed their way up as my once-soft skin became a raw and itchy battlefield. It was biological warfare and my body didn't stand a chance.

Monstrous spots invaded every piece of available skin on my scalp, torso and limbs, in my ears and mouth, and even in my butt crack. There was no neutral ground.

Like Doomsday preppers, my partner and I swung into defensive mode. To limit the risk of infecting her, I was quarantined to the spare room, where I'd stay for nearly a month. Hand sanitiser was deployed to every room in the house and used constantly and fervently.

I was not allowed to touch anything with my bare hands -- the spots had made their way there, too -- so if I wanted a glass of water I had to wear disposable gloves. Everything I touched had to be sanitised afterwards.

Everyone says the best way to get relief from the itchy spots is to soak in a bath of oatmeal or Pinetarsol -- a product from the 1970s still used as an itch inhibitor. One problem: we don't have a bath. So we bought a baby outdoor pool.

We filled it each morning and I'd wander out to the backyard in my knickers several times a day for blessed relief. Thankfully, our neighbours aren't nosy.

Every nurse and doctor I spoke to or saw said I just had to ride it out with rest, pain relief and antihistamines. And the bad news is adults cop it much worse than children.

The first thing we did after the diagnosis was confirmed was to Google photos of other people with chicken pox. We gaped, aghast at what the internet threw back. "Oh wow, at least I am not that bad," I said of pox-ridden strangers.

But I spoke too soon. It's hard to estimate but I had at least 800-1000 spots, about 100 of them on my face, head and neck.

spot on face

The second thing we Googled was whether our dog Billy could contract the virus, and thankfully he couldn't. Going four to five weeks without actual contact from another living thing would have been excruciating. At least I could hug the dog.

The incessant itching became so unbearable that I didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time. The exhaustion was so overwhelming that, long after the spots finally dried up, I'd need daily naps for hours just to function and could hardly walk around the block.

My appetite dropped off so severely at first that some days I'd only consume a glass of milk and an apple. I wasn't hungry, not just because I was sick -- I was also revolted by my own body.

The pox spots on my face grew so large, tough and vile that I started avoiding the mirror. Sometimes it made me dry retch. But I think the worst part was the day half my face stood still. The pox virus swelled up my entire body so badly that it crunched the nerve connected to my facial muscles and triggered Bell's Palsy.

For six weeks I have looked as though I'd had a stroke. My right eye would not close, my right eyebrow wouldn't lift and the right side of my mouth didn't smile. My vision was affected and my speech impaired. My right ear became so sensitive to noise that I thought my eardrum would burst whenever Billy barked.

I developed a social phobia I've never experienced.

I took an initial dose of steroids but, similarly to the pox, there's nothing to do but wait. I'm on my way to recovery and have some semblance of a smile but I am scarred from the pox and my eye is still wide open.

I am a walking advertisement for childhood and adult vaccinations for this disease -- I only wish I'd read a column like this before I became infected.

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