Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beware - The Zoster Lies In Ambush

image by flaivoloka, sxc.hu

A Childhood Condition Resurfaces In Old Age - With Vengeance!

Follies and mistakes committed during childhood and early youth, even unknowingly and unintentionally, can come back to haunt at senescence. And no, we aren't talking promiscuity here. And we also aren't talking about the little fling with crack that we enjoyed along with the rest of the friends below the shade of the tree near the compound wall, where we thought we were safe and out of sight from the seniors who were anyway busy doing their thing and who were actually happy that the kids were out of sight.

image by caami, sxc.hu

We are talking papules and red blisters and dew-drops-on-rose-petals here. Remember the episode of chickenpox that you underwent as a child / youth? The red pockmarks all over the skin that you brought home from school, gifted to you by your best friend and classmate? The pockmarks that caused high fever and so forced you to take some rest, and prevented you from going to school that you always looked forward to going, and stopped you from experiencing the thrill of receiving home-assignments, if only for a week or ten days? Yes, that very episode. Now it so happens that after the pockmarks subside and the fever ebbs and you become normal and begin enjoying the daily home-assignments, you think that the chickenpox virus has been eliminated. And then you continue growing up and begin enjoying the surge of those youthful chemicals that begin creating, ah, other kinds of havoc in your body. And you disdainfully forget the pockmark episode and the chickenpox episode altogether.

Child with chickenpox, wiki_*

* Child with chickenpox, sxc.hu

Unbeknown to you, during those high-fevered days when it keeps you in its hot embrace at the core, cellular level, the virus itself falls for you - hook, line and sinker. The hunter becomes the hunted. And when your immunity guards finally manage to cool the lava of passion, the virus offers a truce. "Let me stay on! I beg thee!", the virus beseeches seductively. "I will keep my passion in check, I promise!" And magnanimous in victory, your immunity guards allow the virus to stay on, and give it shelter in one of the numerous nerve cell bodies. Unfortunately, this magnanimity is what proves to be our folly and mistake.

image by egilshay, sxc.hu

Days pass. Decades pass. You move on. Get married, or stay celibate. Bring forth children, or do not. Make a good career, or loaf off. Loll in money, or loll in penury. And then comes the golden period of life. The time when you hang up your boots and begin taking it easy. The time for navel-gazing and ruminating and dozing off in the middle of conversations. The time to forget whether the dentures and the glasses got left behind on the dining table or out in the hammock. The time when the need for companionship is acutely felt and the discovery is made that everybody around is too busy with their own lives to give you even five minutes, forget round-the-clock companionship. And that is when the old love decides to come out of its hiding. To give you round-the-clock companionship. The virus breaks its vow of silence and decides to give you company. And this it does with all the gusto and passion pent-up for all these years!
image by jazgorn, sxc.hu

You see those red-colored rashes forming in very geometric patterns, suddenly being created in some specific area of the body's terra firma? That's your long-lost friend's style of surfacing and saying hello. As is its wont, the virus embraces you so tightly that you get headaches and fevers and the burning pain and the itching sensations --- well what else can you expect when you are coupling not with a fellow human being but with a virus? The chickenpox of childhood becomes the shingles of old age.

Herpes Zoster on the chest, wiki_*

* Herpes Zoster on the chest, wiki.

Herpes Zoster, as this virus is affectionately called, can zap all the zing from the golden years. As if to offset the decades of self-imposed abstinence, the virus indulges in some extreme forms of sadism, leading to a painful condition called Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN), which lingers on and on, even after the rashes have healed, sometimes till the last breath.

image by wmnwrtr, sxc.hu

The Zoster is said to affect up to half of all people who live to 85 years of age. Approximately one million people in the United States alone are said to be affected by the pain of PHN every year. The good news for those of us who want relief from this pain has been published in a paper in the April 2009 issue of the "Pain" Journal (available here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2008.12.022). In a study involving 87 subjects from both gender, it has been observed that oxycodone is highly effective in relieving pain. One side-effect of this treatment is constipation, which the paper says can be addressed by initiating laxative therapy along with oxycodone treatment.

image by forwardcom, sxc.hu

The moral of the story? To not get carried away by the crocodile tears of the enemy! In time, we will be able to persuade our immunity guards to not show magnanimity towards our enemies, howsoever bewitchingly seductive they might appear to be in those moments of surrender. Till that time comes, let's get on with the treatment of oxycodone combined with laxative therapy - or whatever new advances are made - under the care of the good doctor.

image by bjearwicke, sxc.hu

[The golden age is not only a time for meeting long-lost friends (and loves) and navel-gazing and introspection and forgetting where we left our glasses and dentures. It is also a time for a rediscovery. Read about it in this article here: "Rediscovering The Self: At Sunset Time".]

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