The onset of the disease began with me waking up in the middle of the night on a Monday with a sense of pressure in my eye and for some strange reason wondering if I had brain cancer. The unpleasant feeling in the eye continued through the first day. By the next day, there was a pressure in the bone on the left side of my nose and a distant ache that moved around the eye. Maybe it is my sinus, I thought. I slept through most of the third day and by the time I realized I better get to an ophthalmologist for what I thought must be an eye infection, the day was over and so were the doctor’s hours. I didn’t think it serious enough to go to an emergency room. So, I spent a miserable, painful night. I made an appointment to see my ophthalmologist, who had treated me a year ago for “a deep infection” in my left eye. Up until seeing the doctor, I had not taken any pain killers—I am a person who has both a high pain threshold and resists taking aspirin or whatever until I decide I can’t shake off the problem with meditation or deep breathing or ignoring.
The ophthalmologist decided I had sinus infection, which had moved into the eye. He prescribed antibacterial pills and eye drops. He told me to take Tylenol for the pain. That was Thursday. I got my prescriptions, took them and spent Friday in bed, in agony. By Friday night I realized I had a rash on the left half of my head—on my scalp, on my forehead, on the left side of my nose, and around my left eye and on the eyelid. I assumed I was having a reaction to the medicine. Early Saturday morning, I called the doctor. The receptionist said come right over.
As soon as I walked into the examining room, and by that time I was unable to open my eye, the doctor said, “The drugs aren’t causing that. You have shingles, herpes.” She explained it was a virus that had been lingering in my body since childhood. She prescribed a potent pill and eye drops aimed at a virus not bacteria. She told me not to expect the problem to clear up in three or four days, but to anticipate a recovery process that would take weeks. How many weeks? Who knows? On a follow up a visit a few days later, I was told to expect to experience lingering aftereffects such as fatigue and possibly pain that might last for up to a year.
In reading up on shingles, I discovered that left untreated—and even treated—the complications arising from herpes in the eye (aka herpes zoster opthalmicus) can be blindness and brain damage. Hopefully neither will afflict me since I got treated fairly early in the game, but the threat made me aware again of the dreadful outcomes facing people without health insurance. I fall under national health care, known in the U.S. as Medicare, and have a topnotch health insurance program backing that up.
What if I were among the 43-million uninsured in this country? I would have put off going to the emergency room until my eye closed and I couldn’t endure the pain. If I were lucky, I would be seen by a caring physician after sitting in the emergency for anywhere from a half hour to 12 hours. Hopefully that doctor would arrange for me to get the right drugs and eye drops. If I weren’t lucky and there were three gunshot wounds ahead of me in that emergency room and the doctor just wanted to push me through, I would end up as a leading candidate for blindness or brain damage. Boy, do we need national health care for our entire population.
The next novel I will review: THE GREAT MAN by Kate Christensen