Rhetorician

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Going Viral: Let’s Talk About My Shingles

  1. I have shingles. Shingles is disgusting. Each day during what I’m going to go ahead and call my “shingles journey,” I’ve thought about posting some clever comment about my ordeal on Facebook, but then backed off. I’ve even posted a thing or two only to delete the posts a few seconds later. Nobody wants to read about my disgusting shingles, I’d think. Which is true. This is one of those times when self-censorship is absolutely the right impulse, even if it does cause me to be complicit in my own shingles shame spiral. No one wants to stumble across a status update that deploys the phrase “my bepustuled flank,” no matter how delicious a phrase it may be.
  2. An example of a Facebook status about shingles that I deleted before it could be posted: “I must advise the pregnant, elderly, and immunocompromised among you to avoid direct skin-to-skin contact with my bepustuled flank. #ThereGoesMyWeekend. #ThankYouShingles.”
  3. Do you know Facebook tracks even what you don’t actually post? That’s almost as gross and weird as shingles itself.
  4. But what is shingles? I’m not a doctor (well actually I am, but not that kind), but here’s what I’ve gathered so far: Shingles is a skin rash. The rash hurts. It is distinctive in that it follows a path along a nerve, making its appearance somewhat reminiscent of the Milky Way. The rash will start to blister and fill with nastiness and then crust over, quickly putting an end to any further comparisons to the Milky Way. The virus that caused your (or in this case my) childhood chickenpox has been lying dormant in that nerve, waiting for a chance to shine just once more. This encore performance, this swan song, typically occurs in older people and can be really severe and painful. In the present instance, occurring as it has in an otherwise spritely specimen, it’s really no big deal. But boy is it gross. If you get to the doctor early enough in your shingles journey, you may be prescribed an antiviral medication.
  5. If you think you might have shingles, go ahead and Google Image Search. Indeed, I don’t know how anyone ever arrived at the conclusion that he or she might have shingles without Google Image Search. Spoiler alert: the images are gross. So gross in fact that I'm not even going to provide a link.
  6. The word for the thing on your roof and the word for thing on my flank come from two totally different Latin roots. One refers to a split piece of wood (great for roofing), one has to do with the girdle, referring to the place on your body voted “most likely to be stricken by a painful rash caused by the virus that brought you chicken pox.”
  7. Let’s take a moment now to reflect on the word “pustule.” I don’t want to get into details, but I do want to say that pustule is exactly the right word. It just sounds like the right word. If pustules could talk, they’d sound like ˈpəst(y)o͞ol and we’d be dealing with a lovely bit of onomatopoeia. Pustule.
  8. Fun fact: if I were to rub my bepustuled flank on the pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised, I couldn’t give them shingles. But I could give them chickenpox. Isn’t that interesting?
  9. The physician’s assistant at the urgent care clinic who confirmed my self-diagnosed case of shingles congratulated me on having such a textbook case. Exactly the right place on the body, exactly the right symptoms. She told me a little bit about shingles, and added, “but you probably already read that on the Internet.” And I had. She warned me not to believe everything I read on the Internet. (She couldn’t have known that when it comes to critically evaluating publicly-circulating discourse, I actually am that kind of doctor. Seriously. That is pretty much exactly what I have a PhD in. I guess we were both stepping on each other’s turf a little bit.)
  10. When she told me about the ways I am and am not contagious, I blushed. All I could picture was me rubbing my bare, bepustuled flank against a pregnant lady. I figured she must think I’m into some really kinky stuff, most likely on account of my facility with the Internet in general, and Google Image Search in particular.
  11. According to both the Internet and the physician’s assistant at the clinic, my shingles journey may last for weeks yet. Weeks! A perk, though, is that I’m unlikely ever to get it again. Still: so gross.
  12. ˈpəst(y)o͞ol