Study Abroad

Pre-Departure Chaos?

About 3 weeks ago, I woke up with a tiny bump under my left eyebrow. I had no idea what it was and thought nothing of it. Maybe just an ingrown eyebrow hair, or God forbid – a zit? I went through my day like normal and, of course, I had accidentally scratched the bump. It then got very itchy, hot, and inflamed. Each morning I woke up, it had become even more enlarged than the previous day. I started to search on Google, what could this be on my face? Google was telling me it was a boil, and I said oh heck no. There is no way I can have a boil on my face three weeks before I leave for Spain.

It wasn’t until the next morning (3 days after the bump had initially appeared) that I woke up in serious pain and the “boil” had spread above my eyebrow and into my scalp. My mom immediately dropped everything to take me to urgent care that morning. The nurse that brought me into the room asked me what was going on and she suggested that I may have shingles. She wasn’t the doctor though and said not to take her opinion too seriously. She left the room and my mom and I looked at each other in disbelief. How could I possibly have shingles? I’m 20 years old, never had chickenpox, and had the vaccine as a child. The real doctor came in and said it was only a bacterial infection. Whew! She gave me a ten day prescription for Keflex and also a topical to put on the quickly spreading rash.

Fast forward to the next day, I woke up in excruciating pain. It felt like someone was consistently stabbing my eye. Just imagine a dull, sensitive, numb pain attacking one whole side of your face and you can’t do anything about it. My eye had become completely swollen, purple, and the vision in my left eye was blurry. It looked like someone had punched me in the face and won the fight. I was popping Tylenol’s like crazy, but nothing was getting rid of the pain. I slept about 14 hours that day, each time waking up in even more pain. It got to the point where I was screaming and crying because the pain would not subside. I thank God a million times for my mother who stayed by my side and even cried with me because she felt helpless. She even slept on the couch outside my room to make sure she could get me anything if I needed it. The whole experience was so overwhelming knowing that I need to be in good health to travel internationally and this could possibly threaten my travel plans. That was the last thing I wanted.

The next day, my mom took me back to urgent care, because the medications were not working and made me extremely nauseous to the point where I wasn’t eating anything. As soon as the doctor walked in, she said – yes, this has to be shingles. She took a viral culture to send to the lab, and gave me a new 10 day prescription for Valtrex. In the meantime, I had to go see a specialist to make sure nothing else was going on in addition to the shingles. The specialist doctor said I was a very rare case – something he had never seen before. When I told him I never had chickenpox, he was a little frazzled. My mom proceeded to tell him that both my older brothers had chickenpox when she was pregnant with me. Chickenpox is extremely contagious to unborn fetuses meaning I could have had chickenpox in utero, which causes brain damage in some babies. I guess I got lucky. I learned a lot about myself that day, but most importantly he cleared me to travel which was a HUGE relief for me.

In case you may not know, shingles is a viral infection in the same family as chickenpox that affects the nerves. Once you get chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your spinal cord for years and can reappear as shingles, typically in your 50’s or 60’s. It can also be brought on by stress when your immune system is weak. I will not display any pictures here, as I do not want to gross you all out, yikes. I am very lucky that I went back to urgent care the second time, because if I had left the shingles untreated any longer I could have suffered permanent nerve damage in my face or even gone blind in my left eye.

Those of you who know me, know that I tend to overwork myself. Sometimes I work way too hard and forget to keep myself healthy. I am almost always stressed out about something, big or small. This was definitely a wake up call and I learned that I cannot do EVERYTHING all at once. Sometimes you just have to let things go, because you don’t control all of it. I need to start taking my own advice obviously.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Please do not forget to take care of yourself, especially as college students. There is so much pressure to do well in school, find a good job, keep up a decent social life, and participate in extra curricular activities that it can get overwhelming. Trust me, I understand. I had to take a step back and simplify my life in order to relax and de-stress. I’m talking yoga, meditation, baths, and also that stress relief lotion from Bath and Body Works does wonders! 4 days out from Spain and I am ready to take on this next adventure of mine in good health.

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