It is interesting that you can know someone since your early teens but never really know their story. On that note I would like to welcome this week’s guest blogger, Sarah Medley. Sarah and I attended a small private school together just one grade a part. My high school graduating class consisted of only 38 people so I was surprised when I recently learned she had spent over a decade of her life dealing with the consequences of varicella (chickenpox). Her story is a very important reminder that even vaccine-preventable disesases that were once considered a “childhood rite of passage” can have serious consequences. A very special thank you to Sarah for sharing her story. Enjoy!
When I was three-years-old I went through what for most people my age was considered a childhood rite of passage. I contracted chickenpox. They were itchy. It was miserable. I still remember being dotted with Calamine Lotion and objecting to the placement of socks over hands before bed. I healed and moved on but I wasn’t just left with pox scars.
A few weeks after the virus cleared up my mom noticed I was squinting away from light. She took me to the doctor and, ultimately, they determined that the virus had settled near my left eye. In the process of fighting the virus off, my immune system attacked my cornea. This eventually left scarring that made my eye look cloudy, similar to the way an eye with cataracts looks. It also was like looking through clouds. Memories of my childhood are dotted with the many attempts to treat the problem including laser therapy that resulted in migraine headaches after each treatment, having to wear a patch off and on throughout elementary school, after school evenings with monthly appointments at the ophthalmologist and, eventually, a cornea transplant at age 16 that restored my vision and left me with a more normal appearance. I went into rejection once while we were driving to various universities where I was performing auditions in hopes of a vocal scholarship. I woke up in the middle of the night in intense pain and had to ride from Dallas to Houston with a pillow over my head because the faintest light caused a searing pain. Fortunately, I was able to be treated with a series of shot anti-rejection meds and the cornea has been fine ever since.
All in all, in daily life, I don’t think too much about these events. One of the beauties of childhood is that a sense of normalcy is still being defined and we maintain a level of resilience we might find we long for later in life. I grew up, went to college, got married, moved to London and had twins. We spent the first three years of my kids’ lives there. If I thought about chickenpox, it was because of news stories on the legality of sending infected lollipops through the mail service or hearing a friend, coping with their own child’s illness, pacify herself with the comment that it is better to get the virus out of the way now because of the toll it takes on adults.
I took my kids in for all their vaccines in the UK. (I have doctors in my family with whom I discussed my options and that was what felt right to me.) My family returned to the U.S.A. when my children were just shy of their third birthday. I made them their first well child checkup, national healthcare in the UK doesn’t provide for them, and had them looked at by our first ever pediatrician. She casually asked me if I wanted my kids to be vaccinated against the Varicella (chickenpox) virus. I had no idea there even was a vaccine for that. I know it doesn’t make sense statistically for me to fear my children would have the same outcome from the illness I had and I didn’t even realize how much it weighed on me until the moment I knew it was something that wasn’t an inevitable part of life. I was just relieved. I know most of the time chickenpox seems relatively harmless, but for me, it wasn’t and I’m glad a vaccine was available to my children.