Rough to Romantic

Brie leaned her head against the back of the sofa.

The soft cushions were soothing against her tired

body.  It had been a long and very exhausting day.

Jasmine was especially cranky today because she was

teething.

 

Nothing she did seemed to work.  Desperate, Brie

had searched the Internet for teething tips and

tried them.  There was some respite but as soon

as Jasmine woke up, the fretful crying  began again.

Holding the wailing child in her arms, she called her

husband, Gabe and begged him to take home Infant’s

Advil.

 

It seemed to take forever for relief for both mother and

child to come but soon, the sound of the key turning in

the lock was music to her ears.  She went into the foyer

and as soon as Gabe stepped through the door, she

asked, “Where’s the Advil?”

 

He glanced down at the crying child and putting down

the briefcase, he took her in his arms, trying to soothe

her.  “It’s in the right pocket of my jacket.”

 

Eagerly, she reached into his pocket and took out the

life-saver, her fingers, gripping the package tightly.

“Thank you, Honey,” she said. “It will help with the

fever.”

 

Gabe’s eyes shot up to her face, alarmed.  “She has

fever?”  He felt her little face and it felt a bit warm.

 

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Brie assured him.  “They

said that sometimes a low grain fever can develop

with teething.  The Advil will relieve it and the pain.

I’ve been rubbing her gums with my finger and trying

other ways to relieve the pain.”

 

Gabe’s features relaxed.  “Okay, I’ll hold her while you

give her the Advil.”

 

After Brie gave Jasmine the Advil, she took her from Gabe

and went over to the sofa.  She sat down and gently rocked

her.  While Gabe removed his jacket and shoes.  He went

into the living-room and leaning over, he kissed Brie

on the shoulder.

 

“Once the baby is asleep, we can have dinner,” she said.

 

“All right,” he said.  “I’ll be in the study.”  He turned and

left.

 

Alone with Jasmine who was looking up at her with

big hazel eyes,  a tired smile tugged at her lips.  What

a beautiful baby she was.  It had been a text-book

pregnancy.  No morning sickness and a short labor.

 

She remembered how Gabe had held her hand as

she went into labor, encouraging her to do the

breathing exercises she had learned in the

Prenatal classes and the expression on his face

when he held Jasmine for the first time.  The love

she saw there had brought tears to her eyes.

 

He had reached over and kissed her, his own eyes

moist.  “Brie, you are my first love and Jasmine is

my second,” he murmured huskily when he drew

back to look at her.  “I called her Jasmine because

she’s a gift from God.”

 

“Yes, you are a gift from God,” Brie whispered now

as she watch those big, beautiful and innocent eyes

close, the long lashes brushing against the chubby

cheeks.  She until she was sure that Jasmine was

asleep before she slowly got up from the sofa and

tiptoed upstairs to the nursery.

 

After putting Jasmine down, she left the

door to the nursery slightly ajar and was

on her way down to the kitchen when she

noticed that the light in the master bedroom

was on.

 

Curious, she went inside and was surprised

to find Gabe standing in the bathroom stark

naked.  Immediately, she felt her body respond

and she went in and closed the door behind her.

His eyes darkened when he saw the look on her

face but, he said, “Let’s take a hot shower first.”

 

Nodding, she got undressed and stepped into the

stall.  He joined her and closed the door behind him.

The hot water beat down on them and it felt really,

really good.  She stood there under its force until

Gabe turned off the faucet.

 

She closed her eyes as she felt his hands lathering

the soap all over her body.  It was erotic and relaxing

at the same time.  Then, it was her turn to slather the

soap on him.  When she was done, he turned on the

faucet and they washed off.

 

They stepped out on to the mat and dried off. Taking her

by the hand, he led her into the bedroom and instructed

her to lie on her stomach which she did while he rubbed oil

on her.  She closed her eyes and relaxed. His fingers massaged

the oil into her skin. When she turned over, he joined her on

the bed and they made love.

 

Two hours later, they were sitting cross-legged on the rug in

the basement, having dinner and watching a classic movie.

The baby monitor was on the coffee table—just in case.

 

She turned to look at him.  “Thank you for turning a rough

day into a romantic night,” she said, leaning over to kiss him.

“I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”  They kissed and then she reached for her

glass of non-alcoholic wine.

 

Sources:  Mayo Clinic; Infant’s Advil

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A Sobering Lesson

She fluffed the pillows and then reached for the mystery novel she bought yesterday, feeling nice and snug under the thick, downy comforter while it flurried outside.  Just as she opened the book and began reading, the doorbell rang.  At first she ignored it, thinking that someone had made a mistake.  It happened sometimes.  When it rang persistently, she sighed irritably, closed her book and climbed out of bed.  She glanced at the time on her alarm radio.  It was ten-thirty.  Who could be calling at her flat at this time?

She slipped her feet into her slippers, pulled on her robe and hurried from the bedroom.  After switching on the light in the hall, she went to the front door and peered out.  Her eyes widened in surprise and dismay.  Immediately, she unlocked the door and flung it open, her expression censorious as she met the sheepish gaze of her teenage nephew.  “Christopher Holloway, what on earth are you doing here?  Do you have an idea what time it is?”

He shifted from one foot to the other, hands shoved in the pockets of his coat which was lightly dusted with snow.  “I’m sorry, Aunt Bev,” he said.  “But, I had to see you.”

“Come in,” she said, stepping aside to let him pass.  After she closed and locked the door, she turned to face him.  “Does your Dad know that you’re here?”

He shook his head.  “He wasn’t even home when I left.  Sometimes he stays out late.”

“Well, we’re going to call him right now so that he can come and get you.  Do you have his cell number on you?”

He nodded and reluctantly gave her his cell after speed dialing the number.  She took the phone from him.  It ran a few times and then a deep voice answered.  “Christopher?”

“No, it’s not Christopher.  It’s Beverley.  He’s with me.”

“What?” was the incredulous exclamation.   “What on earth is he doing there?”

“I’m about to find that out.  Can you please come and get him?”

“Yes, yes, of course.  Where do you live?”

She gave him the address.

“I should be there in less than half-hour.”

“See you then.”

She handed Christopher his cell.  “Give me your coat,” she said.  He had already removed his boots.  “Your Dadis coming to get you.  Would you like something hot to drink?”

He shook his head.  “No thanks.  I grabbed a hot chocolate on my way over.”

“Let’s go into the living-room.  I want to know why you’re here and on a school night.”  While he went over to the sofa, she hung his coat up in the closet.  Then, she went and sat down beside him.  “What’s going on?  Did you have a fight with your uncle?

He shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “Dad is cool.  No, this isn’t about him.”

She could see that something was troubling and she became concerned.  “Tell me what’s on your mind,” she said gently.

“I’m in trouble,” he disclosed after a few minutes passed.  “I mean we’re in trouble.”

“Who’s we?”

“Tasha and me.”

“Who’s Tasha?”

“She’s a girl at school.  We hang out together.  I really like her.”

“What did you mean when you said that you were in trouble?”

“Well, you see, Tasha and I went to her house after school a few weeks ago.  No one was home.  We went down in the basement and hung out there.  We were talking and then we started kissing which led to—“

“You and Tasha had sex,” she said, trying not to get upset.  “You’re only sixteen years old.  You shouldn’t be having sex at your age.”

“Most of my friends have already had sex.  One of them had sex when he was fourteen.”

She closed her eyes almost afraid to ask.  “Is Tasha pregnant?”

“We don’t know.  Her period was late.”

“Has she done a pregnancy test as yet?”

He shook his head.  “That’s why I’m here, Aunt Bev.  Tasha’s too nervous to go to the drugstore.  She’s afraid of someone seeing her and telling her mother.  I was wondering—we were both wondering if you could pick up one for her and then we can come over here and she takes the test.”

Bev didn’t know what to do.  She felt like she would be going behind Tasha’s mother’s back if she were to agree to get the pregnancy test but Christopher was her nephew and he came to her for help.  “All right,” she said.  “I’ll pick the test up.  Can you bring Tasha here tomorrow after school?  I’m not working this week.”

He looked relieved.  “Yes, I can,” he said.  “She usually walks home from school but we can take the bus here.  Thank you, Aunt Bev.”

She looked at him.  “I hope for your sake that she’s not pregnant.  You’re way too young to be a father.”

He hung his head.  “I know.  Things got out of hand.”  He looked up at her.  “You won’t tell Dad, would you?”

“No, I won’t.  I will leave that up to you.”  The doorbell rang.  “That must be him.”  She got up from the sofa and went to answer the door.  It was Warner.  She opened the door and after they greeted each other, she led him into the living-room where Christopher was.

He went over to his nephew and hugged him.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

Christopher nodded.  “I’m all right.  I had to see Aunt Bev about something.”

“It’s getting late,” Warner said.  “And you have school tomorrow.”

Bev went and got Christopher’s coat and as he pulled it on, she turned to Warner.  “I told Christopher that he can come by again tomorrow after school, if that’s okay with you.”

He nodded.  “That’s fine.”  He took out a business card and scribbled something on the back.  “My cell number,” he said, handing the card to her.

She took it and put it in the pocket of her robe.  Christopher joined them and she hugged him.  “Goodnight,” she murmured.

“Goodnight, Aunt Bev.  And thank you.”

They drew apart and she preceded them to the door.  Christopher stepped out into the hallway and waited for his uncle.   Warner paused to look at her.  “Goodnight,” he said quietly, his eyes lingering on her face.  She wished she knew what he was thinking.  At that moment, her heart was burning with a love she longed to express but couldn’t.   The memory of her sister was between them as a reminder that she could never take her place.

“Goodnight,” she said, forcing a smile before she closed the door and leaned against it.  It was just her luck to fall in love with her sister’s husband.  She remembered the first time Gail brought him round to their parents’ home to meet the family.  She introduced him and then announced that they were getting married.  It was a small ceremony at a chapel and the reception was held at a banquet hall.  Seven months later Christopher was born.  Bev wondered why Gail never told her about Warner or that she was pregnant.  She never got the chance to ask her because just 24 hours later after giving birth to Christopher, Gail died.  Her untimely death was caused by a pulmonary embolism which stopped her heart instantly.

The memory of Warner holding their son who would never again be held by his mother remained with her.  Tears pricked her eyes even now.  She watched as Warner became both parents to Christopher and it was during that time when she realized that she was in love with him.  For years she kept her feelings to herself and was content to be there for both of them whenever they needed her.  And as a result, Christopher and she developed a very strong bond.

When he was a baby, she would sit in the rocker and feed him while humming or talking to him about his mother or his father.  She enjoyed those times when she bathed him and held him in her arms as she rocked him gently to sleep.  Sometimes, she would take time off from work just to be with him.  As he lay in his crib, she would play with him or read stories.  She was the closest thing he had to a mother.  She watched him grow up into a fine young man.  It was just too bad that this situation with Tasha came up now.

Sighing, she moved away from the door, turned off the hall light and headed back to her room.  She hoped that everything would work out for his sake and Tasha’s.  The last thing either of them needed was an unplanned pregnancy.  Yawning, she climbed into bed and after putting the mystery novel on the bedside table, she switched off the lamp.

The following day she made soup and when it was close to time for Christopher and Tasha to drop by, she turned the stove on so that it would simmer.  It looked very cold outside.  Nice, hot homemade soup would do them very well.  Earlier that morning she had gone to the drugstore to pick up the pregnancy test.  It was one of the most highly recommended ones.

At four-thirty, Christopher and Tasha showed up at her flat.  The minute she saw the girl, her heart went out to her.  She looked scared and worried. Putting her arm around her shoulders, she drew her over to the sofa where they sat down.  Taking her hands in hers, she spoke to her.  “I know you are scared but we don’t know for sure if you’re pregnant.  Here’s the test.  Take it and then we will go from there.  Come, I will take you to the bathroom.”  She helped her up and took her to the bathroom and after making sure she knew what to do, she left her, closing the door behind her.

Christopher was hovering about, looking anxious.  She reached out and took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.  “Whatever happens, we will deal with it together,” she said.

He nodded.  While they waited for Tasha, he held his aunt’s hand.  Several minutes passed and then Tasha came into the living-room.  She showed them the display.  There was one line.  “One line means I’m not pregnant,” she said.

Bev smiled.  “Well, that’s encouraging,” she said.

“What should I do now?” Tasha asked.

“Wait to see when your period will come.”

“And what if it doesn’t?”

“Hopefully, it does but if it doesn’t, then, you will have to go and see you family doctor.”  She put her arm around her.  “This test is known to be extremely accurate.  It could be that your period is late because your cycle has changed.”

“I hope so.”

“Come you, two, I have some hot, homemade soup ready for you.  Have a seat around the table.  And after you finish eating, you can stay a while and then, I’ll take you home.”

They seemed to be in better spirits and they spent a pleasant afternoon together before she dropped them to their respective homes.  A couple days later, she got a call from Tasha telling her excitedly that she got her period.  “I never thought I would be so happy to see it,” she exclaimed.  “Thank you so much, Miss Martin for your help.  Now I know why Chris talks so much about you.  You’re really cool.  I told my Mom and she was upset, of course.  Chris and I talked about it and we’re not going to see each other outside of school.  We will be just friends.  Thanks again for everything.”

After she hung up the phone, Bev went over to the sofa and sank down heavily, relief washing over her.  She offered a silent prayer of thanks.  Now Tasha and Christopher could put the whole ordeal behind them and get on with their lives.  This pregnancy scare put things into perspective for both of them and they had made the wise decision to keep things platonic between them.  She wondered if Christopher had gotten around to telling Warner.  She hoped so.

The doorbell rang and she got up, her head still spinning from the good news.  It was Warner.  She opened the door, smiling.  “Hello,” she said.

He wasn’t smiling.  He looked very serious. “I came over to talk to you about two very important matters,” he said.

“Okay.  Come in.  Where’s Christopher?”

“He’s gone to the cinema with some friends.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“What did you need to talk to me about?”

“Christopher told me about Tasha last night.  I didn’t lecture him because I think he learned a very valuable lesson but we had a long and very frank talk.”

“I’m happy that he told you.  I didn’t think it was my place to do so.”

“I’m just thankful that things turned out well.  Thanks for being there for Christopher as always.”

She smiled.  “He knows he can count on both of us.”

His expression changed again.  “The other thing I wanted to talk to you about is far more personal.”

Something about the way he was looking at her made her heart race.  “What is it?”

He took a deep breath.  “I will just come out and say it,” he muttered.  “I love you, Beverly. I wanted to tell you that for very long time but just never worked up the courage until now.”

He was the only one who called her Beverly.  When he said her name, it felt like a caress.  She stared at him now, hardly able to believe that he was telling her that he loved her.  “I love you too,” she murmured.  “I fell in love with you the first time we met but kept it hidden because of Gail.”

“I cared for Gail but I didn’t love her.  I married her because she was pregnant.  I wanted to do the honorable thing.  When I met you it was hard but I was committed to Gail and our marriage.  If she were still alive I would still be married to her all the while loving you.”

“And I would have spent the rest of my life loving you,” she said.  “So, where do we go from here?”

He reached for her hand and drew her toward him.  “I want you to marry me.  Christopher needs you and I need you.  What do you say, Beverly, will you marry me?”

She nodded, “Yes,” she said through tears.  And then, her hand flew up to her mouth when he produced a box which he was holding in his other hand.

“Christopher helped me to choose this one,” he said opening the box and taking out the ring.  He slipped it on her finger.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

He reached up and cupped her face between her hands.  “Yes, but not half as beautiful as you,” he muttered before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back, thinking how true the saying was that good things come to those who wait.

Sources: People.com; Check Pregnancy

 

 

 

Sources: People.com; Check Pregnancy;

The Joys of Motherhood

Surreal is finding out that I was pregnant.

Feeling a life grow inside me.

Having a textbook pregnancy, thanks to God.

The contractions that kept me from sleeping.

 

Surreal is when the moment I have been

waiting for finally arrives.  And no amount

of dreaming and anticipating could prepare

me for that breathtaking moment when I

see my baby for the first time and hold

that bundle of joy in my arms, my heart

almost bursting with the love that fills it.

 

 

Surreal is looking into those big, trusting eyes

and thinking, “I’m responsible for

this precious little one.”

Even now, I experience that sensation of

blessedness and incredulity that I have

a child who calls me, “Mommy.”

 

Surreal is being to only one of my

sisters to have a child and seeing

the joy on my mother’s face whenever

she sees her grandson.

 

Surreal is experiencing the joys of motherhood.

 

mom-and-son

Women and Mental Health

May 1-7 has been Mental Health awareness week.

One in three Americans struggles with mental illness but the rate is much higher in women.  Research shows that women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men.  It is not clear why mental illness is more common among women but doctors have come up with a number of possibilities.

Discrimination, Trauma and stressful life experiences

Trauma is common among women with half of them experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime.  One in four women have faced an attempted or a completed sexual assault.  Reportedly, one in three are abused by a domestic partner.  Gender discrimination, violence and mistreatment undermine a woman’s mental health.  Stress is a predictor of mental illness.  Women juggle housework, kids even while working fulltime.  They report that they have to work harder to get the same credit as men and worry about the gender wage gap.  They have to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces where these are commonplace.  These challenges can significantly affect a woman’s ability to cope and her self-esteem.

Hormonal Issues

Women produce lower quantities of serotonin than men due to differences in hormone levels and this deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

41% or women suffer from some form of postpartum depression.  Some of them are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, especially in the early days.  I remember that there were times when I felt that I was drowning–in over my head.  Once I even cried out while I was holding my toddler.  Thankfully I had God and a very supportive partner.  It helped when he came home and I had an adult to talk to. Not all women are as blessed.  Research shows that women who don’t have supportive partners, experience traumatic births, live in poverty or a highly stressed will most likely develop postpartum depression.  

Gender bias is another problem women face.  Some research suggests that doctors tend to label women’s symptoms as emotional while taking the men’s symptoms more seriously.  So, a woman who reports that she is experiencing chronic pain to her doctor might be labeled as depressed.  This happens because we live in a world where gender discrimination exists and women are seen as more emotional and less rational.  

In many countries, the way health workers spoke to the women made it difficult for them to disclose their psychological and emotional distress.  And when they worked up the courage to disclose their problems, they were either over-treated or under treated by many of the health workers.

I read in an article in The Globe And Mail that women are getting the prescription that is available more often than the treatment they need.  They are getting medication to solve their problems even when science finds that treatments such as psychotherapy is equally or in some cases more effective without the side effects.  Bias in mental health care is a hindrance to women, preventing them from getting the proper help they need.  Not much effort goes into researching how drugs affect female patients.  While drug companies like to bombard women with their pills, most of their clinical trials have been dominated by men.  And the ironic thing is that the disorders most commonly diagnosed in women such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the ones most likely to respond to therapy.  Most women are likely to prefer therapy over drugs.  

According to Dr. Marina Morrow, a Simon Fraser University psychologist who studies gender and mental health, “Women aren’t getting access to the range of care they need.”  She believes that an effective approach to this would be to include medication when necessary but in also offer therapy, peer support and pinpoint what social circumstances lead to the illness.

It has been argued that therapy is the safer, more effective and cheaper choice.  The authors of a 2015 study by Canadian and U.S. researchers concluded that, “There remains no sound justification to prescribe drugs without first trying therapy.  Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, believes that “the way we fund therapies in Canada does not make sense right now.”  She wrote a letter to Quebec’s health minister to make the point that even if 20 per cent of seniors with insomnia received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with is used to treat insomnia, the cost-savings to the system could be in the hundreds of millions, based on the potential falls that would be avoided.  Therapy saves on costly and debilitating falls and hip fractures.  

We live in a country where medication is favored over psychotherapy and women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and sedatives as seniors and as a result they are at a higher risk of suffering from adverse effects.  Hopefully more women and those in the medical profession will speak out against the bias that is prevalent in the mental health care.  Doctors and those in the health care system need to give women more choices when it comes to treatment.  It’s their health so they should have the right to determine how they want to proceed once they have been diagnosed.

depressed woman

The Miracle of Life

For me, the most amazing transformation were the stages of pregnancy.  It wasn’t planned but I was thrilled when I got the news that I was pregnant.   During those 41 weeks, I marveled at the changes of my body and was amazed at the relentless hunger pangs that plagued me.  I was told that I was eating for two when I was actually eating for myself.  The baby took whatever nourishment he needed.  I was curious to see the stages of development so I visited the Baby Centre site to find out, What does your baby look like now?  It was an eye-opening experience.  I couldn’t believe that in nine months, that little tadpole would transform into a baby with beautifully formed limbs, ten toes, ten fingers and a head of hair.  Open day, those tiny lungs would get their first gulp of air.  I couldn’t wait to welcome my baby into the world.

My pregnancy not only changed my life, but it deepened my love and appreciation for the God who had made this possible.   “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).  God’s loving fingers had knitted the life growing inside me.  He clothed him with skin and flesh and knitted him together with bones and sinews (Job 10:11).

I will never forget the moment I first held my son in my arms.  My arms ached to hold him and when the nurse gently lowered him into them, I felt as if my heart would stop beating.  The love I felt as I gazed down into that sweet little face was almost too much to bear.  Tears come to my eyes even I write these words.  At long last I was holding the life that had been covered in my womb (Psalm 139:13).  The transformation was complete.  I was holding the miracle of life in my arms.  I never imagined that I would have a child in my forties.  Yet, there I was holding my first and only child and he was perfect.   He was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  I made a promise that I would be the best mother that he could ever hope for, with God’s help.

Image result for the stages of childbirth

 

Take the Pledge

[T]he more I traveled and met with girls and learned from experts about this issue, the more I realized that the barrier to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard – First Lady Michelle Obama

Last night, I watched the CNN Documentary: We Will Rise with First Lady Michelle Obama and was inspired and moved when I heard the stories of the girls in Liberia and Morocco who were to meet her.  It made me think of how some of our children take education for granted.  These girls long to be in a classroom, learning but sadly, they are denied this because of child marriage, pregnancy and poverty.  If a family has a boy and a girl, the boy will go to school while the girl stays at home.  And there’s belief that girls belong at home not in schools.  Those who are fortunate to get an education have to walk a long way to school in areas that are not safe.

One girl lived with her uncle and aunt because her mother wanted her to have an education.  She worked hard, keeping the home, taking care of her cousins before going to school.  At night, from 9-11pm she studied her books using a flashlight to see in the dark room while everyone else was asleep.  Her education helped to save her uncle’s life.

When the Ebola broke out in Liberia, she recognized that her uncle had the symptoms of the disease.  At first he dismissed what she was saying because she was a girl but she insisted and he was quarantined and then nursed back to health.  She had learned the symptoms in her Biology class.  Her favorite subject is Science.  Perhaps, one day she will become a scientist.  Another girl dreamed of being a journalist while another wanted to be an engineer, a discipline that was predominantly male.  You can watch her story here.

In Morocco, girls were missing school for five days.  Meryl Streep discovered why.  Here’s the clip.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2016/10/09/we-will-rise-film-meryl-streep-morocco.cnn/video/playlists/cnn-films-we-will-rise/

Girls need to know that they are valued and that they deserve to have an education. Educating a girl will change not only her life but the lives of many.  Take action today and sign the petition for more girls to receive education.  Help their dreams to become reality. Education is key to success, quality life and opens the door to so many opportunities.  No one should be denied a basic right such as education.  Take the pledge and give a girl the opportunity to have an education.  TOGETHER, WE CAN LET GIRLS LEARN!

 

We’re in this together.  Because these girls are our girls.  They are us.  They each have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them just like our daughters – and our sons – and their fate is very much our responsibility – First Lady Michelle Obama

Source:  CNN.com; Girl Up

Women and Shingles

I found out last week that my mother who suffers from Parkinson’s has Shingles.  From what I have seen of Shingles it looks very painful.  I wanted to find out more about it so I decided to surf the Internet and get as much information as I could.

What is Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster or just zoster, occurs when a virus in nerve cells becomes active again later in life and causes a skin rash.

The virus that causes shingles, the varicella-zoster virus, is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is a member of the herpes virus family. Once you have had chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus remains in your body’s nerve tissues and never really goes away. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

Doctors aren’t sure how or why the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, but they believe your immune system’s response to the virus weakens over the years after childhood chickenpox. When the virus reactivates, it travels through nerves, often causing a burning or tingling sensation in the affected areas. Two or three days later, when the virus reaches the skin, blisters appear grouped along the affected nerve. The skin may be very sensitive, and you may feel a lot of pain.

If you have had chickenpox, you are at risk of developing shingles. However, the virus doesn’t reactivate in everyone who has had chickenpox. Shingles most often appears in people older than 50 and in people with weakened immune systems. If you are having treatment for cancer, for example, you are more likely to get shingles. People with HIV commonly get shingles, which is often one of the first signs that the immune system is in trouble.  Your chances of getting shingles increase as you get older, although the disease can occur at any age. When shingles appears in children, which is uncommon, it usually is very mild. Up to 20% of people in the United States develop the disease at some point (Women’s Health).

None of my sisters nor I ever have Chicken Pox as a child but later when we as adults, my sister and I got it from our mother.  I still have the marks.  I am hoping that I am one of the people in whom the virus does not reactivate.

 

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Recently I have seen a commercial where a person has Shingles and it looks painful.  The rash on one side of  the man’s body looked red and very painful.  When I browsed the Internet, I saw pictures that made me cringe.  How those people must have suffered.  I think of my mother and I hope and pray that she isn’t in much pain.

What are the symptoms?

Pain

Symptoms of shingles are similar in men and women. The first and most common symptom of shingles is usually pain. This pain typically occurs before any rash is present and is sometimes called the warning stage of shingles. Women often describe a tingling, burning pain or an area of intense sensitivity on their skin. This often happens in a small area that is on one side of the body only. The pain may be mild or intense enough to require treatment with painkillers. The pain may last for a few days, may come and go or may be constant. It may continue once the rash and blisters form and usually lessens when the rash disappears.

Rash and Blisters

Another symptom of shingles is a rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters. This usually appears a few days or a week after skin pain starts. The blisters form a crusty scab in about 7 to 10 days and typically clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. The difference between the rash of chickenpox and that of shingles is that shingles usually appears on one side of the body only. Shingles commonly appears in a belt-like band around the midsection, corresponding to skin along the path of one nerve. Sometimes the rash appears on one side of the face and follows the major facial nerve, or it can involve more than just a single area of skin. Some cases of shingles have only a few or even no blisters. A shingle diagnosis can be missed in this case. Shingles without any rash or blisters is called zoster sine herpete.

Other Symptoms

Once the rash appears, women sometimes report flu-like symptoms, such as headache, upset stomach, fever and chills. About half of the people who have rash along the facial nerve experience eye complications. These complications are generally seen as inflammation of different parts of the eye and may involve a mucus or pus-like discharge and sensitivity to light. Eye problems from shingles are very serious and should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Some women experience a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. This condition is pain that continues even after the shingles rash is gone. The pain has been described as a constant burning that hurts to the touch or pressure from clothing. It usually resolves on its own, but resolution can take 6 months to a year or even longer (Live Strong).

 

Shingles and pregnancy

Pregnant women can get shingles, but it is rare. While chickenpox can pose a very serious risk to a fetus, there is almost no risk to the fetus if the mother gets shingles. The symptoms of shingles are the same in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Any area of skin that has pain, tingling, itching or burning — even without a rash or blister — should be brought to the attention of a doctor, as this could be the early stages of shingles (Live Strong).  Thankfully, I got chickenpox years before I got pregnant.

 

Does Shingles affect women differently from men? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Most, but not all, studies found that more women than men develop herpes zoster [1,2]; the reason for a possible difference between women and men is not known.
  • Some studies conducted in the United States and elsewhere found that herpes zoster is less common in blacks (by at least 50%) than in whites.[3]

 

How is Shingles Treated?

Self-care

If you develop the shingles rash, there are a number of things you can do to help relieve your symptoms, such as:

  • keeping the rash as clean and dry as possible – this will reduce the risk of the rash becoming infected with bacteria
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing – this may help you feel more comfortable
  • not using topical (rub-on) antibiotics or adhesive dressings such as plasters – this can slow down the healing process
  • using a non-adherent dressing (a dressing that will not stick to the rash) if you need to cover the blisters – this avoids passing the virus to anyone else

Calamine lotion has a soothing, cooling effect on the skin and can be used to relieve the itching.

If you have any weeping blisters, you can use a cool compress (a cloth or a flannel cooled with tap water) several times a day to help soothe the skin and keep blisters clean.

It’s important to only use the compress for around 20 minutes at a time and stop using them once the blisters stop oozing. Don’t share any cloths, towels or flannels if you have the shingles rash.

Antiviral medication

As well as painkilling medication, some people with shingles may also be prescribed a course of antiviral tablets lasting 7 to 10 days. Commonly prescribed antiviral medicines include aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir.

These medications cannot kill the shingles virus, but can help stop it multiplying. This may:

Antiviral medicines are most effective when taken within 72 hours of your rash appearing, although they may be started up to a week after your rash appears if you are at risk of severe shingles or developing complications.

Side effects of antiviral medication are very uncommon, but can include:

 

Can Shingles Be Prevented?

Currently, there is no way to predict an outbreak of shingles.  Researchers have shown that giving older people a stronger form of the chicken pox vaccine used for children can boost the type of immunity believed necessary to hold the virus in check. Zostavax, a shingles vaccine developed by Merck, has been approved by the FDA. An initial study in people with HIV showed that Zostavax was safe and effective (The Body).

 

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is not contagious (able to spread) in the sense that people who are exposed to a patient with shingles will not “catch shingles.” Anyone who has already had chickenpox or has received the chickenpox vaccine, and is otherwise healthy, should be protected and at no risk when around a patient with shingles. However, people who have never had chickenpox and have not received the chickenpox vaccine are susceptible to infection by a patient with shingles. These susceptible people, if exposed to the shingles virus, will not develop shingles, but they could develop chicken pox. However, people who have never had chickenpox and have not received the chickenpox vaccine are susceptible to infection by a patient with shingles. These susceptible people, if exposed to the shingles virus, will not develop shingles, but they could develop chicken pox. Such susceptible individuals include babies, young children, and unvaccinated individuals, so people with shingles are actually contagious for VZV infections in the form of chickenpox. Consequently, these individuals may get shingles at a later time in life, as can anyone who has had chickenpox. Covering the rash that occurs with shingles with a dressing or clothing helps decrease the risk of spreading the infection to others. Pregnant women are not unusually susceptible to shingles but if shingles develops near the end of pregnancy, the fetus may be harmed (eMedicineHealth).

 

Vaccines for Shingles

The shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is recommended for adults age 60 and older, whether they’ve already had shingles or not. Although the vaccine is approved for people age 50 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t recommending it until you reach age 60.

The shingles vaccine is a live vaccine given as a single injection, usually in the upper arm. The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection site, and headaches.

Some people report a chickenpox-like rash after getting the shingles vaccine.

Although some people will develop shingles despite vaccination, the vaccine may reduce the severity and duration of it.

The shingles vaccine isn’t recommended if you:

  • Have ever had an allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the shingles vaccine
  • Have a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
  • Are receiving immune system-suppressing drugs or treatments, such as steroids, adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), radiation or chemotherapy
  • Have cancer that affects the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

The cost of the shingles vaccine may not be covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance.  Check your plan (Mayo Clinic).  One of my co-workers got the vaccine this year and recommends that I get one too.

 

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Is there a Cure?

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease your symptoms until the condition improves. In many cases, shingles gets better within around two to four weeks.  However, it’s still important to see your GP as soon as possible if you recognize the symptoms of shingles, as early treatment may help reduce the severity of the condition and the risk of potential complications (NHS Choices).

 

Caring for Shingles

How to care for a Patient with Shingles

If you are helping to care for someone with shingles and particularly if they are elderly, then here are some ideas to make life more comfortable for them:

  • As soon as the rash appears and has been diagnosed as shingles, start treatment. If treatment can be commenced within two or three days of the outbreak, the shingles will be less severe and there is less chance of the patient going on to suffer from postherpetic neuralgia.
  • You cannot catch shingles by touching the sore skin or the bed or chair where the person has been lying or sitting so if wearing less clothing will make the patient more comfortable then encourage this. Some people with shingles are very sensitive to touch so try to touch only the side of the body that does not have the rash.
  • You can catch chicken pox from a person with shingles blisters so keep anyone who has never had chicken pox away from the patient.  (This particularly applies to pregnant women where there is a danger to the unborn fetus).
  • Relieve any discomfort with cool compresses unless your patient finds it makes the pain worse.
  • Look for ways to relieve the stress of the pain for your patient such as meditation or listening to soothing music.
  • Make sure your patient has a pain reliever if necessary and you may need a prescription for something to help insomnia if this is a problem. In some cases, the pain can be very severe and with such pain, it is hard to find a comfortable position whether sitting, lying down or walking around.  Your patient needs as much sleep as possible.
  • Constant pain can affect your patient’s appetite – try to encourage your patient to eat well (you may need to provide extra tasty treats).
  • Constant pain can also make your patient cross, sad or depressed – this will need extra patience and kindness on your part (Healing Natural Oils).

My mother is doing well.  She is on an anti-viral drug and not in any pain.  I was relieved to find out that her blisters are on her arm and not on her face.  She is frustrated because she is quarantined but the nursing home has to do what is best for all the residents.  I hope she gets better soon.  In the meantime, my family and I will do as she requested and stay away.

If you have a loved one who has Shingles, call them often.   Hearing from you may bring them some comfort.

 

Sources:  Live Strong; Women’s Health; Mayo Clinic; The Body; CDC; eMedicine Health; Healing Natural Oils