I have no idea what a ‘meme’ is. Please don’t try and explain it to me cos much smarter women and men have tried. I dunno, something like ‘Helen Razer’s a homosexual’ comes to mind for some bizarre reason. Anyhoo. I take it to mean ‘crap people are talking about on teh interwebs’ but what would I know?
However, when I saw that the inimitable Kerri Sackville was writing about chicken pox, I wanted to get me a bit of that pox meme action. So here’s one I prepared earlier (as is my wont on this recycling paradise of a blog). Chicken pox and me have quite the history.
(Is nowhere near as funny as the Sackville one. Not that it’s a competition or anything. )
The Itchy and Scratchy Show
There is officially a pox upon our house. Our six year old son, Levi, has contracted the varicella-zoster virus – or chickenpox to the uninitiated. And, as it happens, Levi and chickenpox go way back.
When I was pregnant with Indy a friend of ours contracted chickenpox. Neither my mum nor I could remember me ever having the virus as a child. Concerned for my little unborn one I rushed off to the doctor where it was discovered that I – like a contestant on Survivor – had immunity. Disaster averted. So when I was pregnant with Levi and my niece came down with the ‘pox, I happily went to visit her – feeling safe that my little passenger and I were protected.
A few months later our boy arrived. When Luke came over for a cuddle he noticed two distinct lines of scarring on our newborn’s cheeks. They looked exactly like preserved blisters. We pointed the scars out to the midwife and in double-quick time the room was full of rather important looking medical people. Levi was promptly whisked down to the neonatal unit and photographed for posterity. The head of the unit brought him back and informed us that, indeed, he had contracted chickenpox in-utero and would have to be examined for brain damage and vision impairment.
On Day Two I took my little guy for a brain scan while Day Three saw a visit from the ophthalmologist. “So what will we have to do?” I asked as he shone lights into Levi’s eyes. “Oh, we won’t be able to do anything,” he said, in rather clipped voice, “We’re just looking to see if he’s blind.” Not quite what you want to hear with a bunch of postnatal hormones running riot in your body.
But our son, while scarred, was born under a lucky star. On Day Four he was cleared of any chickenpox-related damage. As we went home counting our blessings we were warned to keep an eye on him in the future as he could run a remote risk of developing shingles – the reactivation of the varicella virus – rare but not impossible in kids.
So, last week, when one of the kindergarten mums told us that her son had chickenpox I dragged out Levi’s special story for a showing. Unfortunately, the next day the school rang to say that Levi was in sick bay, having become quite distressed at recess because of a ‘tingling head’. It seems his pre-natal exposure had not offered him any protection from his old nemesis.
An urgent trip to our GP eliminated a diagnosis of shingles but confirmed that our friend, Chickenpox, had come for another visit – and this time it was to be a visit of biblical proportions. Behind Levi’s ears, under his arms, on his back, torso and in his groin were a mass of bubbly blisters. He even had them on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, as well as some of the more dangerous ones veering close to his eyes. Over the next few days Levi had two febrile convulsions brought on by a fever of 40+, a ride in an ambulance and a night in hospital. Our poor, sick boy.
Hungry for information, I went to the guru – Google – as is the modern way. It was here that I made a rather disturbing discovery – The Chickenpox Party. In 2005, Shannon Henry wrote an article for The Washington Post titled A Pox on My Child: Cool! The article detailed the idea, held by some, that kids should contract certain illnesses in childhood in order to provide them with immunity in adulthood. It is believed that such illnesses are much more severe if we contract them when we are older.
The chickenpox party starts when one child contracts the pox. Out go the invitations to the gathering. Interested parents bring their offspring to this rather grotesque party and encourage them to eat from the same spoon as the sick child, cuddle up together and even play with the contagious blisters. Sort of like one big, poxy love-in. I’m not one to denigrate the choices of other parents but my little boy is so sick right now that the last thing he wants is a bunch of other kids over to visit, intent on playing Pop the Pox.
In Australia there is a vaccine available for chickenpox. It was not routinely offered until 2004 – two years after Levi was born. I wish it had been. My son is but a shadow of his former, energetic self and his angelic face is almost unrecognisable under the spots. This morning he sobbed when he looked in the mirror and wailed “Why me?” to the gods. I tried to console him by explaining how we sometimes catch things from other people. This just threw him into further distress as he recalled ‘high-fiving’ his best mate before he got sick. “I don’t want him to get it,” he said.
“Well, you will just have to go cross at the boy who gave it to you,” I said, hoping to cheer him up by apportioning blame.
“No,” he cried, with sad eyes, “he’s my friend.”
I wanted to hug him for his generous spirit – but he won’t let me touch him.
Damn you Chickenpox!
Have your kids had any of the so-called ‘childhood illnesses’? How did you cope?