The first thing I noticed was some pain and a little rash. The pain grew more and more pervasive, moving from my waist to the entire side to my abdomen. After three days, I went to the doctor.
"I think I have spider bites, but they really hurt," I said.
The doctor looked at me sympathetically.
"Those aren't spider bites. You have Shingles."
And with that, I began a two-week period during which the world kept turning and people kept moving while I lay in my bed, dopey from pain medication (Shingles hurts, a lot), watching TV and dozing. I couldn't focus on any reading more substantial than a magazine.
My husband left for the weekend after I was diagnosed for a long-planned visit to our son. Our daughter went too. It was supposed to be a family reunion of sorts, but you know, Shingles.
I've always thought that, when the time came for me to be an old lady (not in age, but in lifestyle), I would be really good at it. I am not an athletic person and I'm not particularly interested in physical activity for entertainment purposes -- I walk because it's good for me (and my dog) and because I enjoy listening to 70's music on my iPhone while I look at the ocean. Being still, sitting and reading, puttering around my house -- those are skills I have mastered. Also, as a writer, interaction with other people can sometimes be counterproductive to my work, so I'm quite comfortable with solitude.
Having that solitude and immobility forced on me was quite a different thing. I've been sick before, but I've never been quite as uncomfortable as I was during the 10 or so days I had Shingles -- and mine was a mild case. (Tip: if you think you have Shingles, go to the doctor and get antiviral medication ASAP!)
After the 10 days were up, my husband suggested it might be good for me to get out of the house, get some things done -- rejoin the living. I agreed, and despite my continued (but much milder) discomfort, I got dressed -- not an easy task when you have Shingles around your waist -- gathered up things that needed to be returned, shipped, lists of things to buy, errands to run -- and left my house, feeling quite optimistic and good for the first time in a while.
Then I fell down.
And not just "oops, I slipped." My ankle simply gave out and twisted under me, and suddenly I was sitting on the sidewalk, my car door open, my purse in the street. My ankle immediately began swelling up, and within 30 seconds I knew it was not good. I grabbed for my phone and called my best friend who lives a few blocks away, and she sent her husband to come and get me and take me to urgent care, where my ankle was x-rayed as my husband sat with me feeling guilty for shooing me out of the house and, I'm sure, scared of having to take care of me for yet another few weeks. Fortunately the ankle wasn't broken, but it was not a pretty sight. It was black and blue, very swollen, and it was sore as hell.
So there I was again, alone and fairly incapacitated, certainly in no position to drive anywhere. For another five days I was laid up. It dawned on me that this was how it could feel someday when I am old; isolated from people, perhaps far from family and friends or simply too weak to get up and go. It was terribly depressing. I grew tired of tuna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly, I grew bored with all things TV related, I grew restless and cranky and irritated that everyone's lives were moving along just fine while I was captive in my home. My husband continued doing things he normally would have done that usually wouldn't have bothered me -- going to football games, going to work, hanging out with his friends for yet more football -- but I grew impatient and annoyed with him. How dare he enjoy himself while I was trapped with nothing to do? My friends called to check in, or texted, but they are all very busy women leading full lives, and frankly I was in no mood for small talk or a visit for lunch.
I had become an old lady.
And not a cool old lady with a purple hat like we all hope to be someday -- an old lady who resents the rest of the world for still being young and healthy and active and engaged. An old lady with an old dog, lying on her bed feeling sorry for herself.
I don't want to be that old lady ever again. Even when I really am an old lady. Even if I get sick again with Shingles or the flu or a broken leg. I don't want to be depressed and irritated and snappish, driving people away.
The older we get, the more we will have things that will make us ache or itch or moan in pain. I am going to try to remember how much I didn't like myself when I was that old lady. Next time I'm under the weather, I'm going to let the world spin without me for a while, and be OK with it.
Previously published on Empty House Full Mind