Seeing Spots: Julian’s Chickenpox Story

20130112_183429If you’re like me, you probably had the chicken pox as a kid, way before the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine was introduced to the public. I vaguely remember the itchy spots and can recall lying on the couch for week watching cartoons. But, if you made it through childhood without catching the chicken pox and haven’t been vaccinated now as an adult, you may be begging for trouble. As Julian found out, getting the chickenpox in adulthood is absolutely horrific. As a schoolteacher in Australia you may assume Julian has had just about every cold and virus out there. Children tend to be little Petri dishes, harboring all kinds of germs, but the schoolyard is not where his chickenpox story begins. Julian was spending time with his two sons while on summer break. His oldest son had been vaccinated with the varicella vaccine on schedule, while his youngest was still not old enough for the vaccine. That summer, Julian’s oldest son came down with a mild, short-lived case of the chickenpox. As with many vaccines, even if you get vaccinated it is still possible that you may come down with mild symptoms of the disease should you come in contact with it. It had never occurred to Julian that he may be susceptible to getting the chickenpox virus, as he assumed he had caught it as a child just like everyone else. However, according to his mother, that was not the case. Julian had never caught the chickenpox, and was a sitting duck for the virus.

Julian’s mother, who is a nurse, began to panic when she heard the news. Not only did they need to keep the youngest son isolated from getting the chickenpox, Julian wasn’t protected and could easily become infected, as well. And, of course that’s exactly what happened. About two weeks after noticing his eldest son was sick, Julian came down with a fever. In the hot Australian summer, the fever was easy to pin on the heat. But, when his skin became red and blotchy, he had a feeling he knew what was coming and there was nothing he could do about it. 20130107_122959After a confirmed diagnosis of the chickenpox, Julian was prescribed bed rest. Soon after, small red rashes with welts appeared all over his skin, and then larger areas of the characteristic pox rash followed. Not only were the poxes on his skin, but internally, through out his mouth, nasal passages, throat, and his gastrointestinal tract. He describes the gastrointestinal pox rashes as being the most unpleasant, as he was unable to digest food properly and suffered bouts of pus-filled diarrhea. With too many spots to count, all he could do to relieve the itching for a short period of time was to take oatmeal baths and keep his skin moisturized. And thanks to his well-trained nurse mother, his fevers, which often reached over 40*C, (104*F), were carefully monitored and controlled. However, his wife and mother began to worry about Julian in his final days of battling the virus, as he began to have muddled thought and speech—a symptom of encephalitis. Thankfully, about eight days after the first skin symptoms appeared, the blisters scabbed over and Julian was on the mend. However, the disappearance of the spots, didn’t mean his struggle was over. The impact of the virus lasted for months after. His fitness level deteriorated significantly, and it took Julian a long time to return to being able to digest food properly. The following year he seemed to be somewhat immunocompromised, contracting all kinds of sicknesses, of which dragged on for some time before he would get better. He also lost many days of work. And unfortunately was left with life-lasting scars on his face and torso to remember the virus by. After his experience he recommends that anyone who hasn’t had the chickenpox vaccine to seriously consider getting it, because it isn’t worth the risk. He has vaccinated his two boys, and will continue to follow the recommended vaccine schedule with his children. He says that in Australia, proof of vaccination wasn’t part of any contract or requirement of his employment as a schoolteacher. Similarly, in the United States the vaccine requirements of teachers vary from state to state and often are not implemented. Because teachers work so closely with children, who now may or may not be vaccinated against some of these deadly diseases, it is so important for teachers to protect themselves. Of course, it’s good for everyone to protect themselves! Julian has told this story to many people, in hopes that they will take it seriously and get vaccinated. He is also relaying it to the students he teaches. Putting a little fear in them may be the push they need to understand why vaccines are so important. Julian’s thoughts on this: He wants us all to know that chickenpox isn’t a disease of the past. It’s real and still here, lingering in the unvaccinated. And it’s seriously life threatening. “The single most insulting thing that can be said is, ‘Well, you’re alive. What’s the big deal?’ (Or similar points.) Quite often it is perceived that you have to die from something for it to be worth complaining about. That I only have now to contend with the scars on my body is a reminder of the worst eight days of my life thus far, the decreased quality of life is never taken into account when examining the aftermath of disease by vaccine deniers.” -Julian