Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

Xpressly Yours ... a letter from the editor

Small-town medicine show
Ignore the warnings presented as advertisements in the newspaper and on television at your own peril. This was the message conveyed the weekend before Memorial Day, as seven yards of red cedar mulch that had been delivered by Chamberlain Construction of Douglas lay like a cone-shaped sand hill in the driveway—waiting to be spread.
For years there had been the cautionary messages, including the ones flashing across the TV screen that depicted a man, bare from the waist up, whose back is covered in nasty, festering welts; accompanying this image, symbolic bolts of lightning, as further evidence that shingles and all of the pain that comes with it is not to be taken lightly.
So began an ordeal that had loomed as a threat since childhood, and an outbreak of chicken pox.
Day One (May 21)
The front flower bed, facing the street, was mulched within an hour or so, the bright wood chips lying in perfect complement to the leafy lamb’s ear and azalea bushes and iris and rhododendron and lupine that were just starting to bloom. Mary Trottier, a neighbor, driving by, stopped to say “looking good” and to point out that she appreciated the restaurant column in the Xpress newspapers for having given a battered industry the attention it deserved as it fights back from the ravages of the pandemic. Early afternoon arrives. The first twinges of pain on the left side of the head.
Day Two (May 22)
A trip to Urgent Care and a visit with Dr. Scheinfein, who after examining my ears for wax buildup (which I am prone to) and the scalp at the top of my head (“I’m jealous that you have hair”) declares “I believe this is shingles. I am going to prescribe an anti-viral drug, Valacyclovir. Take one tablet three times a day for seven days.” The pain sharpens. I manage to read the Sunday papers, nap in the recliner, and watch the final round of the PGA championship. I reach for the bottle of Excedrin Migraine tablets.
Day Three (May 23)
The mulch sits. It can wait. The stabs are coming more frequently. The Excedrin with Valacyclovir is not touching them. In the recliner, I can see my left foot jump every time a stab strikes. I call Northbridge Primary Care. Our PCP, Dr. Anderson, has no openings but I can see the nurse practitioner. I am convinced the problem stems from wax buildup in the left ear. I asked for the ear to be flushed and Tess Green willingly complies. She flushes the right ear too for good measure. But her verdict is the same as Dr. Scheinfein’s: shingles, which, she explains, can be caused by the massive headache I am experiencing. She puts me on a combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen and says “keep taking the anti-viral med too.”
Day Four (May 24)
I discuss my situation with Tess, on the telephone. I tell her I had to force myself to sleep through the pain and that as soon as four hours or so pass the pain returns, every bit as severe as before. She expresses concern and says it will take some time for the mixture of two Tylenol tablets and three Ibuprofen to work their magic. “Let me know how you are doing,” she says. “If things don’t get better in a day or so, I will put you on a steroid.”
Day Five (May 25)
I want to avoid the ER in Milford at all costs. Milford Regional is a great hospital but a man I know mentioned that he had taken his wife there for a shoulder issue at 10:00 p.m. and they didn’t leave for home until 6:00 the next morning. I stick to the regimen and do virtually nothing. Late in the afternoon, still in discomfort, I call for Tess and the woman at the desk takes my message.
Day Six (May 26)
In the morning, a nurse calls to pass along word from Tess. “Tess is prescribing Prednisone. Take that in the morning with food. It may cause sleep restlessness. Follow the instructions on the container, you have to taper the dosages day-to-day. Keep taking the combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen. You can keep taking the anti-viral pill too.”
Day Seven (May 27)
I wake to twinges at 5:00 a.m., get up, toast and butter some bread, take the Prednisone with a large glass of water and then the Tylenol and Ibuprofen with another large glass of water. “From virtually no pills at my age I have become a pill popper,” I say.
I go back to bed, waiting for the medicine to kick in.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.