It began harmlessly a few days ago. I was tired, experiencing achy joints, and had that general feeling of malaise. I got a Covid test, It was negative, but that did not make me feel better (swabbing your brain rarely does). So, I carried on in search of the holiday spirit, until on Christmas Eve a terrible burning began on my upper back.
And when I say terrible, I mean unrelenting. And when I say burning, I’m talking like a waffle iron. By Christmas morning lightning was striking constantly under my right arm, the waffle iron had been replaced by what felt like a box grater, and a blistery rash had erupted like the fires of Mordor. The diagnosis? I had a case of Varicella Zoster, better known as the shingles.
If you are unfamiliar, Varicella Zoster is the same virus that causes chicken pox, and if you have ever had chicken pox (I had a miserable case four decades ago), this virus remains in your body. It can reignite years later as inflammation of the nervous system, resulting in the symptoms catalogued above. It won’t kill you, thankfully, but you might pray for death.
The questions that drove me deep into the bowels of online medical research were these: What causes Varicella Zoster to inexplicably return? What switch flips or trigger pulls that it comes raging back to torment the unsuspecting victim? And the answer, even with a virus that is 120 million years old and which has plagued humanity for its entire history, remains a mystery.
There are a few indicators, however, that point to who will endure a fiery breakout. Age. There are more cases after 50, a milestone I surpassed just a few months ago, so check. A compromised immune system is a primary barometer, as the body loses its ability to keep the latent virus at bay if it is generally unhealthy; check again, as my last physical was not my greatest.
And the third major cause is stress: It appears that carrying the weight of the previous year on my back didn’t break it, but it sure caused it to explode with hives. As the old saying goes, “The body does not lie.” Even when we feel more or less emotionally and spiritually healthy, the strain of living during perilous times takes its toll – if not mentally – certainly anatomically.
There is a conversation Jesus once had that I simply love. Looking to those who were worn down by their own desperate days, he gave this invitation. “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. You will find rest for your souls.”
So, as an act of soul care, I think we should all lay down a few burdens in the coming year. And take our vitamins. And exercise. And take more naps. No, I’m not preaching to the choir, I’m preaching to myself. But I bet you could use the same sermon, shingles or not.