I noticed the sound first.
A sort of whoosing noise that was obvious along the empty and carpeted hallway.
Curious as to its source, I looked around, only confirming that I was alone.
And then I looked down.
The noise was coming from me.
Or, more accurately, from my left foot as it dragged along the floor.
I couldn’t feel my altered gait; I had no sensation that alerted me to the change.
Yet I couldn’t lift and replace my foot with each step.
There was no pain. At least not yet. It was just an observation. A, “Hmmm…that’s weird. I should keep an eye on that.”
I continued down the hall, my dropped foot leaving a trail in the carpet behind me like the morning slugs on my front walkway. As I settled into my seat and opened my binder to prepare for the upcoming class, I forgot all about the incident.
A week went by. My gait returned to normal and I gave my leg’s lazy morning no more thought.
And then a new visitor arrived.
I again was in that same carpeted hallway, although this time the classroom doors were still locked, so I sat on the floor with my back against the wall.
Without warning, a hot poker of pain pierced through my leg and into my gut. I released a gasp, as I curled into a ball, startling the other students in the hall. The stab stole my breath and then is disappeared, leaving only a strange tingling behind as a reminder.
That tingle, a sensation of the nerves whispering to each other, became a frequent companion. It often felt as though the leg was asleep and couldn’t quite fully wake up.
That was my introduction to shingles, at the ripe old age of 22. The blisters came a week or so later, bringing a visible indicator of the disease that, up until then, had been entirely subterranean. I finally connected the dots, understanding that each of the strange symptoms was part of a larger story.
I have never know such physical pain. The location of my outbreak meant that I didn’t have to worry about visible scarring, but it also meant that I could not sit down (or easily wear pants). I took my final exams that semester from a prone position on the floor, ice packs carefully placed around my hip and thigh.
The blisters eventually popped and healed over. The deep pain and strange skin sensations took longer. I kept a pillow in my car so that I would not have to sit on the affected side. My weird limp would still appear out of nowhere. For months, random lightening bolts would shoot through my leg, stealing my ability to talk or even think.
It’s been 13 years now and I rarely even think about those miserable months.
But the body still sends reminders.
Like ghosts of shingles past traveling along the neural pathways. Bringing pain or numbness out of the blue.
I’m healed, but the virus is still there, living at the base of the nerve bundle that travels to my leg. Most of the time it is dormant, unnoticed and inconsequential. But sometimes, it senses weakness, either from illness or injury, and it wakes up. And says hello.
It’s alert this weekend, more than it has been in years. My leg feels wooden, distant. But now I know how to rock the virus back into slumber with gentle stretches and patience. It will be okay.
As I was healing from the divorce, my mind kept thinking about my experience with shingles. There were so many parallels.
The cause that was anchored in the distant past.
The distant and underground signs that were not clear until the disease was visible to the eye.
The sharp pain that was too much to bear at the onset.
The slow improvement over time.
The fact that healing was not linear or predictable and pain could pounce at any time.
The strange distance I felt from my leg matched the separation I felt from my life.
And then there’s the fact that, like the virus along my spine, the memory of the pain from the divorce will always be there.
Looking for moments of weakness to wake up again.
But now I know its lullaby.
To keep it safely asleep.