Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Minor Maladies

To turn middle-aged is to be forced to learn (and to learn the hard way) the real physical meaning of a whole slew of medical terms one had previously ignored as "other people's problems": terms such as bursitis, shingles, prostatitis, acid reflux, etc., etc. Turning forty, one begins to suffer from a new health issue every year or two, and with each of them there is the experience of something like, "Oh, so that's what bursitis feels like." Along with this comes the fact one must suddenly stop doing something one likes. Or doing less of it.

My favorite of these minor maladies in terms of sheer annoyance value is acid reflux. I'd always thought it was just an issue of overeating. But no. When the problem started harassing me last year, making me wish I could somehow tilt my bed up, I went and investigated online as to causes. It turned out acid reflux wasn't really so much overeating, but rather a matter of a valve at the top of the stomach that didn't stay closed when it should. The acid came up from the stomach because the cap on the stomach was loose. Here, I learned online, were the key things that could loosen it:





So if I wanted to stop the acid reflux, I just needed to stop using these four things. Pretty nasty, no? I mean, how sadistic can you get? This is a near exhaustive list of the still legal substances that make life worth living. I will experiment with bed tilting, thank you.

The most recent middle-age malady I've acquired is called shingles. Though I'd heard of shingles over the years, I never really knew what it was. If only I could have maintained that ignorance. Shingles is actually a belated attack from the virus that causes chickenpox. In fact it's like a Stage 2 attack of the same original infection.

I got chickenpox when I was nine, and I assumed that I'd thoroughly defeated it. No such luck. Rather, the virus that caused my chickenpox, varicella zoster, went into dormancy in my nerve cells, and now, 37 years later, has made up its mind to launch a second attack. It is doing this after almost four decades of idleness. Pretty impressive. But if it wanted to impress me, I wish it would just bring me the pox back, which I remember as itchy and mildly fever-inducing. Instead, it seems viruses develop a kind of attitude problem when forced into dormancy so long. Shingles, which has been plaguing me three weeks, is not itchy in the least: it is a vicious biting bitch of a scourge--tenacious and painful as hell. And I'm not doing well against it, though I continue to follow doctor's orders and am taking a regular hefty dosage of an antiviral drug which causes--another cheery medical term--tinnitus. Tinnitus is basically ringing in the ears. Which means that these weeks with the shingles I regularly hear mosquitoes buzzing round my head when there are none. Which is giving the real mosquitoes an unfair advantage. (No, I'm not joking. The ringing I hear is identical to the sound of mosquito wings. Almost uncanny. When it first started I actually believed there was a mosquito near me in the living room. It was only hours later, when I lay down to sleep, and heard the mosquito flying inside my pillow, that I realized it was an hallucination.)

But seriously: I know I've no right to complain about all this. These are only minor health issues, and I'm grateful for the decent health I've always had, as I'm lucky to have Taiwan's health care system taking care of me. Living as we do, amid such racket and pollution, we urban people certainly don't deserve good health. Though sometimes in pain, heartburned, tossing and turning, we are still right to be grateful if we've made it to middle age without any of the major maladies.

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