First, for those who haven’t read our post called “Prepare to be Horrified” from Jan 31st, you really should read that before you read this, because I am going to refer back to that post at the end of this as a possible reason why Trevor fell ill. Ok, for those of you who DID read that post, you are well aware of the conditions in which we left Australia before boarding our plane to New Zealand. Those conditions may or may not have played a part in Trevor getting sick, but we will discuss those later.
We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on February 2nd around midnight. We stayed at the cheapest motel we could find by the Airport, which turned out to be a little “dodgy”. It looked a lot worse on the outside than it did on the inside, so we weren’t too freaked out. When we woke up in the morning, Trevor had what looked like a bug bite on his nose and forehead. We immediately thought what everyone would be thinking if they stayed in a dodgy motel (bed bugs – right?) Our initial reaction was “gross, but oh well”. We got picked up by the owners of the Lodge that we are working at (more on that in another blog), and we got settled in for the night. The next morning, Trevor’s “bed bug bites” appeared to have blown up in size, creating what looked like large red lumps, almost like blisters, but not quite. We still assumed it was bed bugs, and we really didn’t worry.
We didn’t sleep well at all the first night at the Lodge, so both of us woke up feeling quite “hung over” and exhausted. Trevor’s face looked pretty much the same, so no alarm bells were going off. It was easy for us to ignore Trevor’s symptoms because I felt the same way, and we assumed we were just tired. The owners took us for a nice sight-seeing tour of the area for a few hours. During the course of the tour, we both started to feel sick to our stomachs. Again, we assumed it was because we were just jet lagged and tired from the previous night, and also because I was feeling the same way, we didn’t think Trevor was having any special symptoms. We both went to bed early feeling unwell.
The next day, Trevor and I started our first day of work housekeeping at the Lodge, which went well. Trevor felt fine and there were no issues until the end of the day when he started feeling very weak and a little sick. He felt the urge to lay down, and was exhausted. This is when we started to feel like maybe something more was going on. His glands also felt a little swollen, which we thought was strange. He went to bed early, and the next day started us down quite the rabbit hole.
Trevor could barely get out of bed in the morning, so I went to work alone and he stayed in bed to rest. His face was starting to look worse, especially the growth of more red bumps on his nose area. His glands in front of his ear and down his neck were all swollen on the same side of his face as the red bumps running up his nose and forehead. He felt nauseous, had a horrible migraine, and felt like he had the chills and a fever. The bumps were also starting to hurt. Instead of thinking he had bedbugs, we thought now that he was had caught some crazy virus, and that he had some scary infection on his face. Never once did we think it could be shingles. I started talking to the Lodge owner about Trevor’s condition, and she was the first one who really thought it could be shingles. We did some research, and sure enough, there is s type of shingles that runs up one side of the face, affecting the cranial nerve. I only knew of the kind that you can get on your body, so this is why I never thought he might have shingles. Trevor and I both thought “no way”, but he was going down-hill fast, and getting worse by the minute, so we knew we would have to go see a Doctor. By the time we had come to this decision, it was already after hours, so it would have to wait until morning.
Going to the Doctor when travelling is a night mare because you know it is going to cost money, sometimes a lot of money. Our initial visit the next morning with the Doctor was $85. As soon as the Doctor saw Trevor she knew right away that he had shingles. We were both happy and sad at the same time (happy to know what it was, but sad to know it was shingles). I was honestly worried it was going to be a severe foreign disease that would be much more serious, so there was some relief there for sure. She prescribed him the only medication strong enough to stop the spread of the shingles, because there was fear of them getting into his eye, which would have potentially damaged his eye sight, and what a nightmare that would have been. She said we were lucky to come in when we did, because it would have gotten a lot worse. The medication he got was a strong dose of an anti-viral, which had to be taken 5x/day for the next 7 days. It only cost us $20 which was great! So far, not a huge expense. She wanted to see us in a week to check the healing process (this will cost $75).
We went home thinking that things could only get better (we were wrong). Trevor took 4/5 pills for the day, but in the evening started feeling quite nauseous. He started having a worse headache and worse fever than the day before. The Doctor warned us about nausea, but never said anything about vomiting. Trevor could barely get to sleep, and when he finally did it didn’t last long. He was up all night throwing up. Neither of us slept, and in the morning, he was sicker than I had ever seen him. He couldn’t even move, and he was in a lot of pain. I knew this couldn’t be a normal reaction, so we called the New Zealand version of our Ontario Tele Health (free advice by Nurses), to find out if we needed to get to a hospital. My biggest concern was his dehydration, and the risk of continued sickness if he kept taking the medication. The Nurse said to us that because of where the shingles were located, he needed to take SOMETHING in order to stop the spread, so we needed to go to a hospital so that we could either get an alternative, OR be told that it was “ok” to be vomiting all the time. Great. Did I mention that in New Zealand this was a holiday weekend? Oh, and it was now SUNDAY, which means that everything around us, including the medical centre we went to was CLOSED? Normally we would ask to borrow a car, but I didn’t want to drive on the left side of the road when I had NO practice! The owners would have driven us, but both of their vehicles were in use for the day, so we had NO choice but to track down a rental car.
We were VERY lucky, there was only one rental car left in the whole town, and they were nice enough to rent it to us even though they had promised it to someone later in the day. It was only 10am, so we knew we didn’t need it for long. This meant I had to drive. The day was stressful enough with Trevor being sick without me having to learn how to drive to take him to a hospital! We rented the car, and off we went, about a 30 minute drive close to Auckland to the nearest walk-in hospital. I was almost in tears at times due the stress of driving on the left side of the road on a busy holiday weekend! We had NO idea about any special rules of the road, and had no time to learn. I had to go through traffic lights, drive on the freeway, and a round-about! I was a complete mess the whole time thinking I was going to hit something. Not only are we on the opposite side of the road, but the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, so everything changes, and nothing feels comfortable or natural. Good news, we arrived safe and sound with no accidents!
We had to pay $95 to see a Doctor this time, and unfortunately, he wasn’t much help. They could only offer one alternative for the medicine Trevor needed, but it would cost $250 and there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t make him any sicker than the medicine he was already on. The Doctor also prescribed a heavy anti-nauseate, the same kind they give for chemotherapy patients, in hopes that it would allow him to remain on the same medication if that’s what we chose to do. Since we didn’t want to spend more money, and because we already had the recommended medication at home, we decided to just buy the anti-nauseate ($15), and we drove home. The rental car for 2.5 hours costs us the same as it would if we kept it all day, but since Trevor was ill, we just returned it right away, and paid the $65 for it. We were a little disappointed that Trevor couldn’t get an alternative medicine, but we were hoping this anti-nauseate would help him continue his treatment. That evening, Trevor was still feeling sick, and couldn’t eat dinner, but took his medication, and the extra pills. We were both thrilled that this new pill allowed him to sleep through the night without getting sick to his stomach. We felt hopeful at that point, that things were looking up.
Today, he is on the 4th day of medicine, and his face is healing nicely. Unfortunately with shingles, they look worse when they start to heal, than they do before you get treated. I won’t go into detail, but it is quite the horrible sight. We have some photos posted below this blog for anyone who has a strong stomach and wants to see the progression. If you don’t want to see them, don’t look! I have no choice because I live with him, ha. He made a joke about putting on a hat to go outside today to avoid sun exposure, but he doesn’t think he looks good in hats, and I said “how can you possibly care about how you look in a hat when your face looks like THAT?” ha ha, he laughed. He is taking it all in stride now. Not feeling nauseous, and finally being able to rest, has helped him bounce back pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the only symptom that won’t go away is the intense headaches. Because of where the shingles are, there doesn’t seem to be a way to cure this pain. He tried taking over the counter medication, but it just isn’t strong enough, and neither of us wanted to pay to see another Doctor just to get headache pills, so he is doing his best to function with it. We will go back to the Doctor on Friday this week to get a feel for how he is doing, but judging on his face, he is on the upswing at this point.
Now that you know what happened, you are probably wondering HOW it might have happened? If you are like us, you think about older people getting shingles and not a healthy 36 year old. Anyone who has had chicken pox as a child has the shingles virus inside their body, and it just lies dormant until the day it decides to rear its ugly head. Experts say that it is brought on by severe stress. This is why I suggested at the start that you read our previous blog if you haven’t already, because you will see that just 2 days before we arrived in New Zealand, we experienced the most stressful day so far on our travels, and we now truly believe that this was the start of the stress in Trevor’s body. What really set it off though (we believe), is on the way to the airport in Sydney, we were on the train, and a man who was clearly mentally ill began screaming violently at passengers, as well as throwing his heavy backpack onto the ground repeatedly. Now, since my past career involved working with the mentally ill, I understood what was going on, but that being said, I didn’t have any police backup like I would normally have in my job, so this brought on a sense of fear and major stress in both of us because we were essentially helpless if this man had a weapon of some kind on him and came at us. We felt OK until he came down and sat in front of Trevor (I was seated across the aisle next to Trevor). The hardest part of this was not looking at this man at all, which meant not looking over at Trevor either to get a sense of how he was reacting. I knew that any eye contact with this man could mean he could snap on me like he had previously done with a young girl not far from us. My heart started beating so fast, that I felt I was having a panic attack, and I just prayed for the trip to be over. We weren’t far (about 15 minutes), but that felt like forever in this situation. When we got closer to the station, we walked to the back of the train away from this man, and we were happy he stayed where he was.
When we were talking about what might have brought on the shingles, Trevor said that this situation got him very worked up inside. He was already planning in his head how he was going to “take down” this guy if he tried to attack one of us, or anyone else. His heart was also beating fast, and his senses were very heightened. I feel that this experience partnered with the event of 2 days prior to this, is what brought on his shingles. For me, I always function on a high stress level, so I think my body is much more immune to these situations than Trevor is (he is the calm one). We really can’t think of anything else that could have set it off, because if anything, we have both been stress free up until that day!
So, there you have it. When all of the Doctor visits are over, we will attempt to make a claim for Trevor’s medical expenses to our Travel Insurance. I will likely blog about that experience depending on how easy/hard it is, and whether we are successful!