Hang

Friendly medicine

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 06, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

Sunday afternoon I start work on my mural. By evening, I’m half-way done. But on Monday morning a spot above my left eyebrow suddenly begins to “speak”. There’s a sharp tingling sensation, but no bumps, no redness. It’s as if a single nerve is poking up above the skin and waving in the wind. “What’s this?” I ask the invisible spot. It snickers softly but declines to answer.

Back at the lovely airy studio that afternoon, the simple image I’ve created on my eight-foot panel is almost complete. All I need is to wait a day for the paint to dry, then I can add a final darkening coat. The paint itself is a real surprise. I thought it would drip too much to create shapes on a vertical surface but I was wrong. It’s easy to handle. Mistakes are easy to correct because it’s opaque. As long as a layer is dry, a fresh layer can be laid over it, with no show-through.

Meanwhile, on my forehead, above my left eyebrow, the single spot has gone silent but there are many more tingles all over the area, reaching into my scalp. Multiple tiny shrieks from the nerves beneath my skin: “Pay attention! Something’s wrong!” There’s a headache but no fever. No cough, no loss of smell or taste. I call my sister and ask the question that appeared in my mind with the very first tingle, “Could it be herpes?” Also known as shingles. She tells me to look out for the tell-tale painful blisters, but all I see are faint red bumps. “How about brain tumour?” I ask and we both chuckle. I am famous for expecting the worst.

On Wednesday I complete the mural. What remains now is to protect it with transparent polyurethane. Thursday morning: Blisters! Marching across the smooth expanse of my forehead, they look like an invading army of tiny red volcanoes. I call my doctor and we have a video consultation. “Herpes zoster,” she confirms and immediately prescribes medication. “You have to start at once,” she warns. My left eye is in the path of the invaders.

Lily, from the Gallery, very gallantly takes me to the CVS pharmacy and I start my course. I’m not infectious, so on Friday, Emma and I finish coating the mural. On Saturday morning, I have a Brazil-India-US Zoom call! I keep my face shaded. Saturday afternoon my eye looks like a potato. I can’t reach my doctor: It’s the Memorial Day weekend and I don’t know how to bypass the automatic answering service. On Sunday I call beloved doctor friends in New York. Muriel drives me to CVS to get the eye-drops my friends prescribe.

I spend three days feeling gloomy, eating nothing. On Wednesday I meet my very concerned doctor. She sends me to a charming ophthalmologist. “Your eye is safe!” he smiles. Following which, Muriel and I celebrate with ice cream. Grateful for good friends and strong medicine.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 06, 2021

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