Yes, We Can
The doctor bounced into the waiting room after knocking two times on the door. “What is going on?” she said, sitting on a rolling metal stool, balancing her laptop on her lap. “I am having sharp, shooting pains in my right arm”, I tell her. “I lifted my granddaughter over my back wall and that’s when the pain started, so I think I may have pulled a muscle or something. But now I am getting a discolored rash on my arm.”
She put her laptop on the counter behind her and asked me to pull my sleeve down so she could take a look. As soon as she spotted the blistering rash, she said, “Oh, yeah, you have shingles.”
“Shingles?,” I said. “Shingles are what they use to roof houses. I can’t have Shingles. Black people don’t get Shingles and nobody I know even knows anybody who knows anybody who has had Shingles.
“I’ve seen plenty of black people with Shingles,” she says, “so black people do get Shingles. Pass it on.”
She called in a prescription for an antiviral and serious pain-killers (which she assured me were not opioids and which I refuse to take because I don’t exactly trust her because I blame her for this for suggesting for the last three years that I take the shingles vaccine, anyway). She told me to get plenty of rest.
I cannot believe this! I am the first and only Black person I know with Shingles. When I told my friends and family members, they said the same thing: “Girl, Black people don’t get Shingles. As I write this I realize that this must be for a testament, and I need to let other people know that Black people do get Shingles (not the kind you can buy), and not the kind you hang outside the door of your office to announce that you have made it in the world, but the kind that causes excruciating pain and chickenpox-like scarring. The kind that is caused by getting old (yes, I am old and grateful for it), and having had chickenpox as a child, or sometimes, in rare cases, having gotten the chickenpox vaccine. My mother could not afford the vaccine so when one of us children got chickenpox, she made sure all the rest of us were exposed to it, like it was a blessing in disguise.
I still do not trust getting the Shingles vaccine. My doctor says when this episode is over, she still recommends that I take it. My advice to her is that when I am over this episode, never say the S_______ word to me, again. As I sit here in my purple pajamas with the puppies on them, quarantined from my family, even though I am probably not a threat to them since all of them have been vaccinated for the chickenpox virus, looking out my window at the trees, let me pose a clear warning: no matter the color of your skin, you might get this S___!”
Carolyn Tucker lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is retired mother of three daughters and nine grandchildren. Her hobbies are writing and gardening.