Thursday, January 6, 2011

All I want for Christmas is ...

I'll start first with my apologies for not updating my blog for the past two weeks, as well as for straying from my planned subject matter -- I had planned to write about dealing with shock, anger and blame. But a rough two weeks it has been.
Christmas was largely one blessing after another, despite getting laid off on Dec. 2.

For example, on the Sunday before Christmas, the church I attend held a potluck after the morning service, during which the pastor and another dear friend took me aside and presented me with several boxes and bags of assorted groceries, household supplies and some gift cards -- this after I had told them several times in the weeks prior that we were not yet in a crunch from the layoff and should be all right for Christmas. Still, they had gathered up contributions to bless us in this way, knowing that, because Sun-Times Media has been undergoing financial stress typical of the news industry in recent years, there had been no severance package when I was let go, although I was paid for the vacation time I had accrued for 2011.

But there were some stress factors in the week leading up to Christmas as well.

I was experiencing some fairly significant pain in my right side but pretty much shrugged it off to not eating properly as a result of stress. That, in turn, boosted my stress level, because the pain was interfering with sleep. Sigh.

Then, four days before Christmas, I did my first "certification" to prove to the Illinois Department of Employment Services, or IDES, that I qualified to receive my first unemployment benefits check -- actually, a direct deposit.

But just two days later, I received a letter from the state telling me my deductions exceeded my unemployment benefits, which just flat out did not make any sense. Of course the letter was dropped into our mailbox between 4 and 5 p.m. on Dec. 23, so I could get no one at IDES to answer the phone that day, and apparently the offices were closed on Christmas eve as well, because, again, no one was answering the phone. Guess the issue would have to wait until the following week.

I awoke on Christmas eve morning to the promise of a white Christmas but also feeling guilty about the holiday. As the (former) provider of the larger of two incomes in our household, I really felt uncomfortable with the idea of receiving any Christmas gifts at all this year. I chalk that up to good old-fashioned Catholic guilt, even though I long ago abandoned the Catholic church in favor of a Protestant one. By the way, as a product of a Catholic education system (first grade through college), I long ago learned that guilt and Catholic are synonymous and therefore redundant when used alongside each other. So please, pardon this transgression.

But at some point on that Christmas even day, I also discovered there was an increasing burning sensation right below the center of my ribcage. As the sensation increased, I looked and discovered a quarter-sized welt had developed. I was annoyed, particularly after an analgesic skin gel failed to ease the pain. Still, Christmas was nearly here, so I tried to put it aside until the afternoon of Christmas Day, when my family and I joined my parents and siblings -- and their families -- at my parents' home.

That's where I learned that two of my three sisters had experienced shingles in years past. I showed the welt to my youngest sister, Barb, who said she believed I had the disease -- a recurrence of the virus that causes chickenpox, which I had had as a young child but had lain dormant in my body ever since.

And Barb urged me to see a doctor, on Sunday, if possible, as there is a fairly short window of opportunity to begin an antiviral regimen that helps the body fight the virus and minimize the effects of the illness.

So on the Sunday after Christmas, instead of heading off to church, I headed to an immediate care center in Elgin to seek a doctor's treatment. And by this time, another welt had appeared on my right side, six more on the right side of my back. All were on fire, and the muscles beneath them ached and hurt, punctuated from time to time with sudden, fiery stabbing pains.

The doctor I saw was personable and kind. He prescribed an antiviral and suggested the painkiller Vicodin. I accepted the first prescription but rejected the second, saying I'd prefer to tough it out without. He suggested then that I consider ibuprofen instead. Sounded like a fallback plan.

The immediate care center staff said I'd be looking at suffering through this for anywhere from a couple of months to a year. Sigh.

Within two days, I was regretting not taking the Vicodin. Even today, nearly two weeks since the rash materialized, I am quite uncomfortable, although the pain is not entirely constant. I've also get worn out fairly quickly -- just a couple of short trips around town seem to knock only knock me out later in the day, but also increase the muscular pain, which is far more troublesome than the skin rash.

Two days after seeing the doctor, for example, I made a foray into downtown Elgin to visit the unemployment office to find out why my benefit payment had been hung up. I arrived to find a long, long line snaking through a small waiting area. I stood patiently, all the while holding my right arm to my side to protect it from inadvertent jostling as the line moved along.

It seemed like I stood in line for an hour and a half. Truth be told, it was probably no more than 40 minutes. After waiting patiently, I was greeted by a guy who seemed younger than me and who took one look at my form before punching in some information into his computer. He also asked if I had any dependents – I told him I had three who should be in the computer system from when I had registered for unemployment on Dec. 5. Then I remembered the troubles I'd had with the IDES website that day (see "Beware the IDES of December" posting on Dec. 22).

That and some other online gremlin(s) apparently were to blame for my over-withheld benefits. One situation resolved, at least for now.

In the meantime, I'll be toughing out the shingles, continuing my job search, and trusting God to keep me from either becoming bored or becoming a nuisance to my family.

And life does go on.

Coming next: Pursuing the digital journalism path.