Life, Death and Chickenpox.

chickenpoxChickenpox under a microscope.

We don’t see chickenpox much anymore, thanks to the varicella vaccine. Chickenpox is highly contagious, airborne and can also spread through contact with infected blisters before they crust over. For most patients it is an itchy annoyance. For other’s, chickenpox is anything but…

When I was a child my older brother brought home the pox. My mom quarantined him to bed with his door shut until he was on the downside of his very high fevers. Then she sighed and told me to take him his dinner tray and “rub his arms and get it over with.” My brother  got very angry when I told him I had been instructed to rub his rash, but we complied and sure enough, in three days I had chickenpox too.

For me, it was just the itchy rash and not being allowed to play outside. The death penalty for a kid who played outside, all day, everyday. A very serious annoyance.

For a patient I received out of the Intensive Care Unit to my Med-Surg ward in 1990 it was far more.

In my shift report I was receiving a patient who was being discharged from ICU to our unit with a diagnosis of Chickenpox! This patient was a 32 year-old male who had been in the unit for three weeks on a ventilator.

The lesions in his lungs had finally cleared up, he was off the vent and breathing on his own, but still very weak and in need of supportive nursing care and medications.

I got him settled in to his room, checked that IV site was fine, marked when it would need a site rotation, put his fluids back on a pump all the while chatting with this nice young man.

I was absolutely shocked to find out that he had simply gone to work one day and a co-worker with a sick kid had brought that child to work with her instead of calling out sick.

You guessed it, the kid had chickenpox and this young man never had. Varicella is much worse in an adult than in kids and this man soon had varicella lesions not just in his mouth, but in his lungs, got pneumonia and almost died. The three weeks in ICU and ventilator support had saved his life.

Well, nurses talk. And this good-looking young man who was almost killed by an inconsiderate co-worker was the talk of our nurses station. Unless you work in orthopedic/sports medicine having  attractive young men as patients is the exception, not the norm, and we went wild spoiling him during his stay on our floor.

I might know of a few nurses who snuck down the stairs to the pediatric ward to “swipe” ice cream sandwiches out of the freezer for him! But I admit to NOTHING!

We talked. And we judged. How DARE this woman take a kid with an infectious disease to work with her? didn’t she KNOW she may have KILLED someone? How could she have been so STUPID? Or was she just an IDIOT?

We absolutely trashed this woman not a one of us knew.

I regret those foolish words now. As an older woman who now has children I feel terrible for that unknown woman. Now I know what it’s like to be put in an impossible situations.

Why did she take that sick kid to work?

Is it possible that she was a single mother who had been told that one more call-out would cost her job?

Is it possible that her paycheck was the only thing standing between her kids and hunger or homelessness?

Is it possible that she didn’t know her child was still infectious?

Is it possible she simply had no idea how serious chickenpox could actually be? After all, her kid just had an itchy annoying rash.

And it is highly unlikely that as a co-worker she was unaware of what had happened as a result of her bad decision. She had to know how sick this man was after he was hospitalized and missed well over a month of work. I can not imagine her personal guilt and self-condemnation.

It is possible that the boss made the connection between her child and her co-worker and she paid consequences for that action.

And it is possible that other co-workers treated her in person, the same way a floor of nurses did, with judgment and condemnation.

Now interestingly enough, this young man never did. I was changing out his IV one afternoon and asked him if he was angry at this woman. I was expecting a juicy rant but what I got was, “No, why? It was not her fault. How was she supposed to know I had never had chickenpox? Sh*t happens!”

That was all he had to say about the matter.

As I’ve grown over the years from a know-it-all 20 year old, into a woman, a mother, a person who has had to choose between very bad options I remember that nice young man and his attitude.

Yes, STUFF HAPPENS! And it happens to everyone, all the time. Sometimes there is no good choice, sometimes the actions of other people will determine a bad road you get to drive no matter how much you try to steer towards an exit.

But we get to choose our attitude and words. We get to choose to either blame and condemn or not. We get to choose to wallow in misery or “blow it off” with a phrase as this man did.

And I believe this young man’s refusal to give in to blame and bitterness, to shrug off a brush with death and laugh and say, “Sh*t happens!” is why he survived and recovered.

And not just for this situation. I guarantee you that man has survived and thrived! And he probably continues to set a good example for those around him of a positive attitude and good choices.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.    Matthew 5:7

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.           Mathew 6:14


Alana is a nurse with 26 years of experience in caregiving. She is also a copywriter, copyeditor and creative writer who believes our words should always inspire, encourage and delight. Visit her online at

This Post Has One Comment

  1. We must Pray for All our Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus ( Yeshua ) Everyday!! “Pray Without Ceasing.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV )!!

    God Bless all my Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus ( Yeshua ) and Your Families and Friends!!

    Love Always and Shalom, YSIC o/

    Kristi Ann

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