Tuesday, March 13, 2018

We have spots

French Village Diaries la Guérisseur Rougeole Zona
The measles epidemic in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

I love that my life here never ceases to surprise me, even after almost 14 years, but nothing quite prepared me for yesterday’s new experience.

On Friday Ed came out of school asking to get some bite cream at the pharmacy on the way home, as he’d been bitten. Now my first thought was it’s not the right time of year to be bitten and as soon as he showed me the small clump of angry red ‘bites’ I wasn’t convinced, but we spoke to a pharmacist anyway. She asked him lots of questions, umm-ed and aah-ed and sold us a bite cream but said to keep an eye on them.

On the drive home lots of things were going through my head, mainly that at least the spots didn’t look like a measles rash, as our area currently has a measles epidemic. The more I thought about measles, the more I realised the spots looked more like chicken pox, something Ed had in 2004. Thinking of chicken pox led me to shingles, and as Ed was complaining of a large area around the spots being itchy and uncomfortable, I’d diagnosed him with shingles before dinner.

Now, I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable on medical issues even if my experience is only self-taught. You see I am addicted to the UK TV programmes GP’s Behind Closed Doors, 24hrs in A&E (plus the French version 24hrs aux Urgences), One Born Every Minute, 999 On the Front Line, 999 What’s Your Emergency, you get the picture don’t you? I also have a few friends who humour my addiction and allow me to be their right-hand woman at medical appointments/hospital visits. I’ve ridden in a French ambulance with one, sat in on a chemo session with another and as I am not squeamish, it was me doing the hand-holding (and peering in her mouth) during a multiple tooth extraction, even if I was really only there as a translator.

A Saturday morning appointment at our doctor confirmed my diagnosis of shingles, but as it had been around almost a week (seriously Ed, you could have mentioned it a bit sooner) there was nothing he could take, and we didn’t even get a prescription for a cream or lotion to put on the spots. By now the itching was making him a little grumpy, so I sort some online help. A Facebook group for Mums in France came up with some suggestions of what to ask for at the pharmacy, but the general opinion was that over the counter creams were never as good as those on prescription.

A plea to my local French friends came up with a different solution with the same answer being given over and over again, one that was a real surprise to me. It seems for shingles we needed to see a guérisseur. Now my French is quite good, but I had no idea what a guérisseur was or where to find one, but local knowledge came good once again. A guérisseur is a healer and as luck would have it, we have one in the village. To say I was a little reluctant at first would be an understatement, as this was way outside my previous medical knowledge (you don't see them on GP's Behind Closed Doors). However, when you hear about severe sunburn that disappears overnight following a visit to her and know of at least one other shingles patient in the village who has been recently, you have to give it serious consideration.

Yesterday morning Ed and I arrived at her door, still unsure of what to expect. She invited us into her lounge where we stood waiting for her to finish a phone call, yet another shingles case on their way, and then she asked to see his spots. She was calm, the room was quiet, except for a ticking clock, and without touching him, she moved her thumb up and down and side to side around the area, muttering under her breath and pausing every now and then to blow on them. This was repeated three or four times before she declared her work done. There was no charge and within five minutes we were on our way home.

Obviously, the spots didn’t disappear on the spot(!), but as shingles can loiter for many weeks, and he doesn’t need that in Bac final exam year, I’m hoping we will see a diminishing very soon. I’ll certainly let you know and I’d be really interested to hear if you have visited a healer too.

Useful vocabulary
GP - médecin traitant
Healer - guérisseur
A&E - urgences
Measles - la rougeole
Chicken pox - la varicelle
Shingles - le zona