Measles...Or Not

Speaking of hypochondria…

You know how it seems like we are living like pioneers in 1857, thanks to the measles outbreak(s) brought on by kooky anti-vaxxers and their fear of survival? According to the CDC, there have already been 764 reported cases of measles this year. This is more than double last year’s total cases, and more than six times the cases in 2017. This year, there have been public health notices regarding measles outbreaks in Los Angeles County, Brooklyn, Washington, New York City, Texas, Illinois, and Rockland County (New York).

I am immunized because I got all my shots as a kid, and because I was in the military. When you in-process, you line up with all your fellow new airmen and wait for a slightly senior-to-you airman to push up your sleeve up and give you approximately 97 shots at once, regardless of your vaccination history. Your arm hurts for, what seems like, weeks, probably because you are concurrently doing endless push-ups and pull-ups on those same arms. I’m pretty sure it’s just the tetanus shot that hurts, but it seems like they all hurt.


These new measles cases mean that adults are panicking about their decades-old shots and whether or not they need to be covered with new boosters. If you were born after 1989, you probably had two doses of the measles vaccine, which is approximately 97% effective at preventing measles, versus the single dose MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine used as far back as the 50s, which was still very effective (93%), but slightly less so. The only way for adults to tell, at this point, whether or not they fall into that “almost” covered, or not covered at all between 93%, 97% or 0%, is to get their titers checked. This is as simple as getting their blood drawn to find out if they have any antibodies that say, “yep, I’m protected from the measles.”


All of this measles talk has a purpose, I promise.


I was born before 1989, and I was in the military. So, logically, I’m covered for the measles, right? Duh. I have had my measles vaccines. In fact, I have been vaccinated twice over, by anyone’s standards. According to the anti-vaxx crowd, I should either be dead, have super-autism, or be glowing with toxic radiation. That’s how it works, right? Either way, I have no reason to assume I have the measles.  


Still, when I got a weird rash on my face last week, that’s precisely what I did. To be fair, I didn’t assume measles…at first. I waited several days before I freaked out. And, I kept the freak out factor very minimum. In fact, I tried to go to my primary care doctor, super casual-like. “Hey man, I’ve got this rash, can I come in? Super chill. No big deal. In fact, let’s forget the rash, let’s just get some burgers and milkshakes. I’m cool, I’m casual. I’m breezy.”

I only showed up at Urgent Care because he’s at a conference at Johns Hopkins, for the next THREE FREAKING WEEKS, and I had no choice. He’s still out of the office, actually.


I was, frankly, pretty annoyed at him. Not sure if you’ve heard of this new MDVIP thing; but, it’s basically concierge medical care. A lot of doctors cut their patient load down to a few hundred (or fewer) patients, which is great for you, as a patient; however, you pay a yearly fee to enroll in the practice. It works out for the doctor, too, as they work with less insurance red-tape, make a higher profit (the high enrollment fee is cash only), plus they get to practice medicine the way they want to. It makes for pretty personalized care, and a wonderful patient experience. It’s not cheap go to a MDVIP provider, and he was gone for THREE WEEKS, during a “measles” crisis on my face.


I digress. I suppose I can forgive him. He’s been there for me at minutes’ notice when I’ve had the flu, a UTI, and a kidney stone, in the past, so fake measles can be forgiven…this time! He’s a great doctor, and always thorough. He’s often too thorough. You can never get out of there in less than thirty to forty minutes, even for a “quick” appointment, and not for waiting, for the appointment.


Anyway, back to this rash on my face. It was weird, red splotchy spots that had popped up out of nowhere all over my face, primarily on my right cheek. I’d not had contact with anything new, not eaten anything new, not worn anything new, not used a new soap, nothing. They kind of itched, but not really. They felt raw when I touched them. They were spreading, and they were ugly. The ugliness was my primary concern, of course.

It’s almost embarrassing to show you all this picture because it barely shows the rash, here. But, this is the" “best” picture I have of it. Half of my face is covered by sunglasses, and half of my spots aren’t visible. Overall, it’s a pretty dumb shot to “show off” a rash. But, here it is. And, it’s a HIDEOUS picture of me. It’s probably not the ugliest picture I’ve ever posted here, but it’s still not great! But, you get the idea of what some of the spots looked like.

It’s almost embarrassing to show you all this picture because it barely shows the rash, here. But, this is the" “best” picture I have of it. Half of my face is covered by sunglasses, and half of my spots aren’t visible. Overall, it’s a pretty dumb shot to “show off” a rash. But, here it is. And, it’s a HIDEOUS picture of me. It’s probably not the ugliest picture I’ve ever posted here, but it’s still not great! But, you get the idea of what some of the spots looked like.


 At first, I thought they were pimples and that I was having a hideously bad acne breakout. Because I am blessed with normally clear skin, with the exception of pimples that come in singles here or there, I was pretty annoyed to have a baker’s dozen arrive on my face all at once. Still, I slept with those awesome pimple patches on all of the spots, thinking I’d wake up with lots of goopy stickers to peel off in the morning. Nope. All the stickers came off clean, and the spots were just as red and hideous. So, I was annoyed that I’d wasted a ton of those stickers. Plus, there were even more red spots. Hmmm….and grrrrr.


In the back of my mind, I thought they looked measle-y, but I knew it couldn’t be, because I’d had my vaccines; however, measles starts on the face as flat, red spots. Check. Logic be damned when you’re a hypochondriac. I posted my rash, now several days old, on FB and one of my friends immediately said measles. Really, I just wanted someone to say, “poison ivy,” or, “leprosy.” Really, anything other than confirming what I was already thinking.


This was moments before I went in to a physical therapy appointment for my ridiculous shoulder that is still bothering me. My physical therapist, of course noticed my rashy face. There’s nothing like brining a potentially contagious rash into a medical building where they treat dozens of patients, many of them elderly, a day. You feel like a criminal. Only instead of assaulting the elderly directly, I was potentially leaving behind a microbe to do my dirty work. When she asked what it was, I was forced to tell her I didn’t know. But, of course, she said it looked a little like measles. I explained it couldn’t be, that I was vaccinated, which made her more comfortable, and that I was going to get it checked anyway, which put her even more at ease.


So, I went to urgent care….


This is how check in went:


I’m perfectly healthy, energetic and happy, as I approach the counter. I tell the check-in woman that I’m probably fine, but if I’m not, perhaps I should sit somewhere away from others because I’m concerned the rash on my face is measles. The woman behind the desk looks up at me, looks at my face, smiles at me, and tells me to take a seat. She removes the pen that I used to sign in with from the cup on the counter, throws it away, and then sanitizes her hands, wipes the counter with bleach and wipes her keyboard. Yep. I feel great, so far. The waiting room is empty, except for a single person, so I sit all the way on the other side of the room.


Moments later, a nurse comes out to get me, wearing a face mask and gloves. She was excessively kind and apologetic for being so overly cautious, and said that she hoped I understood the precautions. Of course, I did! She got me to a room, checked me in and took a look at my face. From her assessment, she said it was hard to tell, but it looked like…hmmm…maybe? In other words, she didn’t know. So, she obviously wanted to wait for the doctor. What she did want me to know was that she was so happy that I came to the clinic and that she wished more people came to check on rashes they didn’t know about because it would help stop spread these outbreaks. This left me wondering what other rashes cause outbreaks, other than measles? Meanwhile, I was apologizing profusely for wasting everyone’s time and for being so ridiculous for coming in, in the first place. All I could think of, was becoming patient zero in Northing Virginia.


Next, a PA comes in, introduces herself, gloves up, and puts a mask on. She also apologizes for the precaution and congratulates me on potentially stopping a measles outbreak in its tracks. I am starting to feel like a god damn hero for visiting Urgent Care, instead of like a weirdo with a face rash. She spends about five minutes examining my face, which, trust me, is a long time to have someone centimeters from you face, poking it, shining a light on it, and staring directly at each spot. The end result of her exam was that she just…wasn’t…sure. She thinks that it’s probably not, but she doesn’t want to make the final ruling without a doctor to sign off on it. Just in case.


By the way, there’s nothing like a woman with a light squinting right at your face, quizzically saying, “Gosh, I just don’t know…what IS that?” while poking your cheek, as if she’s poking at a piece of rotten meat. It makes you feel just, I don’t know, pretty? Is pretty the right word? Gorgeous?


So, that’s two people who are maybe thinking it’s not measles, but they can’t 100% be sure that it’s not, so they need a third party to rule it out for certain. So, now I’m wondering, if it’s not measles, what the hell kind of rash do I have? What did I get into that’s so insanely unique that no one can even identify it?


The doctor comes in, this time not covered, not masked, and not gloved. He was also very nice, and congratulated me on being responsible enough to take seriously how contagious I might be to others. I was wondering if, at some point, the entire clinic might be secretly planning a party, or perhaps a parade for me? It really made me feel much better about going in for something so silly, to have everyone be so nice to me. Anyway, he examined me pretty closely as well, and determined it was “just a rash.”


His assessment was that it’s basically a “who the hell knows?” kind of thing. He didn’t say that, but that’s my description. I could’ve come in contact with anything, at any time, and been allergic to it. Even with steroids and steroid cream, it still took another week for it to clear up, so whatever it was, I was obviously having quite a reaction to it! He said it definitely looked very similar measles, so there was certainly a reason to feel a little concerned. However, measles tends to start more towards the hairline, and not the cheeks. The more you know, I suppose!


He said it might’ve been poison oak or poison ivy. It made me remember that I had, indeed, been rubbing my face in the lawn when I was gardening a few days prior. I was weeding our raised veggie and flower beds, and to take a break, I put my face all over the grass. No wait, dogs do that. So, no, I have no idea what caused the rash. It was just there. And now, it’s gone. And, it wasn’t measles. Of course.


So, my hypochondria sent me to urgent care for a disease that deep down I knew I didn’t have, which I was later told I didn’t have. And, all ended well. OH! I forgot the part which Bryon even agreed that it was a good idea to get checked. He was a hypochondria supporter, at least in this case. He, like me, said, “you probably don’t have it, but yeah, get checked. Not a bad idea.” Meanwhile, he was at home, texting me what he was Googling, which was that I didn’t have a fever, and all the CDC reported cases by state. He didn’t feel 100% sure that I was “safe” until he saw that there were no reported cases in Virginia yet, this year. I always know when Bryon is worried, even 1% worried, by his texts, or what he Googles or looks up. He was just a smidge concerned, just like me. A smidge counts. Hope my hypochondria isn’t rubbing off on him!