Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shingles

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write about this. Once I blogged about my knee replacement surgery and my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I decided that this wasn’t going to turn into a chronicle of my medical problems. Most illnesses just aren’t that interesting, and usually, they’re not very funny.

About a month ago, I developed an ugly, miserable disease with a silly, misleading name. When you’re a little kid, you get chicken pox. The virus stays in your body, and can return in later years (typically after the age of 50) in a different form, known as “Shingles.” Shingles is a disease of the nervous system, although it manifests itself in the form of a rash.

There’s a vaccine to prevent it, but it’s not commonly given because Shingles strikes less than 1% of the population. The medical community, in their wisdom, has decided not to publicize the availability of the vaccine to the 99% of the population who don’t need it. Instead, they’ll recommend it to those who have a known susceptibility to Shingles. The only way to demonstrate susceptibility is to develop a case of Shingles. Once the symptoms subside, your doctor will suggest the vaccine. You can ask for the vaccine, and your doctor will give it to you.

Ask for the vaccine. Trust me, you don’t want Shingles.

I’ve been suffering from it for a month now, and it shows very few signs of abating. I’ll describe it for you, even though I can’t imagine why anyone would be interested enough to read it, other than to convince themselves to demand the vaccine.

The whole thing started as a spider bite on my upper thigh. I have no idea if the spider bite triggered the Shingles, but the location of the bite and the timing just seem a bit too coincidental. The bite became inflamed and itchy, so I went to the doctor, who prescribed a course of antibiotics. At the same time, I started feeling a backache, as though I had pulled a muscle.

I followed my usual backache protocol, taking a muscle relaxer at bedtime. But by the morning, the backache hadn’t abated. Instead, it had intensified into a rolling series of intense, extremely painful spasms. I couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes an hour. The back spasms kept me out of work for a week. The spasms struck 3-4 times an hour, and each one felt like I was being stabbed by a red-hot stiletto.

Because the muscle relaxers hadn’t solved the problem, it seemed reasonable to conclude that the problem wasn’t muscular. So I let my wife talk me into visiting her chiropractor. I’m not a fan of chiropractors, but when you’re suffering, you’ll grasp at straws.

By this time, I was aching from head to toe, and had developed a rash in my crotch. When I say “rash,” I want you to think of old Biblical movies depicting lepers. The rash was blackish-purple, blistery and hot to the touch. It extended from the crease of my right leg up to my right hip, and around to my lower back. At times it felt as though biting bugs were crawling all over me.

The chiropractor attempted to “adjust” my back, but failed. The conclusion was that my problem wasn’t skeletal. I showed him the rash, and he rushed to the sink to wash his hands and insist that I see a “real” doctor.

The “real” doctor diagnosed the problem as Shingles, and prescribed an anti-viral medication designed to shorten the lifespan of the symptoms. By the end of the second week, the back spasms had diminished significantly, but the rash had grown and expanded. As it crusted over and gradually diminished, it left behind another problem, from which I am currently suffering.

The legacy of Shingles is something called “postherpetic neuralgia.” In simple terms, Shingles damaged my nerves, and the symptoms of the damaged nerves may persist for weeks, months, years, or even for the rest of my life. Everybody’s different, so I have no idea what to expect.

An area of my skin the size of two textbooks extending across my hip to my lower back has become hyper-sensitive to touch. A housefly landing on it feels like the talons of a hawk. A fold of silk brushing against it feels like a cheese grater. A cool breeze from a ceiling fan feels as though I’m being pelted with thumbtacks. Wearing clothes is agony. The spray of the shower is the seventh circle of hell. The back pain I initially experienced was the virus attacking my sciatic nerve. This nerve still occasionally provides me with sharp, painful reminders of the battle waged there.

I’m currently taking Vicodin and Lyrica to manage the symptoms, and they barely touch the problem. During the work day, I wear adhesive pads infused with Lidocaine to keep my clothing from grating against the most sensitive areas of my skin.

Lots of diseases have forbidding names: Gonorrhea, Eczema, Schizophrenia, Hemorrhoids, etc. Shingles sounds like the name of a children's party clown. If it was up to me, I’d change the name of Shingles to something more indicative of the pain and misery it causes, like “Roofing Nails.”

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Bro....
I am just so sorry to read about this. In addition to your Parkinson's. Your knee surgery hell. Your lipoma fiasco. Falling through the ceiling of your garage. Having your infected finger (or toe) drained. God, what else am I forgetting?
You poor thing.... I wish there was something that could be done for you. I am so scared to get shingles, that I may beg my doctor for the vaccine on my 50th bday, citing 'family history'. I hope you feel better soon...
ps... when are you going to publish a book of your blog entries? The humor of your suffering, as you write it, would be a top seller!
-Your baby sis

Anonymous said...

Timmy Boy

Since wearing clothes is so painful, maybe you can talk your employer into telecommuting from a nudist colony.

Just a little humor. I know how painful it is to have shingles since you know that I had it also. Like I said, mine only lasted 3 weeks to about a month so I must have had a mild case.

Anonymous said...

My son has just returned from Israel where, a few days before his flight home, something had bitten him (in his sleep? In his hood of his jacket?) on the back of his head. It became red, swollen and itchy and it was clear there were several bite marks at the site. He then developed a small rash on his neck, neck/muscle pain and is experiencing "electric shock spasms" near the bite site - like zapping he says. He arrived home and I sent him to get checked out by the GP. He said he had shingles too. I very much doubt it as you can clearly see where he was bitten which has formed a red scab! The rash is fading a little but he still has neck pain and lots of zapping so I am looking at how to treat what I suspect is some nerve damage but I'm off to a naturopath as I fail to see how medication for herpes can fix him!

Anonymous said...

I have almost the exact same story, I woke up a week ago with 2 small and painful Spider bites on my arm. I unfortunately had an important convention to attend the next day and didn't think much about it. The spider bites seemed to be getting redder sorer and itchier and spreading by the time I got home I looked at it and knew it was shingles. In the meantime my back is out. Every time I sit for a period I can barely walk. I feel like I'm 90. Just got home heading for the doctor ASAP.

Boo said...

Late to the party, but thought I'd throw in another data point. Odd set of 9 bites one morning on my neck, assumed to be a spider (we have a fair few around here). Two days later develop very odd rash going from under nipple all along my left arm to my wrist. Very raw and weeping by day #2. Went to doctor and he diagnosed shingles.
Seems to me like the odd bites I had has triggered this shingles episode. Seem to be doing OK with recovery at the moment; cross fingers.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought: bug/spider bites are mentioned so often that it's possible (unless you saw the critter commit the crime) the 'bites' are the beginnings of shingles. I have been researching shingles a bit; my husband had a case a few years ago that looked hideous, but with antiviral meds within 72 hours, he claimed it wasn't painful. By contrast, what I experienced in mid-December was mild in appearance, but having seen the looks of his case, I trotted to the Doc post-haste. Got antivirals within 48 hours of seeing a rash, which was confined to an area on my lower left leg, less than 6 inches square (don't hate me...). It never did blister up, but was diagnosed by its appearance and process of elimination. Prior to the outbreak, I was stressed, tired, my lower back hurt, and when I went to bed night before, that specific area of my leg felt as if I had bruised myself. I am a klutz, capable of getting a bruise and forgetting about the origins, but...I'd been in a fairly 'protected' environment all day, despite the stress (and contrasting joy) of the entire day. Next morning came the rash. A nurse who works at the local nursing home was at my church; she said it didn't look like dermatitis or cellulitis (the usual suspects). Monday I saw the Doc. I was given both the antiviral meds and a bottle of hydroxycodone tabs, which I never needed. For some reason, the white formula of Tiger Balm soothed my rash, because it was not wide-ranging and as deep as some get. I can't advocate it for people who are in worse shape than I was. Well, now it is slightly less than 2 months later, I got the back ache thing going, which I associated with water aerobics class. But it was mysterious to me why my 'sits bones' would ache even when I am not sitting on them. And then came the 'herald' of a small rash on my upper thigh, which I would not even have seen if it had sneaked around my back. One must be clear of shingles for 9 straight months before getting the vaccine as possible preventive of future episodes. So, the Doc gave me twice as much antiviral tabs as before, saying the second batch is like 'insurance', in case a rash presents itself in a time and place where I cannot see a physician in timely way. I said I had plenty of the pain pills, because I didn't need the first prescription, my meds cabinet is bursting, and...the rash being relatively small, I wouldn't want them thinking I was seeking those meds just for the sake of the meds. What felt odd about my little rash this time was how I could trace the surrounding area with my finger, and get tingles of mild pain, but almost none from touching the rash. However, I can't sleep on that side--pressure on that area isn't tolerable. What I think I have (until it's proven to be something else) is a case of Shingles with an evil little sense of cat-and-mouse humor, just lurking ready to pounce Bigtime. I have my calendar marked in November in hopes of being rash-free for 9 moths straight, in order to have the vaccine (I am 57 in one week). With just two antiviral pill, I am sitting a bit more comfortably at the computer chair a bit more comfortably than before. I am going to be sure to continue with water aerobics, because I am not blistered thus far, and---the pool group showers mean my pals might note a small rash forming on my back before I would see it. I guess my point is to say that it is vital to get ANY rash of unknown origins diagnosed; Lyme disease begins with a rash from a tick bite (utterly different in appearance). I've been paranoid about getting Truly Evil shingles such as you have suffered, and family members of the past suffered greatly. Please continue to blog about 'old age: not for sissies' matters, as it is helpful to people. May God Bless
You, and ease this misfortune, bring about comfort and peace to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

PS: addendum to already too-long post. I was told that if, after this episode subsides, if another emerges before the 9 month point (vaccine time), the clinic would likely give me a lower dose of antiviral meds Daily for at least that same length of time. But as I write this, I am feeling a slight itch to my lower back, right side, so I need to go get a Mirror or find someone to take a peek at it. Sigh....

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Annapetroica said...

I am sitting here at 2 in the morning relating to all your comments. The antivirals didn't seem to do much for me even though I got them on time. It is now 30 days since my first pain in my spine and although I am much better during the day night times are just the same. One hours sleep then awake until 5 am then a couple of hours sleep and pain free day. I would not wish shingles on my worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

Related to a lot of what is written here..day one acknowleding what to name the excruciating waves of backpain that started at one point and have made their way to my upper back. Sometimes it felt like I was winded...with no let up of discomfort.
About 8 mths ago I had been bitten by what I suspect was a white spider ..leaving painful/itchy blisters first on the bitten toe and then progressively to four toes and the sole of my feet near the toes...8 months of blisters...and itching ..that comes and goes...it has all but subsided when now it has manifest?itself as shingles under my arm across my back and affecting mildy one ear and headaches. I had had a vaccine as a child and had also suffered from chicken pox (before vaccine?) not sure. Anyway agree that I would not wish this on my worst enemy.

Eugene Brezany said...

Hm...I've got a case of shingles that started a month or so ago, following a couple nights working outside overnight and where I thought I had been bitten some couple dozen times by mosquitoes on my upper inner thighs, but as has been mentioned in earlier posts - I saw no sign of the critters. So, maybe spiders crawled into my clothing. I took extra precautions during the second night and sprayed my clothing with an extra strong insect repellent. The spray did not seem to impede further bite symptoms. I think that the bites were actually a precursor of the later rash and not insect bites at all; the presumed bites occured in an area that I remember I had had the chicken pox as a child. A few days later I developed extreme discomfort in my lower back. I thought I was perhaps passing a kidney stone and I began drinking several quarts of water for a couple days; but the water did not relieve my pains and I went to the emergency room at the Veterans Administration where I am normally provided medical assistance. After a shot of pain medication, a full chest and back ex-ray, an ekg, and a cscan, I was diagnosed with a strained skeletal muscle. No one at the VA had looked at my skin during that four or five hour visit to their ER. Next stop for me was to visit my local chiropractor where the massage therapist noticed I had a rash that resembled a shingles rash on hers grandmother. So, I got the chiropractic adjustment though the doctor seemed more than comfortable touching me, and then I went back to the VA where a doctor prescribed a five day supply of acyclovir anti-viral medication. I was in the worst pain ever that day with my sacroiliac nerve in both legs making standing difficult but a whole lot better than sitting down. And my abdomen was in spasms as well, but a half-hour after swallowing a first dose of the anti-viral, the leg pains largely subsided. I was also given plenty of hydrocodone which did in fact relieve pain but shut down my digestive tract. I took the meds though and now a few weeks later I have a largely diminished rash around my abdomen that is slightly itchy and painful to touch, but only a little. I seem pretty tired most of the time too and notice slight flu like symptoms as well.

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