Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All About Shingles, Or As I Like to Call Them, Head Herpes

I had to log off Facebook last night because all the positive feedback about the return of the blog was embarrassing the hell out of me. I have a hard time with praise. It's not that I don't think I deserve it, it's just that I think you're all damned liars.

But thank you again from the bottom of my heart. Your words made yesterday a very special day.

And now let's talk about shingles.

Image by artur84 courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Shingles as far as the eye can see.

Shingles is a disease that I suppose is destined to become nearly extinct in the next generation or so. You can only get it if you've had chicken pox, and except for the kids whose parents are crackpots, pretty much everyone gets vaccinated against chicken pox these days. That's probably why the pharmaceutical companies are pimping shingles so hard these days. They missed out on polio, they're not going to miss their chance to milk the shingles cow until the final moo.

Image by satit_srihin courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
That is a terrible metaphor. Sorry, I'm a bit rusty.

Have you seen this commercial?

My experience with shingles has been exactly like that, except:

1. I'm not an old man.
2. I didn't have curl-up-in-a-fetal-position pain.
3. I didn't have a rash that looked like someone smashed a pomegranate against my stomach.
4. It didn't go away after 30 days. Or 60. And 90 isn't looking too likely.

So maybe I haven't had a textbook case of shingles. Or maybe Merck realizes that showing a relatively young, semi-cute woman who is inconvenienced but not disabled by the disease won't achieve their marketing goal of scaring the bejeezus out of elderly people with Medicare funds to burn.

Image by ambro courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Let's blow the kids' inheritance on prescription drugs

and oxygen!

Or maybe, you know, I can't do anything the normal way, including this.

I'm a little young to get shingles (under 50). And I got them on my face and scalp, which is only the second most common location, after the torso. This is the girl who liked the second favorite Hardy Boy and the second favorite Duke brother in the 70s, after all. I believe Number 2 tries harder.

Not always successfully, but harder.

The upside of getting shingles on your head instead of your body is that you don't have to go through the hell of having clothing constantly rubbing against them. I've never in my life experienced itching like shingle-itch; I can't imagine how much worse it is when they're being touched by a shirt all day.

The downside of getting shingles on your head is that a) everyone can see your disgusting rash, and b) they get in your eye. And when they get in your eye, you have about 72 hours to start treatment before they do permanent damage.

I barely made it.

Image by photostock courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Missed it by that much.

Hey, I thought I just had a really bad hangover because my head hurt. And then I thought I had pinkeye because my eye got all puffy and red. It turns out I'm not a qualified medical practitioner - who knew? My doctor, on the other hand, immediately diagnosed shingles, and immediately after that referred me to an ophthalmologist to check out my affected eye before "important shit starts rotting off your see-orb." (Note: I may not be remembering that quote 100% accurately.)  The doctor looked pretty concerned. The ophthalmologist (which is the hardest of all medical specialties to spell, because of course I couldn't get a disease that required a podiatrist) looked really concerned, and didn't sound all that convincing when he said we had "probably caught it in time...hopefully...we'll see...do you already own a glass eye, by any chance?"

Again, my memory may be paraphrasing. I was under a lot of stress.

By the way, shingles can totally be triggered by stress. Or an alcohol binge. Especially an alcohol binge triggered by stress.

Fun fact: Before September 1st, I was drinking upwards of 300 ounces of vodka a month. Picture a can of Coke. Now picture it filled with straight vodka instead of Coke. Now picture drinking one of those nearly every single night for months on end. And that was before I switched to tequila the last week of August.

But I digress.

Outwardly, my rash wasn't too bad. I never developed the angry lesions or oozing blisters that can come with the shingles experience. At my worst I appeared to have a moderate case of adult acne on the left side of my face. I was lucky that way.

Also, I was rarely in severe pain. I've certainly had my share of stabbing pains in and around my eye, but nothing that rises - or sinks - to the level of curling up in a ball. I know that many shingles sufferers have it much worse. Again, I'm very fortunate.

But the itching and the extreme fatigue have been pretty spirit-crushing. Especially since they've now continued for months. And although my condition has improved, I'm not all better by any means. As recently as last weekend, I spent almost the whole day in bed. I can't get a haircut until I'm sure my stylist won't have to touch the shingles on my scalp. They're still up there, according to the near-contstant need to scratch. For several weeks I've been telling people I expect to be fully recovered by Thanksgiving. At first that seemed like a ridiculously conservative projection. Now it seems ridiculously optimistic.

I have to say that even this relatively mild case of shingles has been a life-changing experience. It's one I wouldn't wish on anyone. Not even Ted Cruz. Seriously. It sucks that hard. Also, ex-football player and goofball Terry Bradshaw is the celebrity spokesperson for shingles.

If you must get a disease, Drunkards, get one with better representation.

Still, the combination of not drinking and not being awake enough to eat very much has resulted in a fairly substantial weight loss. Another 10 pounds, and I'll be 10 pounds away from only needing to lose another 10 pounds.

Actually, the last time I lost that much weight involved another medical crisis that I wouldn't wish on anyone. It'll all be in the book.

And that's my shingles story.

P.S. I forgot the other main side effect of shingles (for me, anyway): Extreme light sensitivity. In some ways this is the worst one of all. Well, in one way, which is that I've always hated wearing sunglasses. How much is one relatively young, semi-cute woman supposed to endure?


  1. I mean this in a totally non-judgy way, but it's going to sound judgy. I had no idea you were putting back that much firewater every night. Says the woman slowly digging her grave with a knife and fork.

    I hate that you got shingles. That said, the only people I know who have ever had it are women our age under a tremendous amount of stress. And one homeless guy who panhandled me in the parking lot of the improv theater in downtown Atlanta where I had just gotten done killing it on stage, but didn't have any cash to give the guy, and I cried the whole way home.

    So yes, women under fifty and homeless men.

    And that ad you reference gives me the heebs.

    Anyway, to sum up, hate that you have shingles, love that the vodka intake has decreased, because - we need you around for a long time.

    Also, if you think spelling ophthalmologist is tough, try being a patient educator for a group of ophthalmic surgeons. I got to do that gig for a few years. The best benefit was that the husband got free LASIK (which stands for Laser Assisted Situ In Keratamileusis). BOOM!

  2. What she said. Hope you're feeling all-around better very soon, and keep writing!!

  3. I love that you are writing again, I so missed your blog. Two posts in, and I am thoroughly enjoying the ride.
    Thank you, "Chuck".

  4. I was happy your blog had been on a hiatus until I learned why. I'd be happy you were taking a sabbatical because you'd gotten a publishing deal and had to focus on your book. I'd be happy you were taking a break because you were on your dream vacation. I'm not happy you've been absent because of shingles, even if it means I didn't miss as much while dealing with my own medical issues.

    It's funny you mention ophthalmologists, because the surgeon who did some slicing on me a few months ago and who'll be getting even more intimate with my innards in November told me the one thing he knew he never wanted to be was an ophthalmologist. So when he was in med school he scheduled his ophthalmology rotation for Thanksgiving when no one would be around.

    It's kind of comforting knowing someone so sneaky will be cutting me open. It makes me think he'll be very discreet while he's in there.


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