Well, this is a blog post I never thought I'd write. After a week of putting up with what I thought was an annoying pinched nerve in my back, I finally went to the doctor only to find out I have something else.
This is my experience with SHINGLES.
Yes, shingles. That nasty virus that gave me chickenpox when I was a kid has decided to come back and haunt me this Halloween - only now it's dressed up as shingles.
I only say that because both chickenpox and shingles are the exact same virus, also known as varicella-zoster.
Many of us are first exposed to it when we're young. In fact, when I was little, moms would purposely take their children to a friend's house if they knew their kids had chickenpox, just to get it over with. The end result was this itchy, scratchy rash that made us miserable for a while, but once you had it, you were done.
That is - until it comes back when you're older - then we call it shingles. It's kind of like chickenpox this time around in that you get those annoyingly itchy bumps, but this time there's something new...
As in "Did you get the license plate number of the truck that just hit me?" kind of pain.
In fact, just an hour before I sat down to write this post, it was all I could do to turn on the computer. Fortunately, there are medications you can take that help ease that pain that I will describe in the details below.
So if you want to hear about my experience with shingles, read on.
My Experience With Shingles
I started feeling a little back pain. As much as my grandson pounces on my back, and as much as I sit here in this chair with my poor posture, it was bound to happen. So, didn't think much about it and went on about my day like normal.
More back pain, with an occasional twinge of chest pain. OH CRAP I thought! Just what I needed!
First a stroke, and now this? WTH?! But I had no other symptoms and otherwise felt fine. Blood pressure was ok so what the heck is going on?
Day 3 & 4:
The twinges of pain are off and on, and swap between the left side of my back and my left breast area. On a scale of 1 to 10, they are about a 3-4.
The twinges are turning into a constant dull achy pain, mostly in my low back. My wife did find a knot and tried to massage it out (ouch).
I started taking Ibuprofen to ease the pain and still thought I had just thrown my back out. Our electric heating pad seems to help a lot.
The dull, bruising pain in my back is now a constant 3-4 with twinges to a 6-7. The twinges seem to be random and all over my left side.
Sleeping is getting rough as I usually wake up at 1-2 am REALLY hurting.
I try to make a doctor's appointment (he also does back adjustments) but he is booked solid for the next 2 weeks. His son is also a doctor in the same office and HE is booked solid for the next week.
So I make an appointment with a chiropractor instead.
Again I am woken up to excruciating pain, and reach behind my back to apply a little pressure and discover a raised area that felt weird. Using the old 'holding a mirror to a mirror trick' I see a very red bumpy area on my back and show my wife.
She said, "I think you got shingles!"
So I cancel my chiropractor and get on the phone with my doctor's off-hours emergency number until I get a nurse practitioner to agree to see me. She confirmed it was indeed shingles.
I asked if I could spread it to my wife and she said if my wife has already had chickenpox or the shingles vaccine - then no. Still, I keep my rash covered at all times, just to be safe.
I slept great last night but this morning the pain came back full force once I actually got up. The rash does not appear any larger and has not spread. Ibuprofen helps with the pain and so does the Aspercreme.
My wife is at the store buying some Capsaicin creme (the oil that makes chile peppers hot) as many of you have said it works great for pain too.
I also read about a home remedy on a Reddit page this morning and tried that - I swallowed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (in a little water) and that actually seemed to help too.
Here are some common questions I have been asked
Q: Did I get the Shingrex Vaccine?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Will I get the vaccine now?
A: Probably, after this is over. Dr. McDougall and his wife Mary even got it. Shingles hurt..... bad.
Q: Did the C-19 Vaccine cause this?
A: I don't know and really don't care. Even though it hurts like hell it's better than being on a hospital bed and ventilator. I will be getting my booster when it's time.
Q: Did stress cause this?
A: Again, I'm no expert. Maybe? I was more stressed last year than this one but who knows.
Q: Have I had Chickenpox?
A: Yes. This means I already had the varicella-zoster (chickenpox/shingles) virus. It's been dormant - until now.
Q: Am I contagious?
A: Yes and no. And this seems to be the point of disagreement.
- If you have already had Chickenpox or the associated vaccines......you already have the varicella-zoster virus in you, therefore, I cannot give it to you. You already have it.
- If you have NOT had Chickenpox or the associated vaccines, then yes - if you were around me I could possibly give you Chickenpox, but not shingles.
Q: What if I've never had chickenpox? Can I still get shingles?
A: No, you have to have had chickenpox first in order to get shingles
Q: Could I spread shingles to my wife?
A: No. She has already had chickenpox so therefore already has the virus.
If she had not, then yes, I could spread the virus to her and she would get Chickenpox, not shingles. She would now be at risk for getting shingles, but she would not get them from me.
You cannot pass shingles from one person to another.
"A person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn't immune to chickenpox. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, however, not shingles." - Mayo Clinic
Q: Can you get shingles more than once?
A: Yes, multiple times
Q: If I get the shingles vaccine, can I still get shingles?
A: Yes. The shingles vaccine doesn't guarantee that you won't get shingles. But it will most likely reduce the course and severity of the disease and reduce your risk of postherpetic neuralgia.
Q: What is Postherpetic Neuralgia?
A: It's a possible complication of having shingles. It simply means the pain lasts a lot longer than the rash and can go on for months or even years. You could end up so sensitive to the touch that you have trouble even wearing clothes. This is why it's so important to get treated for shingles as soon as you can.
Q: Is Gabapentin bad?
A: Gabapentin is an Anticonvulsant and Nerve pain medication. It can treat seizures and pain caused by shingles. It does however have a long list of side effects - some of which are pretty concerning.
People have told me they had good results with it, others not so good. I am taking it as needed and being very cautious with it. Do whatever you feel is right for you.
Q: Am I taking Lysine? Does it help?
A: I have heard it does but no I am not taking it. I don't take supplements other than B12. I do however eat a lot of foods that have Lysine in them. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, hummus, beans, and avocados.
Q: How am I treating my Shingles?
- I am taking an Antiviral Drug called Acyclovir.
- I also use some topical ointments like Aspercreme (Lidocaine) and Capzasin for localized pain.
- I take Gabapentin as needed for nerve pain
- And otherwise just use Ibuprofen for general pain.
So that's what shingles are like. They are PAINFUL!
Even the slightest breeze can set it off. I am wearing loose-fitting clothes and that helps. The actual rash doesn't bother me, but the nerve path they attack - THAT is what hurts like hell.
But so far, I have managed with just the topical cremes and ibuprofen.
SHINGLES CAN ALSO BE VERY DANGEROUS!
If they appear on your face or near your eyes, they can cause blindness. I have read about people having them on their mouth, neck, arms, and even downstairs in the more sensitive areas. I cannot imagine. Having them on my back is bad enough.
For now - I am fine. No pain at all at the moment, but that can change very quickly.
I also want to say that I am by no means trying to persuade you to get the shingles vaccine. I am simply telling you my experience in case it helps. Not everyone has experienced shingles or knows what to expect.
Now you do.
That's it for now and thanks for all your well wishes. The outpouring of love and concern is just amazing. I really appreciate each and every one of you.
I'll let you know if anything changes.