Shingles: One of the Lesser-Known Halloween Monsters

Over-share Alert: If you are easily grossed out, click back to one of my previous posts on watercolor painting or unicorn power.

For the last 10 days, I’ve been sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m just now starting to feel better. So here’s a timeline that traces how I went from (relatively) normal to WTF:

  • Thursday night- The right side of my face feels tingly. Weird.
  • Friday- Whoa, I feel really weird. Did my office mate slip GHB in my tea? And what’s with my face? It feels like I have fiber glass in my skin. And I have an ear ache in my right ear. And one of my glands is swollen. Mommy! By nightfall, I have a major headache/ear ache, and I can’t sleep.
  • Saturday- Feeling unbelievably sleepy in addition to the rest of the symptoms above. 3-hour nap? I’ve only been awake for a couple of hours, but sure, why the hell not. Um, excuse me, but I believe I have developed a large blister above my right ear, in addition to several smaller clusters of blisters along my hairline. Saturday night I toss and turn.
  • Sunday- Walk for Lupus Now! Woohoo! The weather’s gorgeous, I’m in a beautiful park, I’m with people I love, and I strongly suspect I’m coming down with something. By Sunday night, my lymph node is visible, enlarged, and pressing against my skin as if it were trying to escape from my neck.
  • Monday morning- I drive to the hospital for some scheduled lab work. Four large viles and two smaller viles later, I stumble out into a too-bright sun, then drive to work. I have an appointment scheduled to see my rheumatologist in two weeks, but I feel awful. So I call and request a doctor’s appointment for this week. Four hours later, I leave a second message. When he calls me back, he tells me that my symptoms aren’t lupus. Thanks, Dr. House. Alright then. I get an appointment with my regular ol’ doc (whom I’ve never met) for that morning, who immediately sends for a dermatologist, who quickly diagnoses the nasty blisters along my hairline as shingles. Wait a minute… Isn’t shingles something that old people get? The doctor asks me if I’ve ever had chicken pox. Yup. Weakened immune system? Check. He then launches into a Sci-Fi TV-worthy description of a virus lying dormant at the nerve roots for years, then traveling back up the nerves (hence fiber-glass face), before surfacing as chicken-pox looking blisters that will eventually pop and scale over. I look the dermatologist straight in the eye and blurt out, “I used to be cute! What’s going on with my body?!” He says nothing in response, because really, what is the appropriate response to that?
  • Monday afternoon & evening- I return to work with only 30 minutes of my work day left to go, and I tell my boss that I’ll need to take the next day off to recuperate. Never mind the fact that the doctor told me it might take 5 to 10 days before I started feeling better from taking the antiviral Acyclovir (the generic for Zovirax, which will be the name I take on, by the way, when I join forces with the bad guys in black from Superman and take over the world). By Monday night, the pain is unbearable (made worse by the pressure on my ear from lying down), so I spend most of the night sitting upright, crying out of weary frustration.
  • Tuesday- By morning, I’ve decided to make the 2-hour drive to stay with my husband for some TLC. Best decision I ever made. I call in sick for the rest of the week and hunker down under a pile of blankets for the long haul. Unable to sleep and crying because of the extreme pain in my ear and my face, I try bargaining with God to take the pain away.
  • Wednesday- Feeling no immediate relief from Jesus, I call my doctor and get a prescription for Vicodin. Blisters spread from my scalp and hairline to my right cheek and chin, and then to my lips and tongue. I’m unable to speak, chew, or swallow without a slow and steady concentrated effort. I start wondering what I’ve done to deserve a biblical plague.

Wednesday, heyday of the Zombie Pox

Fast forward to today (Monday): I’m now on Day 7 of antivirals 5 times a day, the blisters have disappeared from my lips and tongue, but the lesions on my face and scalp are still present and painful. My ear ache is also hanging in there, and I’ve added Motrin to my Vicodin-Acyclovir cocktail in the hopes of decreasing some of the swelling that’s making my ear hurt. Overall, however, I’m feeling better. I’m not ready to go back to work yet due to pain and fatigue, but I was suckered into agreeing to show up to work this Wednesday–the first day of a 2-day all-day meeting for 41 employees that I’d coordinated before bailing out over the past week.
I’m told it’s rare to get shingles more than once, so I’m trying to appreciate the fact that I probably won’t experience this again when I’m elderly. Other than that, I’ve gotten no usable lesson from this experience. Maybe that’s the lesson in and of itself: Sometimes bad stuff happens and you’re powerless to stop it and that’s just the way life can be. Well, to that I say, I’m going to enjoy handing out candy tonight since I already look ghoulish–might as well make zombie lemonade out of zombie lemons, right?
10 Responses to “Shingles: One of the Lesser-Known Halloween Monsters”
  1. I just have to say what an awesome writer you are, poxed or not. Maybe your alter ego Zovirax can barter a deal with the devil, so Jesus’ blessings and protection can get through to you. Until then I just want to encourage you to be gentle with yourself.

  2. Lemon-Aid says:

    I yiyi, you poor thing. I’ve heard shingles is nasty and you certainly got a major dose of it. Hope by now you’re feeling much, much better.

    Thanks for the heads up. Maybe I’ll get that shingles vaccine afterall.

    • lupinelife says:

      Thank you, I’m feeling so much better today! I’ve been talking to a lot of people about the vaccine, and I’ve been hearing rumors that run the gamut from “you have to be over 65” to the very contradictory statement: “they don’t recommend the vaccine for people with weakened immune systems.”

      I’m curious to know if there’s a consensus on this.

  3. lupusadventurer says:

    Oh my, not on the face, in the ears and mouth! Poor girl. I had shingles once, triggered by just tasting some jalapeno dust on super nacho chips. I am extremely allergic to jalapeno peppers, anaphylactic shock, unconscious, etc. When the trace of jalapeno hit my colon a few hours later, herpes chicken pox virus hiding in the nerves wrapping around it came out of hiding and caused a rash of nasty shingles blisters in the nerve endings on my skin. Talk about painful! I hope you get better quickly and your pain goes away completely. I have not had it again, and that was over twenty years ago.

    • lupinelife says:

      Agh! That sounds so miserable! I’m glad you haven’t had to go through that a second time. I should watch my diet more closely to see if I notice a correlation with my symptoms.

  4. I’m so glad to hear that you weathered this storm and are starting to feel better. Thank you for writing about this. I’m sure you’ve helped so many people who are undoubtedly looking for some kind of understanding or at least “some company” for when they go through something like this. I know that whenever my body is not working well, I always run to the internet to see what’s going on. I’m hoping for a speedy recovery. I’m sending good thoughts your way!

  5. tattooedpoet says:

    Not even shingles can take your cuteness away! You are gonna get through this, but just FYI you might want to start paying your dues to Jesus…

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