The Shingle Chronicles – Part Two
This is the second in a series about my recent run-in with a most unpleasant malady, Shingles. I hope it will encourage those who have not had the vaccination to set aside all your acrimony and distrust toward “Big Pharm,” and get vaccinated. It is also a lesson learned and an acquisition of empathy for all those who suffer from disabilities and illness we cannot “see.” Here’s Part One.
Descent into Shingles Hell
After a night of vivid dreams which rivaled Alice’s trip through the Looking Glass, I awoke to sunny May morning. Normally this would have been the start of good day. I was on leave from University and as I recall, there was nice little bump in the surf and Our Mother Ocean was starting warm up. Light, off shore winds marked the end of Winter’s chill and an approach of balmy Summer days. There would, however, be no surfin’ for a while and the previous night’s medications were beginning to wear off. I found myself a bit out of sorts and “scratchy.” Surprisingly, the pain was not yet particularly bad. So I just took the anti-inflammatory, with a sort of wait-and-see attitude toward the pain medications. It was now a full week from the initial symptoms showing up. Only eight more to go….
I was not so much concerned with the addiction aspect of the medication. It was the withdrawal from an opioid, of which vicodin belongs, which was my concern. There is a common misconception one must be addicted to suffer withdrawal. In fact, withdrawal can and does occur after taking just a few dosages of certain medications. The severity of withdrawal symptoms are directly related to the length of time and frequency of dosages of the medication; the longer the time and more frequent, the more severe the symptoms. Light withdrawal from an opioid can include mild confusion, general agitation and anxiety, stomach cramps, and loose bowels, among other highlights. I watched Trainspotting several years ago and the idea of having a baby crawl across my bedroom ceiling, a bed full of poo, or any one of the other horrible aspects of withdrawal simply did not and does not appeal to me.
The pinkish splotches had now transformed into an angry raised red rash all over the right side of my waist. Tiny blisters capped the rash which looked a bit like a run-in with poison oak. The appearance was, in a word, gross. But the rash was sensitive mostly to the touch and I was able to move around without too much pain.
I would have to say, there are three types of pain associated with my Shingles. The first is the hypersensitivity of the skin, now rash. Just like a burn or abrasion, any contact stimulates a pain response. And given the location, around my waist, I found it difficult to find any pants other than loose sweat pants in the least bit comfortable to wear. What a shame…even the darkest of clouds have silver linings, however, tiny.
The second pain is deeper, and sort of migratory. My pain was in my right hip joint, but when I focused on it, it seemed to be in my pelvis…and then when I focused on the pelvis it would move to lower back. I believe this is what the medical community refers to as generalized pain. Whatever you want to call it, the pain is real and it hurts.
The third category of pain is a result of the first two. If your body hurts, you hold yourself in such a way to limit the pain. Your body, however, is not used to being held in certain positions. To compensate, muscles and joints move into unnatural positions. It does not take a prolong series of contortions before their response is to start aching as well.
What began as a promising day of limited pain slowly progressed to become less so as the morning wore on. By mid-morning I was back at the fount of pain medications. By noon, I was groovin’ again. Oh I still had pain, but who cares?
When I read all the various sites I could find regarding Shingles, under symptomology, each one mentioned to expect a general ill feeling. As a student of language, I have always been amazed at the incredible art of understatement in the medical community. It is almost as if those in the medical field learn a completely different definition to some of the words us normal folk use. I am sure you have been to a doctor or dentist who, in attempting to calm fears and perhaps control you, has told you, “this might sting a bit.” Or the truly great misdirection, “you might feel some discomfort,” as a tube is shoved into an orifice you never imagined being used as an upstream avenue. Liars! Liars all! What follows is generally some sort of pain producing behavior if used by a governmental agency would be construed as violation of human rights, answerable before the International Criminal Court.
“General ill feeling” should be replaced with, “Incredible ill feeling.” I had yet to take the anti-nausea medication which I had been prescribed. I assumed it was to provide relief for the upset stomach which can accompany the use of un-buffered medication, like vicodin. I really wished Kelly, the nurse practitioner, had told me to expect some really severe nausea. I was really surprised to find you can actually vomit so hard and deeply, you can actually throw-up your toe nails. It was a time machine. Remember that college party(ies?) you found yourself kneeling, hanging on to the toilet for dear life, face down, head spinning, wondering if this what death felt like? During the first full week of my Shingles, I did, again…and again…and again….
Over the next several days my morning sickness became a regular occurrence. Even the more holistic treatments offered little relief. I vomited so deeply…no that is wrong. Vomit would imply there was something in my stomach. I was beyond throwing stuff up. It was just violent retching at this point. Call it what you will, I was retching so violently each morning my face turned semi-permanent red…I believe it is referred to as petechial hemorrhaging. For those of you who do not watch the glut of criminal investigation fantasies on television, petechial hemorrhaging occurs when the tiny blood vessels called capillaries, near the surface of the skin rupture. This condition manifests itself as the result of suffocation, drowning and strangulation…or vomiting real hard. It looks like anything from small red pin-point splotches to what can appear to be a rash. The only place my face not red was in the wrinkle creases extending out from the corner of my eyes…here, your guess is as good as mine. One theory might have something to do with squeezing my eyes real tight after moaning my mantra, “ohhhhh…daaawwwgggg.”
The following week was spent mostly in bed, accentuated with short trips to the bathroom. The routine was the same each day. Wake up, not feeling too bad. Within an hour the nausea returned and the pain began to build. I would then medicate and lay in bed.
I do not have a television in the bedroom. I chastise myself enough for slouching in an easy chair for an hour or two trying to find something of interest out of the 800 some odd cable channels (how did we live with only four channels, one in Spanish, growing up? Rhetorical.) I also found my trusty laptop could not pick up the wi-fi broadcast from the living room into my bedroom. No television is one thing. No internet is another entirely different kettle of fish, and one of which is not tolerable in the least. A small signal booster from Radio Shack resolved that problem (for $75…cha-ching).
Unfortunately, the access to my laptop did not clear the fog and so as I re-read the early entries of the chronicles, quite a bit of editing (and translation) took place. I mentioned drifty, right? I found the appearingly existential arguments in my head over the choice of word or phrase resulted in a two sentence a day quota a major undertaking. The task sort of loses its focus. It is as if I had a loose wire in my neural system, flipping around hitting what seemed like only tacitly related thought stimuli. A chain of thought might proceed as….”The pain you experience is like….ohhhh pain in back….rubbing… feels good…maybe leniment….no, too many sores….infection…images of third world photographs…(google)…images of third world children…(you tube)…extended pledge commercials (bing)…documentaries…are nature shows, documentaries?.(google “Marlin what’s-his-name from Wild Kingdom)…Jim running from lion and climbing tree to escape…(link) commercial for save the lions…(link)… lions and hyenas…the crushing jaws of a Hyena.” As you can see, it was a bit time consuming and not all that consistent in it delivery. That last sentence could have just as easily detoured and ended,”…being caught in lobster trap”…or…”trying out new aftershave.” It was all very random.
“I like to watch.” Those are by now the immortal words of Being There character, Chancy Gardner (aka Chance, the gardener) portrayed by the late Peter Sellers. Watching is much easier too. On my laptop, I learned about such programs as HBO GO. It has all HBO has to offer; movies, series, documentaries, whatever. After a few hours of viewing this site, I found out about a cultural aspect of which I was not so keenly aware. I am speaking of course of the impending doom being wrought upon us by the influx of aliens into our country. Not from other countries. Alien humanoid species. There appears to be an inordinate number of vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies, or any combination or derivation or mutation thereof, with which we apparently live. I, for one, am going to be little more sensitive to the behavior I observe in and around OB, particularly during the daylight and nighttime. It might begin to explain a few aberrations of late.
But then like a fickle school boy, I was seduced by an older, more mature lover (easy children, this is not the Sex in San Diego column, and you are not getting any free porn sites here). She had everything I could desire to sustain me through my illness. What she brought with her was the feeling of a gauzy comfortable security of days past. Although often misperceived in its recall, nostalgia can really make you feel warm inside. Particularly under the influence of controlled and legally possessed substances. Her name is Hulu.com.
She has hundreds of old television shows and B movies for free and nearly commercial free. She even has the Criterion Collection. Imagine me pondering the subtle nuances of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, in my other worldly state. If you can, really? I cannot imagine being able to get past the opening credits with a congruent stream of thought. Nope, give me the mindlessness of an American situation comedy where you lose nothing if you stop and ponder why Fred and Ethel seemed to be Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s only friends and they were twenty years older. Or who is actually steering the boat in the Love Boat. Or is wrong at my age to still think Valerie Bertinelli looked hot.
Even more safe and secure were the old police shows. I am speaking of Adam 12. Give me Marty Milner and Kent McCord taking care of business for the Los Angele Police Department. Back when the LAPD only arrested white folk, beat no one, and the African-American community had nothing to fear from compassionate, if not patronizing, police officers. I had completely forgotten Officer Pete Malloy, played by Milner, gave mouth to mouth resuscitation to an African American infant in the very first episode. Hulu did not have everything. Conspicuous in their absence were such favorites as The Rat Patrol and Branded. But she had enough to occupy my foggy mind.
As the week progressed so too did my Shingles. The rash and blisters changed… they became a solid patch oozing sores extending from the right side of my pelvis around my hip to my lower right back. And with their change, came new sensations; a combination of superficial numbness with sub dermal hypersensitivity. Nerve damage is one of the results of Shingles and it can take a number of forms, from numbness to chronic pain. Around the area of the sores, the skin felt numb. Just below the surface, however, any pressure from above brought on a round of intense pain. Merely adjusting myself in bed was enough to set off another round wincing at the pain within. It was at this point, when I was really at my lowest, providence sent relief.
Next time: The Compassion of Others