The Shingle Chronicles

by on June 6, 2012 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights

This is the first 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.”

Part One: Tripping into the Shingles Abyss

Reading any contemporary literature, there appears to be what I would call “module writing.” This seems to hold true for most cinema, as well. For example, the First Module gives us the setting (Tropic Island, South Central LA, Oxford), the characters who are acceptable for the particular setting (Island girl, middle-aged black man, ruddy faced ginger cook) in a particular genre (lost and abandoned, coming of age, off-beat romance). Then you add the next module, or the goal (rescue, forgiving oneself, happily ever after). Until you get to the final module which might give you a conclusion, leave you with questions, or prepare you for the sequel. The only true dynamic is the order in which the modules are presented, and even then, it is fairly predictable. This is not that kind of story.

Tired of the predictability of contemporary books and cinema is perhaps why two of my favorite writers are the late Jack Kerouac and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Neither seemed to be bound by any sort of rule in writing except one; keep the reader interested. This is not as if it is an exclusive characteristic of either Kerouac or Thompson. Had Shakespeare written Hamlet’s famous soliloquy beginning, “I am so sad, I think I’ll kill myself”…we would not have heard of Shakespeare in this century, and it was likely he would have remained unknown during his own lifetime. And most certainly if Johnny Cash tickled a girl in Boca Raton just to watch her giggle, I am certain his fan base would have been much different and smaller.

But as those of us who read Kerouac and Thompson, we are fully aware much of their writing is drug-fueled (or addled). So too is this series of messages from the underground of ailment confinement. I will attempt to keep this moderately interesting, albeit drug induced and rambling, and hope you do not find it mindless drivel. And if you do, no apologies, just quit reading it.

As the title implies, this is about a bout, specifically my bout, with a disease called Shingles. I recall the first time I heard the name. It was in conjunction with death of a family friend. I was fairly young and took many things quite literally. I conjured up the image of this fella’s body partially covered with little, tiny cedar shingles…and then he died. It simply did not translate to an appropriate image. What the body actually looks like it quite a bit more hideous…and I suppose dependent on the degree of severity, death may be an attractive option.

Shingles, I have learned, manifests itself later in life among those who had chicken pox. So, like, everyone I know has the potential to get this. But only 7% of those who had chicken pox will experience shingles. Somewhere around a one in fifteen chance, pretty good odds to avoid getting it. To decrease those odds in my case, Shingles generally occurs in those who are over 60 years of age (I am not quite there), who have a depressed immune system (not me, I have a crazy-ass strong immune system from years of surfin’ in the waters off OB), and are suffering from stress (hmmmm… more, no less than anyone else I know).

On a potential level of contracting Shingles, I would wager I was maybe in the two out of one hundred category. Which for me are terrible odds! I do not like gambling, and the thought of being in a group of odds terrifies me. For example, the year I turned 18, and registered with the selective service, my lucky number was 7. That was out of 365. It is the only lotto I have come close to winning. The only reason I did not collect on my beautiful round-trip year long vacation to sunny Viet Nam is because Richard Nixon stopped the draft shortly before I had to report. I, for one, will never condemn him as harshly as others for that very reason. It is no way to express gratitude.

So looking back, it should have come as no surprise last week when I started to feel a tingling hypersensitivity to my skin around my right hip, thigh, pelvis and back. It felt like sunburn or as if something was making my skin prickle and the hairs stand up. That was on Tuesday.

Now oddly, I have had this sensation before on several occasions. It would come on and last maybe twelve hours and then nothing. But this time it held on and was more intense as the days passed. Driving home with my gal from choir practice on Thursday, she gently touched my back and it nearly sent me through the roof of the car. The pain and sensitivity was similar to a time when I passed a kidney stone. A painful experience, an introduction into the world of opiates and pain-killers, and a wake-up call regarding my health.

The following morning, Friday, I noticed the first of what was to become many small dime size pinkish blotches on the right side of my upper pelvis and hip. By Friday evening they showed up on my back, thigh, all of my hip and pelvis. All on the right side of my body. Apparently the virus generally manifests itself on one side of the body or the other.

Had I known better, I would have gone to an Urgent Care facility to start the anti-viral medication. But I am tough guy and a little pain and discomfort does not warrant a trip to a Health Care professional unless it looks like something is going to fall-off or will not stop bleeding. Unfortunately, the soonest I could be seen by a physician, actually a nurse practitioner, was Monday morning. Out of several obligations, I was only able to make it to one all weekend, because I began self-medicating on Friday. A little leftover Celebrex, vicodin and soma prescribed for a back injury and arthritic knee came in quite handy. And a sincere, joyous, and heartfelt, “Thank you!” to the wonderful people of the great State of California who saw fit to pass Proposition 215 back in 1996. As a result, the weekend was quite dreamy and the pain only a small distraction. Little productivity and lucidly, however, was logged.

Monday morning, I detoxed sufficiently to drive to the doctor’s office. Irritable and edgy, I sat on those vinyl seats you find only in the doctor’s office or a restaurant. In the restaurant the purpose is to make it easier to clean up spills. I would prefer not to think of the category of spills in the doctor’s office. Of course there was a snafu with my health insurance…apparently I had died, so the receptionist had to raise me from the dead. I was not feeling to very far off from zombie status anyway.

I really feel sorry for Kelly, the nurse practitioner I see regularly. I have not seen her supervising physician for years. Being examined by him is like booking reservations to a trendy restaurant and six weeks is the general wait to see him. Poor Kelly has had to deal with me, and I do not do sick well. After the embarrassing weigh in (geez I’ve gotten fat) and the boa constrictor blood pressure test, and the obligatory ten to fifteen minute wait in the examination room (sitting alone in one of those rooms wondering how the various pieces of equipment work, or rather what sort of pain they can induce), Kelly walked in tentatively.

Now I do not know how Kelly responds to the rest of the world, but I always have the feeling she is ready to bolt from the examination room at the most minimal sign of hostility on my part. I am never happy when I am at the doctor’s office, and I am a bit brusque. But worst of all, I am one of those patients who asks questions, speaks candidly, and on occasion refuses to follow a general plan of treatment mindlessly. I have refused to have a colonoscopy for several years now, despite the anecdotal data of how many men and women the procedure has caught the early stages of colon cancer. I have had two in my life, and I believe that is enough. The last time I actually considered tattooing “Exit Only!” back there.

Kelly cautiously confirmed with me I was there for my shingles (notice I have already become possessive, “my shingles”), and I confirmed this for her. Then she asked me about my symptoms as I lifted my shirt and lowered my pants to show her the extent of the rash. She told me it was too bad I had not come earlier to start anti-viral drugs, at which time pointedly I reminded her, the office was closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, leaving the irony of the situation unsaid. Had I come in earlier, I could have been treated with anti-viral drugs which potentially could have shortened the duration and reduced the intensity of my Shingles.

The treatment I received, however, was simple; continue with the medications I was already taking, and add a couple more. The additional two were an anti-depressant with a pain killer and an anti-nausea drug. When my shingles began to resolve itself in two to three weeks, we would decide what avenue we would take next. If it did not resolve or at least begin to, a more aggressive treatment would be in order. Otherwise, I was to rest and remain as stress-free as possible; read, bed rest.

Kelly sent me to the lab for a blood draw and urine test (never go around noon) which took me the better part of an hour and a half. Afterward, I headed to my pharmacy to pick up my medications and head home for the duration. Of course, when I arrived at the pharmacy, the prescription had not been received, and so another round of telephone calls to remedy that particular situation, again. Remember, no stress is the key to recovery…but then it is difficult to be very stressed about much of anything in the midst of a vicodin fog.

In the interim, I took my canine wards for a walk along the channel at Liberty Station, stocked up on frozen food (I could not imagine cooking anything from scratch right), notified my significant others of the situation and to not expect too much out of me in the next two to three weeks.

I was finally home by 6:00 p.m. at which time I indulged in the cocktail of drugs and shortly thereafter, I was on the nod. Lil Bear and Mason, my canine wards, were a bit confused when I landed in bed by 7:00 p.m. Neither has left my side since I have taken to my bed, they seem to know something is not quite right. And so numbed, I went to sleep, drifting through a collage of vividly entertaining dreams.

Next: Descent into Shingles Hell

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

RB June 6, 2012 at 9:25 am

Thanks for the shingles information. I knew one of the big pharmas has been running adds for shingles meds and I knew I was at risk, having had chicken pox. I will check with Kaiser.


Jack Hamlin June 6, 2012 at 9:47 am

I know Big Pharma is like the boy who cried wolf (Restless Leg Syndrome? Really?), but this is one big freaking Dire Wolf and not one to be ignored. I have found most insruance policies do cover the vaccine, and without need for prior approval.


judi Curry June 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

My uncle had terrible shingles, but the rash never came out. It was centered around his chest and the docs thought he was having a heart attack. They had him ready for surgery when someone – don’t know who or how – discovered it was shingles that were still developing. The severe pain went on for close to 4 months. When he died it was from a heart attack – 7 years later. As soon as I was eligible – age is a factor – I took myself to the doc for the vaccine. I never want to have to experience what you and my uncle had. My sympathies are with you.


Anna Daniels June 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm

My nurse practitioner practically sings an aria of suggested vaccines, procedures and immunizations to me: Tralala colonoscomy lalalat etanusshotlafl ushotlalal apneumoniashot. But never the shingles vaccine. Perhaps it never appeared in the original Italian.
Jack, your post had me laughing out loud. I am hoping that you are on the mend, and I am looking forward to a “trip through hell.” (Is that like a staycation for the afflicted?)


Jack Hamlin June 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I think I have a recording of that aria, Anna. Actually I think it is from Wagner’s Trichonosis and Impetigo. The trip does get more interesting… at least it seemed so. Thank you to you and Judi for thoughts, and the story does of happy ending of sorts… I am on the mend.


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