The Shingles Chronicles: The Compassion of Others – Part 3

by on June 11, 2012 · 8 comments

in Health, Life Events

Mother Teresa.

This is the third 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 is Part 1, and Part 2.

Part Three: The Compassion of Others

During the first full week of my Shingles, the only way to describe me, other than particularly high, was miserable. And to those who were around me, I most sincerely apologize. But as I wrote in Part One, I do not do sick well. Rather than shy away (“Ewwww! Gross!”) or find something better to do (“Sorry Jack, I’d like to help but I have to (fill in the blank i.e. weed the garden, stare mindlessly into space, wash the cat, etc.).”), my friends and family did what they could to make me more comfortable. And sometimes, compassionate aid came from unexpected corners.

St. Francis of Assisi

As friends, colleagues, acquaintances found out about my Shingles, they would call to find out just how I was doing, offer condolences and then tell me about their bout with Shingles or at least someone to whom they were close. It was during this time I found out I had it “good.” One of my mother’s friends had Shingles in her eyes (just kill me now), and another woman I know had it begin on her neck and then migrated into her mouth and throat (just kill me quicker). One of my daughter’s friends told me of how she had Shingles at ten years old, describing it as “hot spiders running up and down her back.” A woman with whom I prepare food for the Ministry of the Hungry, told me how she has had Shingles several times, starting at seventeen (cut off my head and bury me in the desert). Seems everyone I spoke with knew someone close or they themselves had suffered from Shingles.

Remember how my research indicated 7% of those who have had chicken pox are likely to suffer from Shingles at some point. Well kids, with so many people reporting to me their Shingles experience I did further research. Seems a more accurate percentage is 30% and climbing. It appears that little stress component has been jacking up the frequency of occurrence. Get the vaccination.

Of course, as I have previously written, Shingles is an auto-immune disorder. So those in the final stages of terminal diseases such as cancer and AIDS with failing immune systems are very susceptible to Shingles. As if they don’t have it bad enough. Their legacy, however, is the nurturing compassion of their surviving friends and relatives. I cannot count the number of people who had lost loved ones who called with a kind word or sent an inspirational e-mail. To all of you, thank you.

But a special thank you to Laura, who lost a son and husband to cancer. Laura’s husband suffered from Shingles in the final stages of cancer, and to ease the pain he was prescribed Lidocaine patches. She had a number of these patches remaining from his illness and kindly and compassionately gave them to me.

Apparently Lidocaine is from the “Caine” family of pharmaceuticals, a close cousin to Novocain and Cocaine. The Caine family is used as local analgesics. In lay terms, it numbs stuff. The patches were self-adhesive and packed full of Lidocaine which “numbed” the surface, but also enters the system through osmosis (that is literally the first time I have ever written that word in a sentence). The instructions warned to use no more than three of the four inch by four inch patches at a time. I am, however, an American male. If three is good five is better and besides five patches covered the infected area just perfectly and I only had to look at the sores once a day while changing the patch.

Kwan yin

I remember an episode of the old sitcom NewsRadio in which the late Phil Hartman’s character was trying to quit smoking. He experienced a rather hysterical drug induced euphoria after covering his torso in Nicotine patches. As with the Nicotine patches, so too with Lidocaine patches. Three is good, five is Phil Hartman. And I remained so for several days, which was not all that bad.

But I wanted to use this installment to attempt and thank at least some of those who took care of me.

First and foremost I want to thank my gal. She was with me every day, making sure I ate (hunger is not a symptom of Shingles), and ensuring I never felt abandon. And for all those conversations in which I stared back at you vacantly and mumbled a non-sequitur, I apologize. It was the drugs, it really was.

To my son, thank you. I know you felt pretty helpless, but the ice cream runs and film discussions did more for me than you can ever imagine.

Andy Cohen, thank you for covering for me at the last minute. I really thought I would be in shape to interview Bonnie Dumanis. That was truly delusional on my part, but it might have made for a fairly interesting interview, arrest and article.

Father Ron, thank you for checking on me and giving me words of encourage. Susan and Frances, my yoga and Buddhist mentors thank you for the encouraging words on addressing pain with mindfulness. Sorry, it is difficult to be mindful with a head full o’ drugs. It has helped though afterward. And all the folk at Sacred Heart and the Mission de Alcala who kept me in their prayers, I will say from a spiritual stand-point it worked well. Based upon the horror stories I have heard from others, I got off light.

St Francis of Assisi

I am certain I have missed a few folk here, but there is point aside from being one big thank you note. The main thing which pulled me out of the depth of despair (how very dramatic) and kicked me in the ass (how colloquial) to get me moving again came directly from the compassion I experienced from others. Even the folk who told me about their bout were not trying to one-up. It was merely to let me know, they understood the misery I was going through, hoping I would be better soon.

I am sure we have all seen someone park their car in a handicapped parking space, displaying the proper handicap sticker or plate. But when they get out of the car, he or she walks seemingly without any problem to his or her destination. The first thought which comes to mind, is there is someone who is playing and taking advantage of the system. During my bout with my Shingles, I too could park my car and walk to my destination and I looked healthy. The evidence of my pain was under my shirt and pants and deep within my body. So too are the disabilities of many…they are unseen. It does not make them any less disabled and hurting.

I have taken a valuable life lesson from this little, albeit miserable, speed bump in my life. It is to realize we all suffer to one degree or another. Others cannot necessarily see it, but it hurts nonetheless. Compassion should not be reserved merely for those who we can “tell” are suffering.

Compassion is learned behavior, and when you learn compassion you will understand it, you will realize it is only valuable when you give it to someone as a gift. But for some reason when give compassion to others, you are not diminished, you are filled back up again, and then some. It is like trying to dig a hole in the sand at the water’s edge. Each time you pull the wet sand out, it fills right back in and when you dig deep enough, it floods with water. So too is the way of compassion. Each time you give compassion away unconditionally, it fills you right back up inside. It is one of the few naturally unending, renewable sources of energy…or perhaps humanity. And that is all I have to say on that subject.

Next time: Emergence, False Starts and Realizations

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ernie McCray June 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Beautiful piece, Jack, on one of the most crippling maladies out there as I found out years ago when my wife got shingles. I’ve never seen such misery in a person and I remember how helpless I felt not being able to help other than to talk to her and listen to her and tend to her. I’d like to say I held her in my arms to comfort her but she would have shot me (and we don’t even have a gun) because being touched was the absolute last thing she desired in those miserable moments. She thanked me for just being there.


Jack Hamlin June 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Yes indeed Ernie. I am one of those people who likes to make things all better. It is pretty hard to sit helplessly by while someone you love suffers…but sometimes all you can do is be there, and that is love enough.


Ernie McCray June 14, 2012 at 10:48 am



Shane Finneran June 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Jack, I just read all 3 installments to date. Thanks very much for sharing your perspective on the shingles hell you are going through.

You say you don’t sick well, and I know just how that goes (in fact OB chiropractor Dr Patch once gently called me out for acting like a jerk when I showed up in his office with some serious neck pain) but I would argue that your writing here suggests you sick with the best of ’em. For example, your message about compassion is all the more wonderful considering the pain you are in. Thanks for this!

I hope the shingles are on their way out and that you will be back to full strength soon


Jack Hamlin June 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Well Shane, when life gives you lemons, make margaritas. Something good has to come out of experiences like this or else why do we do what do…all the do-dah day.

Thank you for your comments…and I am still working on a theme for my column in the SDFP…which by the way I found today the site is not…but it does appear to be analagous to our meetings.


Your Gal June 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Jack thank you for sharing your dark night of the soul and the deep loving compassion that you have found as a result of your suffering.
I found the artwork magical!


Natalie Sims February 10, 2014 at 3:08 am

Just wondering where the beautiful image of St. Francis comes from. I found your website on a Google image search while looking for pictures of him, and I particularly liked it.


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