Most medical professionals are recommending that anyone over the age of 50 get the new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, particularly if they have ever had chicken pox. Shingles are caused by the same virus, which remains in your system. I want to tell you the story of one fool (me), who procrastinated and is paying a steep price.
Following my wife’s regular appointment recently, she informed me that our family doctor wanted both of us to get the new vaccine at a pharmacy. We discussed it briefly, agreed to do it and then just simply didn’t think about it again.
Then I developed very bad back pain, which is a fairly common occurrence and no particular cause for alarm. But this time it was more severe, and none of the normal methods of dealing with it seemed to work. Then, something different happened — the pain moved around to my side, just below the rib cage.
Having already lived past normal life expectancy, I have developed a mind-set that makes me wonder if the next pain that I get might be that final illness that is going to kill me. This was no exception; it was a severe, deep pain that seemed to come from some internal cause, occurring in multiple locations, and it concerned me.
A few days later, I awoke at 3 a.m. to find little bumps on my chest. I immediately knew it was shingles. I turned on the light, and there was a glaring streak of red, interspersed with little bumps that were slightly darker red. From my chest, it looped halfway around my body, following the lines of nerves under the skin, and ended in the middle of my back.
Many people who have never had shingles believe that it is just a bothersome, painful rash. Believe me, the rash is just a minor symptom. But it is one that serves a major purpose: It lets you know that the other symptoms are also shingles-related and not something that is about to kill you. Without the telltale rash, it would be easy to either think that you were about to die or possibly to even wish for death to ease the pain.
I went to the doctor the same morning the rash appeared. I got pills for pain, a steroid and an antiviral that is supposed to prevent recurring symptoms. Things went along fairly well for a few days, with pain that was at least somewhat tolerable and a minimal amount of itching. I began to believe that I was going to get through it with a reasonable amount of discomfort. I don’t recall ever being quite so wrong.
Exactly one week after the appearance of the rash, I awoke with mind-blowing pain in multiple locations on my back, side and chest. The severity would increase and then decrease, like someone sticking a hot iron on one spot and then moving it somewhere else. These hot spots were interspersed with occasional stabbing pains, like bolts of lightning.
The pain continued relentlessly for four days and nights. Then on the fifth day, there was considerable relief. I thought the worst was over. Once again, I was dead wrong; it suddenly came back, more intense than ever, after about 36 hours.
I have both physiological and psychological aversions to opioids, so up to this point I had gotten by on Ibuprofen and avoided the opioid pain killer prescribed by the doctor. This time I had to relent and take a pill. It did help me get to sleep, but when I awoke less than an hour later, the pain was still there, and unchanged. Even the opioid would not dull it.
It has now been 17 days since the first symptoms. Shingles should last two to six weeks if you are lucky enough to not have ongoing recurring pain. We’ll see.
Within seven hours after my discovery that it was shingles, my wife had the shot. If you are over 50 and have had chicken pox, run, don’t walk, to the nearest pharmacy, and get it yourself. Don’t procrastinate like I did and suffer for it.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.