Since I wrote a column about my case of shingles, definitely one of the more terrible afflictions that God ever put upon us, someone asks me on a daily basis just how the ailment is doing. Like the condition, the answer is not very simple.
One person’s case of the malady can be very different from someone else’s experience. It can range from a simple painful rash to long-term pain that can be disabling. Many, if not most, people who have shingles have only an itching, burning rash, one that can drive you nuts. The pain is difficult to describe, but since the cause is a variation of the herpes virus, probably the best comparison I can come up with is to say that it feels like a huge, burning cold sore.
In some cases, like mine, the rash is not the problem; it has barely bothered me, with very little itch, only minimal pain, and that only very early when I first found out that the problem was shingles. My pain is in the underlying nerves, where it is often excruciating. It crops up anywhere along what appears to be one nerve that starts at my spine and extends around my right side, ending at the abdomen.
The pain comes and goes, and fortunately, it is getting better to the extent that lately it may go more than it comes. But when it comes, it often comes so suddenly that it feels like I’m being stabbed with a knife. And in the latest twist, the timing of the stabbing has me convinced that the viruses attacking the nerve have decided that 4 p.m. is time for happy hour — time to unwind, act up and celebrate their finding a long-term home where they can thrive. It’s always right around 4 p.m. when the pain kicks in.
I can have a day with little pain, just a little irritable nagging. I’ll be working in my office, and I’ll have absolutely no clue about the time. Suddenly, I’m stabbed in the middle of my gut, or somewhere around the rib cage. The first thing I do is look at the clock. I know that it’s going to say 3:55, or 4:07, definitely somewhere within 10 minutes of the 4 o’clock hour. Happy hour has begun. I will spend a few minutes to a few hours with either stabbing or intermittent intense pain, while all those little viruses party heartily and unwind from their hard day of work making me miserable.
As I write this, it’s been exactly six months since the first pain appeared. That’s six months for an ailment that all available information says should last just two to six weeks. Six months that included cancelled trips to visit relatives, a vacation that was cut short and other cancelled plans just because the pain made it too difficult to drive any distance or to engage in any physical activity. Six months of a very limited exercise regimen that has me more out of shape than I’ve been in my whole life.
During that six months, I’ve tried every kind of cure and pain reliever that I can find without resorting to opioids. The list includes a couple of off-the-wall remedies that I don’t even want to talk about (everyone seems to know a sure cure), but the pain is still there.
Shingles victims are apparently a growing group. Until this year, I hadn’t even heard of anyone having it for years, Now, just in our church, four people have had it this year. This is causing a shortage of the new vaccine; I have talked to several people who said that they can find no doctor or pharmacy that has it. I was recently told by a veteran that even the government can’t get it for the VA hospital.
If you’re nearing senior citizen status, and if you ever had chicken pox, keep calling your doctor and every pharmacy you can, until you find someone who has the vaccine. Don’t procrastinate and pay the price like I did.
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.