Without hesitation, I would be the first to say a bad case of shingles is no laughing matter. But looking back on my own experience, two years later, I cannot help but look at the irony and the occasional humour of my weird case. Here are a few short stories about my experience with them:
Not quite proactive enough
In the last days of March 2014, at 48 years old, I took a retirement planning course, offering a comprehensive view of all aspects of retirement, not just the financials, but also health, wellness and psychology. In the health segment, they mentioned shingles as an illness that is more predominant later in life, and that one could discuss the shingles vaccine with their doctor when they go for the medical physical after turning 50. So I wrote in big letters on the front of my binder “Ask doctor about the shingles vaccine at my 50 physical”, so proud and so confident that I was on the ball and proactive where my health was concerned. I contracted shingles one week later. Lesson learned: never be THAT overconfident!
Timing is everything
I was gearing up to host Easter dinner for the family (12) and in the week prior I noticed the rash starting just below my belt line. At first I thought it was just a little irritation because my pants were getting a little tight after a long Canadian winter of indoor activities (it sometimes happens!). But as the week went on, new spots were developing, all in that same area. I was getting concerned especially since I was planning on being busy cooking and baking a few days later. The Wednesday night I decided that if any more spots appeared the next morning, I would head to the clinic to get the rash checked out. The next morning, after taking my shower I checked in the mirror… no new spots. YAY! I turned around.. and there was a fresh batch just below the belt line above my “cheek”… Off to the doctor.
Good hand washing techniques
The doctor told me that given the placement of the spots, as long as I was wearing clothes, as long as I didn’t scratch the shingles rash and as long as I washed my hands meticulously before and while working with the food, everything should be fine. So the meal planning and preparation went on. Washing my hands frequently and meticulously was not so much the issue, even though I had scrubbed my hands into a nice shade of pink by the time the Easter ham was served… On the bright side, we matched!
Master of Ceremonies
While all this was going on, I had volunteered to be master of ceremonies at a colleague’s retirement party. If only the audience knew how much I wanted to scratch during my speeches. So I just walked around a lot and made very dramatic gestures hoping the movement of clothing over the affected area would ease the itchiness.
Rip Van Winkle
As much as I usually enjoy having time away from the office, this was not the way I wanted it to happen. In my case, I was rather lucky, as I don’t remember the pain being too intense (In my lifetime I’ve had canker sores that hurt considerably more), but I just remember a lot of itching and sleeping as much as 16-18 hours per day and still feeling tired. The dust bunnies had nothing to fear during that time.
Sad side effects
Between the antiviral medication and the shingles themselves, I seemed to be in a complete fog most of the time. Unfortunately the blog went on a forced hiatus for a couple of weeks. Also, I could feel my emotions much closer to the surface than usual, so I found myself crying at pretty much anything… sad endings, happy endings, dramas, comedies, commercials, the news, the weather, door-to-door salesman, junk mail. I was a lot of fun to be around!
I am usually patient, but…
The thing with shingles is that every case is different. One cannot predict how quickly or how slowly it will pass. Being one of the slow cases was not a lot of fun. I can’t remember if I was at the doctors’ office 3 or 4 times getting doctor’s notes to confirm my absence, but I know I was on the brink of tears, emphatically asking how much longer, wondering if I would ever be rid of them. Shingles can test the patience of Job.
Going back to work part time
I was off work completely for 3 weeks, and then returned to work part time for the next 3 weeks. At first it was for just 4 hours in the middle of the day and the plan was to slowly work my way up from there. It worked but I remember those first few days, I would come home from work around 2:30, rip my pants off as soon as I walked in the front door, hop into my PJs or sweats, crash on the sofa and then fall into a deep sleep until dinner time.
Once the shingles passed and life slooowwwwly returned to normal, in a follow-up visit, the doctor warned me about the possibility of recurring pains even after the shingles were long gone. He was right… I did experience those, maybe once every week or two. The sensation was like a sudden shot of an ice pick to my hip (in the same neighbourhood as where the shingles were). Not a convenient affliction when the manager is looking for volunteers and I was ready to jump out of my chair. Also not convenient at the movies, theatre, fine dining establishments… car seats, airline seats, chairs, sofas.
Becoming the poster child for shingles
The misery I experienced was enough for a couple of my friends to run to their doctors and insist on getting the vaccine. There was no way they were going to go through what I did.
I don’t blame them, but I never thought that this experience would turn me into a poster child for shingles awareness. Maybe there is a reason why I caught them earlier than most of my peers and this blog is one way to get the message out.
For more information about shingles, check out this information page from Public Health Agency of Canada or speak to your doctor:
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