Friday, April 9, 2010

Getting through Shingles

Strange title for a first posting on a blog. Funny how unrelenting pain and a dearth of practical information available on line can serve as an inspiration! At some point I will provide a little bio about me, but that can wait. This blog is not planned to be a font of medical expertise, I am not a healthcare professional. As a discliamer, I am not recommending anything I have found to work for me. If you decide to try it and it works for you, cool.

First off, if you have ever had the chicken pox, you are a candidate for shingles. Until I got them I thought the CP vaccine was a bunch of hooey. So what-- chicken pox is no big deal. Guess I was wrong there. It is the encore that kicks your heiny. The vaccine for shingles is available but recommended for those over 60. News flash: If you have a high stress job or lifestyle, your body will not wait for your birthday so get it NOW. I wish I had gotten it!! I have a high-stress job. In the last few months it has gotten higher-stress -- some of that is actually good, but there is still the constant stream of stuff due and training-up the new people.

'Shingles' is a viral infection of your nerves by the same herpes virus that brought you the chicken pox, only this time it is back to show you how it can kick your booty. The rash is only one of a host of symptoms. Do not underestimate this syndrome. You need rest and drugs to get through it without lasting pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia. You do not want this, so taking care of yourself can help reduce the chances of ending up with it.

If anyone out there is experiencing shingles, they probably don't care if I am a Martian, as long as my 'tips' can help. Here are a few that I've learned in the last 2 weeks of semi-drug-induced haze.

First: If you hurt and have a rash GO TO THE DOCTOR. Everyone is familiar with the rash part, but you hurt like hell for 5 days before that even starts. I thought I had some kind of horrible cancer it hurt so bad. I went to the MD before the rash and they missed it. You may need to mention: COULD THIS BE SHINGLES? When I finally broke out in the rash and figured out it was shingles, I was actually RELIEVED that it wasn't something worse. I am still thankful that it isn't something worse, but it is still a process to recover.

Once you broach the shingles thing, GET ANTI-VIRAL DRUGS from urgent care. DO NOT WAIT until your regular MD can see you, unless it is two hours from when you call to ask for an appointment. This stuff progresses rapidly and every hour you wait can mean days more of recovering time. I used acyclovir at first, went back to my MD and got VALTREX -- it worked better. Unfortunately, I had a huge swath of rash by then, but it cut out the icky blistery and oozy part of the disease and will reduce my recovery by about a week.

You must also get pain meds. Strong ones. Some nerve-calming drugs may also be in order. I will list some suggestions later. Do not try to 'tough it out.' It hurts. Everything hurts if it is near the rash -- oh, you can also have sensitive areas that are not near the rash. Your need to do this right the first time to avoid the post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Being a well-endowed female, I prefer wearing a bra. AT this point, it feels like the band is made of coarse sandpaper. I wore pantyhose a couple of days this week. Can't tell you what a bad idea that was, but duty called. Today I bought thigh-highs in anticipation of returning to work on Monday.

My rash and inflammation are on the right side of my torso (mercifully, shingles usually happens only on one side at a time), about bra-line to bottom of pantyline. If you have similar coverage, here is what has helped me:

1. SOLARCAINE for surface anesthetic and antiseptic before the scabs fall (sorry to be gross, but shingles is a gross condition). NO ONE will suggest this. It does help.

2. Loose clothing. GO TO TARGET and buy some moo-moos or other loose dresses if you are female. Not sure what to tell guys -- maybe a night shirt or some plus-size ladies' moo-moos. If you absolutely must go into the office, try loose dresses from the maternity department. Don't forget the thigh-high stockings -- you will probably need a little exfoliation with a washcloth to keep them up). Panty-hose will feel like an iron-maiden, even with the solarcaine.

3. COOLER showers. Do this quickly, as one half of your body will be freezing and the rash-affected area will feel like it is on fire. Use a gentle liquid shower soap -- unscented if possible. I used a moisturing Aveeno product for sensitive skin. It helped and most of all, did not hurt. I did spill a little of my normal rosemary and eucalyptus gel on the rash. Bad idea. Do not use a strong herbal shower gel.

4. STAY HOME. I went back to work too early. It was torture. If there is anyone at your workplace who did not have chicken pox, they can get it from you during about the first week of the rash. Do not gamble withtheir health either.

5. Take drugs. Pain will make the experience MORE STRESSFUL and that's what got you into this mess. Here's what I took, in addition to the VALTREX: Lyrica or neurontin to help calm or strengthen the nerves. Try to get samples of this, it's expensive. Percocet-- half of a 5 mg every 8 hours made a huge difference in my quality of life. I skip one every two days to see if I still need it and to give my body a rest in case I'm getting constipated. Don't forget your vitamins, like B-12 and C with bioflavinoids.

6. If you get muscle spasms, another exciting symptom, try Skelaxin. It did not add to my drowsiness when I took 800 mg, 3 times a day.

7. Schedule another follow-up appointment with your MD for about 10 days after the rash appears. At this appointment, if the rash is cleared enough, they can prescribe lidoderm patches for the really painful places. These are more powerful than the solarcaine but you can't put them on the open rashes. Another thing that may help prevent the PHN is a 7-day course of prednisone. I went for it. Again, anything that can help prevent PHN is worth a try.

8. Take care of yourself NOW and don't fall back into the habits that got you to the point of shingles. Remember: you can get them on the other side of your body, head, face, etc. even if you've already had them once.

9. Try not to be an idiot. If you are under 70 years old, that's probably what got you to the point of shingles. This will be the hardest part for me!

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