Before actually experiencing Shingles, it was rather a meaningless word -- something that had affected a few other known people and they all said it was painful, but I never thought that I would become one of its victims. Originally, I didn't intend to write about my experience, but have been prompted to do so in the hope that someone else who is going through the same thing, will find some consolation in my words.
Please note that I have no medical qualifications and this is purely an account of my own experiences and observations. Obviously, each case would possibly be different.
This is how it happened. On Thursday 10 January 2013, I woke at 4am with a pain in my right eyebrow. Yes, a pain in the eyebrow sounds strange! It was not a throb or an ache -- it was definitely pain! This unexplained pain continued throughout the morning and showed no signs of going away, then during the afternoon the pain extended to the outer corner of my right eye, so I made an appointment to see my Doctor the following day. By evening, the pain was also under the bottom of my eyelid.
My Doctor told me that unexplained pain was very often the onset of Shingles, and if his diagnosis was correct, I could expect the rash to appear the next morning (it takes about 48 hours from the onset of pain). He gave me a prescription, but said to wait until the rash appeared before getting it made up at the Chemist.
Next morning, first thing I did was look in the mirror -- no rash! Good, I haven't got Shingles! So I loaded the pram and set off with the dogs to deliver catalogues. It was a hot morning and I couldn't help but wonder what could be causing this pain in my eyebrow -- surely not a tumour or something sinister like that..... About half an hour later, I put my hand to my forehead and felt the blisters -- oh... it was almost a relief to know that it was only Shingles after all....
Went to the Chemist as soon as possible and got my prescription made up -- Valaciclorir Tablets 500mg, 42 tablets to be taken at the rate of 2 tablets three times a day until finished. Apparently it is essential to commence these antiviral tablets within 24 hours of the rash appearing.
Internet research revealed that Shingles (also known as herpes zoster), is caused by the Varicella zoster virus, which is also responsible for chickenpox. It occurs because of a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which remains in the nerve cells of the body after an attack of chickenpox. People who contract chickenpox are at risk of developing shingles later in life, since the virus lies dormant in the body. Fortunately, it is rare to have more than one attack of shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. However, people who have never had chickenpox can catch the virus from another person with shingles. A person who has never had chickenpox, but comes into contact with a case of shingles, could develop chickenpox (not shingles). For further information... http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Shingles
As far as I can recall, I was 14 years old when I had Chicken Pox, so the virus has been laying dormant in my body for the past 62 years! Why has it suddenly decided to re-activate now?
I have been stunned by the number of people who, as soon as they find out that I have Shingles, immediately say "Oh, that is caused by Stress!" Well, to set the record straight, Shingles is not caused by Stress! Shingles is caused by the reactivation Chicken Pox Virus. Perhaps, and I say perhaps, the reactivation of the Chicken Pox Virus may be caused by Stress, but who isn't stressed at some time or other?
At least the medication relieved the pain, but my right eye became so sore and intolerant of light, that it became impossible to read, watch TV or use the computer. Even the light coming in through the window irritated it and at night I found I had to turn off the tiny night light I usually leave on in the bathroom. I just needed total darkness to sleep.
Returned to my Doctor on Tuesday and he now prescribed Diclocil 500mg capsules to be taken 30 minutes before meals 3 times per day, plus Chlorsig Eye Drops to be used four times per day. It became a full-time job remembering what to take when, so I made a chart for times each medication had to be taken. I did not feel like eating, but with capsules that had to be taken before meals, I had to make the effort to eat something 30 minutes after taking them.
It was great to be rid of the pain and I wondered why others said Shingles is so painful. A lot of my time was spent sleeping, and the remainder sitting in my rocking chair. I knew that rest was essential to hasten recovery, but life was pretty boring without being able to use my eyes to do the things that interest me. Such a waste of my precious life which is passing me by all too quickly at the best of times. Couldn't help but wish that it was anywhere else instead of in my eye!
Arranged for someone else to do my deliveries for a week and the dogs missed their walks and outings, but they also got plenty of rest, either beside me on the bed, or in my lap on the chair. They were certainly not lacking in cuddles!
My eye was not improving, so I went back to my Doctor on Thursday 24 January, he said I had a severe case of Shingles and was also concerned about my eye, so arranged an emergency appointment for me to see my Ophthalmologist that afternoon. Unfortunately, the Specialist confirmed that the Shingles in my cranial nerve had also affected my eye and caused my vision to deteriorate. After having two successful cataract operations to improve my sight, it was not good news to find that I could now read one less line on the chart with my right eye. The lost vision may return, but most probably not. He prescribed new drops and ointment for my eye -- FML-Liquiflim Eye Drops and Zovirax Eye Ointment -- even the first application brought relief...
With my eye finally improving, I felt as though there would be light at the end of the tunnel. The scabs on the blisters were starting to heal and the pain had gone as soon as I started taking the medication, so I was starting to feel as though these Shingles were not as painful as people would make me believe. Little did I know what was yet to come!
Woke at 7am on Sunday 27 January to feel the nerves twitching in my right eyebrow. It got worse as the day passed and by Monday my whole skull was terribly painful, sore and tender. I never imagined that just washing my hair could be so painful. Returned to my Doctor on Tuesday because I thought that perhaps I needed another course of antiviral medication, but there was no second dosage for me. He explained that the nerve endings had been damaged by the Shingles and that the pain I was now experiencing was caused by the healing of the nerve endings, then told me that it would get better in time.
Apparently, the more severe the attack of Shingles, the worse the damage to the nerve endings, and the older the person is, the longer they take to heal. Well, age is against me there!
Out of curiosity, I Googled "duration of shingles" and it was only then that I discovered that it could take years! How daunting! Almost wished that I hadn't discovered that information, so immediately resolved to be patient and let fate take its course.
It was 21 February before all the scabs had eventually gone from my scalp and I could finally go to the hairdresser to have a long overdue haircut. That felt good... and I felt as though I was finally on track to start returning to normal. Energy levels slowly improved and I gradually tried to get back into normal routine, but at the same time being conscious of not overdoing it.
Improvement continued during March and It was good to be able to cope without the painkillers at last, but those "worms" wriggling in my head kept reminding me of their presence. Time has moved on and it is now over 12 weeks since the rash first appeared, but it is still not completely gone. There is a patch of rash on my forehead that keeps resurfacing, my right eyebrow is still slightly swollen and those annoying wriggling "worms" still come back to haunt me (usually late afternoon or evening), but I can live with that for how ever long it takes...
I have an appointment to revisit my Ophthalmologist in June so my vision can be re-assessed. Meanwhile, I just take each day as it comes and hope that one day I will finally be rid of the final remnants of my severe dose of Shingles.