Wednesday, September 14

Happy Birthday to Me

Right~so I turned 41 a couple weeks ago...

Last year, right before my birthday I totally thought I had a heart-attack. It scared the crap outta me and I had my mom drive me to the ER.

It instead turned out to have been a pill that got stuck in my esophagus...but it had all the symptoms of a heart-attck. After drinking this really nasty concoction that numbed my mouth, esophagus, and stomach I felt much better. And in the following days all sorts of precautionary follow-up tests were run, which revealed that I was graced with completely healthy heart and lungs~so not such a bad birthday health scare after all.

This year for my birthday, I got shingles. Oh goody. Not familiar with shingles? Well I'm here to tell you they are HELL!!!!

Here's a quick synopsis of shingles, garnered from various websites:

Shingles:(herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

After you get chickenpox, the virus remains inactive (becomes dormant) in certain nerves in the body. Shingles occurs after the virus becomes active again in these nerves years later. The reason the virus suddenly become active again is not clear. Often only one attack occurs.

{Note this means anyone who has ever had chicken pox or been immunized for chicken pox can develop shingles later. That's like 100% of the population!!!}

Shingles may develop in any age group, but you are more likely to develop the condition if:
~You are older than 60
~You had chickenpox before age 1
~Your immune system is weakened by medications or disease {Hey, that's me!!}
~You have weak immune systems because of stress, injury, or other reasons.

If an adult or child has direct contact with the shingles rash on someone and has not had chickenpox as a child or a chickenpox vaccine, they can develop chickenpox, rather than shingles.  {This means I potentially infected my nieces &  nephews and all the little kids at my sister-in-law Jill's 2 year old's birthday party!}


The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears.

Red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, form in most people. The blisters break, forming small ulcers that begin to dry and form crusts. The crusts fall off in 2 to 3 weeks. Scarring is rare. The rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the belly area or chest. The rash may involve face, eyes, mouth, and ears. In rare cases, no rash appears.

Additional symptoms may include:
Abdominal pain
Difficulty moving some of the muscles in the face
Fever and chills
General ill-feeling
Hearing loss
Joint pain
Loss of eye motion
Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
Taste problems
Vision problems

Expectations (prognosis)
Herpes zoster usually clears in 2 to 3 weeks and rarely recurs. If the virus affects the nerves that control movement (the motor nerves), you may have temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis.

Sometimes, the pain in the area where the shingles occurred may last from months to years. {Ah crap!!! Are they serious?!?}

How is shingles treated?

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment may help you get well sooner and prevent other problems. Call your doctor as soon as you think you may have shingles. The sooner you start treatment, the better it works.

Treatment may include:

~Antiviral medicines to help you get well sooner and feel less pain.
~ In addition to antiviral medications, pain medications may be needed for symptom control. Both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and narcotic pain-control medications may be used for pain management in shingles
~Medicines to help long-term pain. These include antidepressants, pain medicines, and skin creams.

By the way, anyone who has had shingles may develop Postherpetic Neuralgia.
What Is Postherpetic Neuralgia?

Neuralgia is nerve pain that occurs when a nerve is irritated or inflamed. The pain spreads along neural pathways, may be brief or chronic, and can range from mild to outright unbearable.

A relatively common type of neuralgia is postherpetic neuralgia, which strikes after the infection known as shingles (herpes zoster). Typically, people with this form of neuralgia experience a continuous burning sensation. Pain may be very severe and long lasting. Any pain that persists for more than a month after resolution of the herpes zoster rash is called postherpetic neuralgia.

So, being me, I of course can't even get a fairly common illness in a normal way...I had nearly all the symptoms listed above but I never got the rash!!!! Makes the illness a little harder to diagnos...especially in someone who already has nerve damage!!! But the doctor finally determined that it was indeed shingles and I concur as aside from getting the rash, my body pretty much did as expected.
On the bright side, not getting the rash means that I was never contagious {phew!}, so I no longer had to stress about having potentially infected a bunch of kids with chicken pox.
On the not-so-bright side: The pain was horrendous!! Pretty damn close to being unbearalbe. And this is coming from someone pretty familiar with severe nerve pain!
I couldn't bear to wear anything except silk, fleece, or very soft cotton...and frankly nothing was better than anything. I couldn't bear to move....I could barely bear to breathe! I slept as much as possible because then I didn't notice the pain as much. It was so bad one night that I almost had my mom take me to the ER for a morphine drip!!! I lived on vicodin (in addition to my normal allotment on meds) and took these horse-pill-sized antiviral meds.
But now it has been about 3 weeks and the pain is fading, though I am still exhausted. I can move more easily. I can wear clothes (though I admit to still being afraid of wearing a bra!).
My only fear is that, since I am so abnormal, I'll get shingles again. After all, I had chicken pox twice as a child; why shouldn't I get shingles again.

But I am not going to stress over that, 'cause, as I noted above, stress can trigure shingles outbreaks!

Instead I'm going to focus on happy things...think happy thoughts...I can do it!

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