I hate taking medicine and will put up with a lot of pain to avoid it. I’ve made it through natural childbirth four times. Wisdom teeth removal was no challenge. But I’ve finally met my match: it’s called shingles, and it’s like a thousand tiny ninjas are jabbing their thousand tiny, poison-laced knives into my side with such fierce precision and unrelenting synchrony it makes my eyes water. For the first time in my life, I am taking pain medication and am darned grateful for it.
David Letterman only missed work twice in 20 years of “The Late Show”: once for quintuple bypass surgery and once for shingles. He was out for shingles as long as he was for heart surgery, and this was the Top 10 list on his show when he returned:
Top Ten Good Things About Having Shingles, “The Late Show With David Letterman,” 31 March 2003
10. There’s nothing good about the BLEEPING shingles. The BLEEPING suckers are so BLEEPING painful, every minute you pray some giant son-of-a-BLEEP will shove a red-hot poker up your BLEEP.
Shingles is a reactivated form of the chicken pox virus. After you’ve had chicken pox, the virus retreats and hides in the nervous system. At some later date – likely at a period of low immunity – it may reactivate and travel through the nerves up to the skin, causing the red blistery rash that is the hallmark of shingles.
For me it all started with an unfortunate purchase of Burt’s Bees baby shampoo. That triggered the worst eczema breakout of my life, which I suffered through for a month before calling uncle (actually the dermatologist). I was so desperate that I gratefully agreed to a course of Prednisone, an oral steroid, which immediately started to clear up my eczema. But as I was finishing up the Prednisone, I developed a strange new rash. This of course turned out to be shingles, which the dermatologist told me was probably triggered by the Prednisone, which lowers immunity.
But I am not complaining. At this point in life, I am grateful for any diagnosis that has a full recovery and survival rate. Last year when all six of us came down with a violent stomach flu on the same night, as I was hauling soiled sheets and towels down to the laundry in between bathroom runs myself, I kept thinking, “In 24 hours this will be over. This I can handle.” In the lottery of life, even the pain of shingles seems like a gift.
Best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy 2011.