My CO-1686: How About ’em Shingles?

The year was 2013. I, freshly annointed Queen Diva Poksa, was happily ramrodding the Inspire blog Tarceva Divas and Dudes (TD&D), when one day a mysterious rash appeared on my tummy. The inch-wide belt of tiny purplish red blisters wrapped across my belly button from one hip to the other hip, ruining my pole-dancing plans. I described the rash on the TD&D thread, hoping someone who had experienced the same Tarceva side effect would share his or her coping secret. Instead of advices, I received a scare. One diva said my descriptions fit meningitis rash. I told Octo about it and true to our characters, he dragged me to the car, put the pedal on the metal all the way to the emergency room (ER). The ER doctor declared the rash “acute dermatitis” and shooed me off to my Onc, who immediately exclaimed,”Shingles!”

It’s now 2016 and safe to say that my Onc knew zip about shingles. He was dead wrong. I did not have shingles in 2013. I’m absolutely sure because I’ve just recuperated from shingles. Shingles is like orgasm; you’d know when you’ve had one. But the comparison ends there. You’d never want shingles anytime soon or ever again.

I learned from my alma mater Google University (GU) that it’s extremely important to take antiviral medications within 72 hours of the onset of shingles. How did I know facial shingles was knocking at the door? I didn’t because I had never had one. All I know is that the top of my head suddenly became ultra-sensitive to touch. It drove me nuts thinking, Could this be Stroke? Metastases to the brain? My inner genius solving the global warming problem? I took a couple of Ibuprofens and hit the sack. In the middle of the night, a painful sting on the end of my eyebrow above my nose yanked me from snoring. I audited additional courses at GU then shocked Octo with an announcement early that morning. “Let’s go see Dr GL at Urgent Care. I believe I’m getting shingles.”

My self-diagnosis was spot on!  I wanted to high five Dr GL but decided not to. He might feel threatened by the competition. He started me on Valacyclovir  – perfect timing – within 24 hours of the onset of shingles. The drug does not kill the virus; it stops the virus from replicating, thus decreasing the individual’s suffering. The shingles virus just runs its course; there is no cure for it. Why are incurable maladies chasing me as my age careens toward a hundred?

I also found out from GU that shingles occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in the body. After a bout of chickenpox, the virus “sleeps” or stays dormant in the nerve roots. In some people, it stays dormant forever. In others, the virus “wakes up” when disease, stress, or aging weakens the immune system.

I learned further that shingles occurs in different parts of the human body, affecting one side only, along a nerve line. NFL great Terry Bradshow shows one example in the TV ad that peddles vaccine for shingles. In my case, the shingles virus temporarily homesteaded on my face, installing red relief maps on my  forehead similar those of Mikhail Gorbacev’s birthmarks.

Shingles inflicts the worst pain I’ve ever known and I’ve experienced a lot. I had had a full-mouth gum operation, hysterectomy, goiter and cataract surgery. I had delivered a baby the natural way. This revelation should surprise no one because this senior babe is waaaay past the age of acne.

One conversation during my late pregnancy in 1974 is forever etched in my memory. Hours before my labor pains began, a friend asked me, “Do you want your husband to be in the delivery room with you?” What was she thinking? “No!” I deadpanned.  “I don’t want my husband there, I don’t want the doctor there, I don’t want me there!” But I couldn’t do childbirth in absentia. I had to be there. Women who have experienced natural childbirth will know the facial shingles pain as I’ll describe it. The headache was extremely excruciating it was like delivering a baby through the ear canal. If I were a horse, I would have been shot dead already.

The shingles virus finally ran its course.  My face looks nearly normal again. People do a double take on it now because it reminds them of the mean mama-san in a Jackie Chan movie.

The shingles event capped my 2015 fourth quarter from hell that started at the end of  the Shanghai/Tokyo CTscan celebration trip, which gave me a bacterial infection, which was disposed of in two days by my immune system helped by the antibiotic Azithromycin. Then I paid the price for Azithromycin’s help: two weeks of malaise from its knock-down side effects.  Then while my heroic immune system was resting, the chickenpox virus rose from the dead and harassed my face. All these things happened just because I had celebrated my CO-1686’s latest stable CTscans! Fortunately, being the self-proclaimed guru of positivity, I dwell on the awesomeness of the first three quarters and the knowledge acquired in the fourth quarter of 2015.

I’ve just finished dusting myself up and am now ready to face the new year 2016.

The moral of the story? What doesn’t kill you makes you strong. Happy dance, Feisty Heifer!

Happy New Year!