I am a 40-year-old woman, and I have shingles.
Like everyone else my age, I laughed at the shingles commercials on TV, especially the one where the woe-is-me guy couldn’t play golf. “Eh, it’s just a rash,” I’d say. “Get over it. Wah.”
I. Am. An. Idiot.
Shingles is no joke. I’ve tried to figure out how I got it, you know, since it’s an old-man disease. But I had two colds about six weeks apart. And I have been under a bit of stress. Enter shingles.
It started with a cluster of about five pimple-like blisters on the right side of my lower back. No big deal. I asked my fiance to take a look. We both thought it was bug bites. Nothing to worry about. Two days later, there were a lot more bumps, a good 2 inches away from the first set. Then this cluster farther down my hip, but that looked more like an abrasion. They all itched
I called my sister, a nurse, mostly because she’s already had shingles (she’s in her 30s). She suggested just waiting to see. It was just a rash at this point, and it could have been contact dermatitis, though I hadn’t changed laundry soap (and even then, I make my own). But I was also starting to notice very sensitive skin on the front of my leg. It felt like a third-degree burn, and clothing rubbing against it hurt. My sister suggested looking up nerve paths online to see if it followed a specific nerve.
That’s what shingles is, by the way, a virus of a particular nerve path. No one tells you that. It’s why the shingles rash follows a clear path – it’s just going along the nerve.
Later that evening, a Saturday, I was laying on the couch and put my hand just below my hip as I was getting up. I felt something that wasn’t quite right – a very swollen, painful lymph node.
I went to urgent care. Shingles, the doctor said. He prescribed steroids, antiviral medication and a painkiller. I thought that the Vicodin was weird, because I hadn’t really mentioned much pain. Soreness, but no pain.
Later that evening, I was beyond thankful for the doctor’s forethought – the pain started in earnest.
The third-degree burn sensation went around my waist to just below my bellybutton, and down my right thigh. Any sort of friction was unbearable. Then it felt like someone punched me, hard, in my hip, but there was no bruise, no indication that there was any sort of damage there. It was all under the skin, and nowhere near the rash.
That’s been the hardest thing to deal with – most of the effects of this virus are under the skin, hiding in nerve endings. Below the rash, I keep getting a hot stabbing pain, one that occasionally makes me suck in air until it subsides a second later. On my belly, the skin tingles. And while the burnt feeling has subsided a lot, twinges of it keep coming back.
I asked my sister what she wore when she had it. She suggested leggings, because it prevents much friction against your skin. She was so right! Right now, I’m wearing leggings under a pair of jeans … and wishing it were a lot colder in Florida so this would make sense, clothing-wise.
Yesterday, I had a good day. I worked all day with no problem. I felt better. I even went to dinner with a friend. I slept great, because I rarely move when I sleep, so friction is limited.
Today, I’m paying for the active day. Pain is almost constant under the rash. I walk like an old lady so I don’t make it any worse.
Some things I learned about shingles
- If you’ve had chickenpox, you can get shingles. However, you can’t get shingles from shingles. This virus could give you chickenpox if you haven’t had those, but not shingles. And even then, you’d have to try really hard to get at my rash to get chickenpox.
- It’s not just for old men. The commercials focus on older people because the vaccine is only given to people over the age of 50 (though I imagine you can request it). Everyone I know who’s had it has been younger than 50.
- You can get shingles at any time. This virus really does live inside you, dormant. It’s creepy.
- Your entire nerve path can be affected. The rash might be small, but the pain can be mighty, and can wrap around your body.
- It only occurs on one side of your body at a time.
- Shingles is most common around your torso, but you can also get it on your head, and it can damage your eyesight if it gets too close to your eye.
- It doesn’t necessarily look like it does in the commercials. I’ve included a photo of my rash below, on day 5. It looks like poison ivy, not a scaly rash.
- 1 in 3 people will get shingles. It’s an unfortunate, scary fact.