Slaying the Dragon

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. Stuff happened. More accurately: Shingles happened.

Shingles gets its own capital S. Why? Because Shingles sucks. Big time. Are there worse things than getting Shingles? Absolutely. But still, it was a miserable affair.

For those of you who haven’t made their acquaintance with Shingles, let me introduce you. It’s a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. After one recovers from the chickenpox, usually sometime during childhood, the virus does not die as one would expect. Instead, it takes a long, nice, quiet vacation somewhere within nerve tissue near the spinal cord, while we continue life, blissfully unaware of its presence.

That is, until it decides the holidays are over. Pox, apparently, is an old medieval term for curse. Ha! Well put. During a period of poor resilience the lurking virus pops up like an evil jack-in-the box, travels along a nerve to the skin and produces a localized, nasty rash, as well as a tremendous amount of pain.

I never thought about Shingles before it slithered its way in—or rather—out. Why would I? I haven’t reached the age when they start offering vaccination for it. Surely young people don’t get it, right? Wrong, unfortunately.

The chickenpox virus is a member of the Herpes family—the medical term for Shingles is Herpes Zoster.
Zoster is derived from Greek, meaning “girdle” or “belt”. Shingles’ rash looks like a belt when it’s located on the torso, as it wraps around one side. The English word “Shingles” most likely comes from the Latin word  for “girdle,” which is “cingulus.” It has nothing to do with the roof of your house. Even though my six-year old kept asking me why the roof was making me sick.

Yes, why indeed? Not the roof, but why did I get Shingles? I did not feel like I was overly stressed. Yes, I was possibly chronically sleep deprived and I had just recovered from a cold, but that was not anything I hadn’t handled before. Be that as it may, the Shingles hit me hard. Sitting in the doctor’s office, my rash solicited the empathetic “Oh my, I haven’t seen it this bad in quite some time!” which no patient wants to hear ever, although I appreciated the frankness of it. It sure validated my intense discomfort. Shingles, as I discovered, can be extremely painful.

I had some time on my hands to think about this pain—that is, after I slept for a week. It’s quite amazing how many different qualities pain can have. As it turns out, Shingles is an absolute treasure trove for descriptive writing. It felt like a dragon had lodged itself in my liver, where it strangled me with its tail, while simultaneously breathing fire and stabbing me with its nails.

Shingles’ pain is relentless and exhausting, even after the skin has healed, and because it’s nerve pain, it doesn’t respond well to normal pain medication. There is something about chronic pain and having to grit your teeth the whole day. Let’s just say I was not easy to be around with. At some point the healed skin started to itch terribly as well, and upon scratching it would erupt in flames, so it was either pain, itch, or burn, or all of the above. Next time I am contemplating killing off an unlikable character in one of my books, I may just consider giving him/her Shingles instead.

So, what did I do? There’s not much you can do unfortunately. I took my anti-virals. I rested and wallowed in my misery. And I hoped it would go away—which is not a given. For some people the post-herpetic nerve pain can last a long time. I was reluctant to take any medication other than Tylenol or Ibuprofen, so I finally opted for some acupuncture. Whether it was this or just the natural course of the illness, I’ll never know, but after weeks, the pain did slowly improve. Now, three moths later, it’s more like background noise: annoying at times, but ignorable.

During all this, my website languished, as did my Facebook page. I worked on my work-in-progress, but only when I felt up to it. In the summer we took a long vacation and I focused mainly on family time, resting and maintaining a healthy life-style.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am the dragon is on its way out.  Slowly withering away, it still softly claws at me every now and then, but hopefully soon it will take its last breath.  And I pray it has not created any offspring to come back and find me; one visit was more than enough.

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