Just in time! Act sharply with shingles.

What it first felt like

I felt a sensation like a pulled muscle in my side. Or was it a scratch from something in the garden yesterday?

Later on, instead of easing, as I’d expected, it was worse. The skin in that area felt as though it was on fire. I asked my partner to look. “It seems fine,” was the reply.

Seeing the doctor

Next day, after a broken night’s sleep, the pain (burning, stinging and dull ache) had extended backwards towards my spine. I rang and asked to see a doctor right away. I explained that the pain was getting worse. and I didn’t think I could concentrate at work. Had I broken a rib, or was it something ‘inside’ that was ‘broken’? (I was googling what heart attacks feel like!) Mid-afternoon, I saw the doctor (this was before Covid) and explained that over 24 hours my side had become on fire. She looked at it – but as before, there was nothing to see at that time. After listening to my chest and reassuring me that my heart was just fine, she said:

“You probably have shingles. I will give you a prescription for pills that will really help. You are lucky to have seen me so swiftly as these pills are really only useful if you start them in the first 72 hours (three days) from the first feeling. In your case, it is still day two.”

I got the antiviral pills at the chemist and went home to google shingles. I learnt that it is a recurrence of chickenpox. So I could have developed shingles at any time in my life but that it is more common in older people. No one can catch shingles, but if a person who’d not had chickenpox rubs against my naked side, then they could get that. I asked my partner, who was able to confirm having had chickenpox as a child.

After three days

After three days of taking pills five times a day (or nearly!) my side was a lot calmer. Some small blisters had appeared in a row along where the first ‘scratch’ had been felt. But they were not too bad. I put a big plaster over them to stop my clothes rubbing on them and allow them to heal up.

However, although the skin looked quite normal in two weeks, I could still feel the sharp needles digging into my side. The pain was so sharp at times that I would find myself panting to overcome it. I learnt that this is the nerve that the virus used to travel down to the skin, which has been irritated so much that it continues to send these pain messages although there is actually nothing wrong now.

“Dr Google” told me that I could get different pills from the doctor, or try various self help ideas. Since I’d already found that pressing my hand firmly on the place, or leaning hard against something relieved these sensations, I tried the Shingles Support Society suggestion of a firm bandage pressing on that area. And that really helped. I guess it gives the nerve a ‘real’ sensation to report, so it stops sending the false ‘stabbing’ message. In my internet searches, I had learnt that the NHS is giving out a vaccine to prevent shingles. But only to people in their 70s. I will get it myself when I reach 70 in case of another attack – although I’ve read that is rare. I will certainly be telling everyone I know in that age group to get vaccinated by their GP.