We’ve all seen the commercials before… “If you've had chickenpox, the shingles virus is already inside you (dun dun dun)” Ahhhhh. You know what I’m talking about, right? Probably. And you probably think, yeah sure I do, but I won’t get shingles. I mean, c’mon now, that doesn’t happen to people like me. Even though most people may think like that, I actually never did. As someone with a compromised immune system because of the Remicade I take for my Ulcerative Colitis, getting Shingles was always kind of a fear of mine, but I assumed it wouldn’t happen until I was a bit older. Welp, I was wrong. It happened...
Last Wednesday I woke up with a really sore neck and left shoulder. I hadn’t worked out recently (because my hamstring and knee are still pretty messed up), so I couldn’t figure out why it hurt. I had shown a movie in class the previous day and thought maybe it was caused from sitting at my desk with my body angled toward the screen. I iced it that night and took some Tylenol but it still hurt Thursday. I started to get a little worried because it felt like nerve pain (and not muscular) and I kind of panicked that something was really wrong. I Googled pinched nerves and slipped discs and didn’t really come up with anything that matched what I was feeling, I figured it would go away soon enough. Plus, once again, I hadn’t actually done anything that would cause this pain to occur. When Friday came, the pain was starting to get a little worse (it felt like tiny, little needles were sticking me over and over) and my skin was super sensitive to touch on the left side of my upper body. Anything that even grazed it, hurt. I also felt super tired and fatigued all day for no reason and had a headache, but really didn’t think much of it because hey, Friday. I managed to go for a little walk at sunset hoping some movement would help ease the pain bit by getting the blood pumping, but it didn’t. When I got home, I googled Meningitis and Shingles (someone had mentioned it in a podcast I was listening to) hoping to find something helpful about what might be going on. I could immediately cross Meningitis off my list, but I had most of the Shingles symptoms, minus the rash, so I figured, that really couldn’t be it.
Saturday morning I woke up way before my alarm for my SoulCycle class. This class is usually one of the highlights of my week and I’m always excited for it. But even though I woke up early, I still felt really tired and lethargic and my neck and shoulder still hurt. Something just felt off. I felt like this cloud was hanging over me but didn’t know why. SoulCycle went fine (but not amazing as per usual) and as the day went on, I went to the farmer’s market and the beach, and still wasn’t getting out of this lethargy, weird feeling, and pain. Even when I treated myself to a delicious dinner (Small Cheval FTW) and a walk on the 606 trail, none of it went away. Both of those things usually bring me a lot of joy, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I went home, did laundry, watched copious amounts of Master of None and Dear White People and worried about why I was in so much pain and just not feeling myself. Then of course I got more stressed worrying about the worrying. Standard me. But I did know something was wrong and I had to figure it out. I obsessively googled Shingles more because I was convinced that’s what I had even though I didn’t have a rash. I had read that if it is Shingles, doctors usually prescribe anti-virals like Valtrex to help treat it. I happened to have some of that at home because I sometimes get a cold sore on my lip if it gets sunburned, so I took some. If I did indeed have Shingles, it would hopefully help, and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t do too much harm.
When I woke up Sunday morning, the pain had gotten worse and I noticed a little rash on my neck and shoulder. Uh oh. My rash didn’t look like the ones in the pictures online of Shingles, but it was indeed an obvious rash, plus everything else seemed to fit the description. Because of my insurance, I can’t just go to any urgent care clinic without a ginormous co-pay and straight-up, the ER is way too expensive for me for something that’s not a real emergency. I called the doctors office and tried to get an appointment for Monday and the man I spoke to could not get me in. I figured I would make one for Wednesday (the earliest appt that fit my schedule), but that seemed so far away. I also knew if it continued to get worse, I would just go to the office after work on Monday and beg to get seen. I couldn't take a sick day because then I wouldn't get paid, and girl, I need money.
On Monday morning, my rash had gotten much worse (red, raised, tender, and starting to blister a bit), had spread to my back also, and the pain in my neck had really intensified. I decided to email the doctor and explain that I was pretty sure I had Shingles and wanted to see if she could squeeze me in so I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday. Luckily, she was able to do so and I could go right after work. I had pretty much self-diagnosed myself with Shingles from Google and honestly didn’t know what else it could be. I needed a real professional diagnosis though, and hopefully something for the pain and discomfort.
Once I told the doctor my pain symptoms and she saw the rash, she immediately confirmed what I already knew; it was indeed Shingles. What the fuck?! Ugh. How did I get it? (The virus just was somehow triggered in my body. Even though I’m not stressed or sick, something set it off.) How long would it last? (Probably 3-5 weeks.) Can I still go to work? (Yes, since it’s not contagious and its all covered up.) When will the pain go away? (Hopefully in the next few days, especially with the pain meds I was given.) Will I get it again? (Probably not, but never say never.)
The doctor was super nice and answered all my questions. She prescribed more Valtex and gave me some medication for the pain and told me to be in touch if anything changes. Having a real diagnosis gave me some peace of mind and actually made me feel a bit better. It didn’t make my symptoms go away, but at least I now know why I felt the way I did. Although the Shingles will not be gone for a couple of weeks (huge ugh), I hope the pain and discomfort lessens over the next few days and the blisters pop and start to heal. It looks disgusting and I don’t feel great, but I am going to keep going to work because at least if I’m there, I’m keeping busy and not just sitting on the couch or laying in bed trying to figure out how to stay comfortable. I’m also hoping that the pain medication works and I can feel some relief, especially at nighttime. The nerve pain in my neck is real, yo. I really hope that it doesn’t continue to spread and people don’t notice the rash that’s already present on my neck, shoulder, and back (and now chest). Until then, if anyone has had Shingles before and can offer any advice or insight, it would be greatly appreciated. And as I always do for myself, if you think something is off or wrong with your body, it probably is. Now granted, I'm a science person and happen to be very into tune with my body, but I am also a big proponent of doing your research. Look into stuff. Call your doctor. But also, be careful with this. There's a lot of information out there that can steer you in the wrong direction or make you think you have something you don't. But at the end of the day, listen to your body and do what you need to do.