21 February 2012

Shingles: How I spent my summer vacation...

Actually it's been less than a vacation. I just think I'm funny. The following is TMI, so feel free to skip the details. In summary, I have back pain, my blood pressure went up, I had chest pains, I went to Urgent Care at midnight on Wednesday-Thursday was admitted for a few hours, but passed all tests with flying colors. So, my heart is healthy. My back hurts like never before. I have a mild (?) case of Shingles. Mild? In whose opinion? Oh, that's right, my doctor's.

*  *  *

Shingles can be grossly ugly, so I'm lucky so far that I have just two clusters of abrasions on my mid-back, right side. Any pressure, no matter how mild, is painful and though it is not, it feels swollen.

The worst pain is overwhelming and comes in spasms, sometimes small waves. It's localized, on my right side--in just the areas I've experienced back and neck pain over the past 30 years. Specifically at the trigger points beneath my right scapula, kidney (lumbar5) area, base of my neck, and right hip joint.
It's insidious in that it spasms at random intervals and locations. The pain is like a quick jab with a blunt-tipped weapon. Maybe a cane or umbrella point. It catches me off-guard almost every time because it's so very random. I either wince or groan in a variety and surprising ways. Like I'm trying to draw attention to myself for sympathy or pity, but I'm not. My reaction embarrasses me most times. Sometimes I have a few quiet tears.
My gut also spasms--from my breast bone to my belly button. Either due to reaction from the Ibuprofen or, again, insidiously because my chronic (though episodic) IBS resides in that same area. Another weak spot. Gas-x helps greatly, but doesn't ever stop those spasms.

There are fears that the eyes can become involved--but, I think that's when you don't seek immediate treatment. My eyes are a bit itchy and gunky--just a bit.

Actually, my visit to the ER and hospital admittance for 16 hours on Thursday was due to the extreme back pain that was one of the first symptoms of the on-setting Shingles.

Increasingly debilitating back pain resulted in stress, heightened blood pressure (211/?? ), and chest cramping and spasms. So very thankfully, every blood work and heart test came out excellently--clean bill of health. I was sent home with low-dose blood pressure medication and a great deal of peace of mind. Oh, and some Tramadol that ended up playing havoc with my compromised gut and was abandoned for 600 - 800mgs of Ibuprofen.

The Hospitalist said my back pain was a flexibility issue--something I've understood and worked hard at for 30 years--and that I need continuing exercise, plus a combination of hot-cold compresses. I had to absolutely fight for a pain killer. Can't figure out why. I'm not an abuser, and everyone agreed that the pain in my back created the entire emergency situation. The doctor told me I'd have to see my primary care provider ASAP. From my hospital bed I called my own doctor's office, but could not get beyond the call screener for an appointment.

Apparently, my doctor of 35 years was booked solidly. I was told to call each successive morning at 8:00am to attempt to get one of the "sick" patient slots. No matter what explanation I gave or how solidly I reasoned--and I did remain polite, but increasingly firm--she would not budge.

So, I'm lying there in great pain, in the process of being discharge from the hospital, with no hope of relief. I'll say here that the hospital staff I encountered that night and day where unfailingly polite and attentive. Many times services and attention came sooner than promised and, if there was the slightest of delays, apologies were profuse. I said at one point, it was like the entire staff took "nice" lessons. And, one nurse/aid said, "Oh, we have. This used to be an entirely different experience." Well, let me tell you, they were each extremely kind to me--in a very sincere manner.

When my nurse came with the discharge paperwork I questioned him as to why I was leaving with nothing to ease the powerful pain. Concerned, he called the attending doctor to suggest a Lidocaine patch, but that request was denied. Because I'm allergic to Codeine. Nothing else was offered, but when I again pushed back the nurse again called the doctor and I was finally given 10 days of the Tramadol, 2x / day.

I planned to call my personal doctor on Friday morning, but after a very short and restless, pain-filled night I went to a Yoga class to help ease my excruciating back pain. Yes, after all that I went to a 6:00am Yoga class. I was desperate for relief, which ensued however briefly ( a couple of hours of muted pain).

At 3:30pm on Friday I again called my own doctor, and met another wall, although this call screener was more sympathetic and finally gave me a 2:00pm appointment for Monday.

To say that Friday was a strange and chaotic day would be accurate. The details include impulse issues, frustration, pain, confusion, and--strangely--joy and energy. Drug induced uphoraia, maybe. The good news is that CA was attentive as ever and understanding, although most likely scared crapless (A word I've never used. Still dealing with a few impulse control issues pertaining to language choices, I guess.).

By Saturday morning, and after another short and miserable night, I had to cut out the Tramadol. Even with some relief from the Gas-x, there were tigers fighting in my abdomen all night long-- huge, angry tigers with needle sharp claws.

Not much sleep so far this week, and very, very few napping moments. Almost none.

Saturday is a kind of normal--we do errands together and separately, cook a delicious Shepherd's Pie for dinner and watch The Ides of March while planning a late May vacation on-line, together. (Planning on-line, not vacationing on-line.)

Heat no longer works for my back pain relief. My skin feels burnt. I switch to ice packs and sleep sitting up in a recliner. No more Tramadol, just Ibuprofen. A few of the hours I'm "in bed" involve some actual deep sleep--laced with renewed ice packs and doses of Ibuprofen gel caps. Now the sore areas of my back feel pain to-the-touch and almost swollen.

As I'm up early, there's no problem getting to an 8:15am Yoga class, seeking relief from all the back pain. At 9:30am, my friend LL joins me for a walk on the indoor soft-surface track. While she's very concerned that I'm not myself (and she knows all my history), we easily fill the 35 minutes with our normal conversations of family, friends, restaurants and recipes, etc.

I'd planned a errands along Randall Road, but after a few minutes of consideration, I call CA to say I'll be straight home. When I arrive, I head directly into the master bathroom and tell CA that I need his perspective. He needs to look at my back to see what's going on. As I'd leaned against the car seat while driving home, tenuously positioned to ease the contact pain, it felt there were swellings on my back.

No swellings, but scratches in two areas--possibly hives. I grab a hand mirror and see splotchy redness, bumps, and angry abrasions.

We immediately begin to get ready to head to the ER, then decide to wait it out until Monday's appointment. CA gets the ice packs and I settle into the recliner with a soft blanket and my good book.

After 30 minutes or so, out of the blue, I think, "Shingles!" and grab my iPad. Shingles! I call CA. I dial my doctor's on-call line. I text both children, "Look up Shingles on mayoclinic.com." I call LL, and leave messages for my sisters, BR, RvH. I'm euphoric! There's a rational explanation for all that's been going on.

It takes three phone calls to finally speak with the on-call doctor, but he's receptive and agrees that it indeed sounds like Shingles. He suggests continuing the Ibuprofen and cold compresses, and that I keep Monday's appointment. I ask several questions and he freely gives more details and assurances. We've caught this early which should result in the best outcomes.

Finally, I have a solid and deep 1-1/2 hour nap.

Everything hurts. There are still just two abrasions clusters. I'm surviving. Just barely.

Pray for CA, and or me. We're doing well, but sleep deprived and exhausted.

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