Exodus Moon will never forget the time he In Part 1 of this two-part entry, I explained the significance of the death of my cat, Miss Ophelia. It discusses modalities of self care during emotional trauma. If you have not read it, I suggest you do, as it provides the context for why I was needing to treat an outbreak of shingles in October 2021.
In the first case, you do not ever want to have shingles. Ever. If you had chicken pox, you have the virus in your body forever. At any point the virus — which hides inside nerves once you fight off the initial infection — can be reactivated by subsequent stressors. The enormous stress that triggered my outbreak was Miss Ophelia’s passing and all the associated memories connected to my family while dealing with my late grandmother’s estate. Whether you have had chicken pox or not, I cannot stress enough that you should get the vaccine as early in life as your doctor will allow — do not wait until you’re 50, unless you absolutely cannot get a medical professional to administer the shot.
For those of you who have had cold sores, that is what shingles feels like initially. That curious buzzing you feel around your mouth just before a sore erupts? Yes, imagine that somewhere else on your body. Most commonly, shingles will appear on the face, leg, or torso. I experienced what felt like a tiny surge of electricity on my back that was causing muscle tremors and a quasi itching that I couldn’t quite improve with rubbing or scratching. In its earliest phase there was a patch of bumps the size of a quarter on my back. It was so localized that I thought a spider had gotten under my shirt and bitten me two dozen times all over the same spot. For the first 18 hours or so, the rash was not yet red.
Because I knew I was about to euthanize Miss Ophelia — and that I wouldn’t have the emotional or physical wherewithal to take care of this strange rash after she was gone — I delayed her passing long enough to go to urgent care. In retrospect, this was a very wise choice. I was nearly catatonic after her death, and I would not have gotten treated until it was too late. As it turns out, you must start the antiviral medication within 48-72 hours of the initial breakout. I took the first dose at approximately the 36-hour mark. By then the rash had turned red, had spread around my torso, into my armpit, and onto my chest and nipple.
Once the initial buzzing and twitching passes, you enter the phase that is notoriously terrible. Given the antiviral helped lessen or shorten the outbreak, I cannot even imagine how bad this could have gotten had I waited longer for treatment. It was nearly the worst pain I have ever felt so far in my life. The only instance that was worse was when I nearly lost my leg at the knee because of a MRSA infection. That felt like someone hitting me in the knee with a hammer every five seconds for two weeks.
Shingles feels like someone has broken a glass bottle, heated the shards in fire, and then ground it into your skin. It is a constant burning and cutting sensation that radiates out from the rash itself. As if that isn’t horrible enough, there are moments of sudden, excruciating pain that feels like being slammed with a nail gun from the inside out. You do not want this.
To compound it, I was trying to grieve for my cat and grandmother. My insides were as tormented as my outsides. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I am just glad I was able to contain it two weeks, as opposed to a month. In part 1, you can read about my emotional self care. This is what I did to sooth the physical symptoms:
• Begin an antiviral regimen immediately — do not skip doses, and finish the entire prescription.
• Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are orange — they contain vitamins very particular to immunity and healing. I kept oranges, carrots, orange bell peppers, and sweet potatoes on hand.
• Take frequent soak baths with colloidal oatmeal. The water should be tepid, not warm at all. As close to body temperature as you can get. Make sure the pulverized oatmeal is dissolved and spread evenly throughout the water. Do this two or three times per day for 20 minutes.
• Avoid scratching.
• Sit still. Taking gentle walks is good, but nothing more rigorous than that.
• Be quiet.
• Be calm.
• Drink water.
• Avoid added sugar.
• Sleep as much as possible.