Sunday, July 24, 2011

At the After Hours Clinic Yesterday


Yesterday, I went to Kaiser for the first time since this spring when I was being treated for pneumonia (that had been suspected erroneously to be tuberculosis, which was repeatedly tested for and never found. Oh. Whell.)

I had to go because I'd developed an annoying and painful rash, much of which had appeared suddenly, overnight. Good gott, what was it? When I called up the advice nurse, she went through the flow chart routine, "Does it hurt?" Yes. "Is it blistery?" Yes? "Is it on one side of the body?" Yes. Etc. She said there were no appointments available, but she could have a doctor call me in half an hour or so. Ok.

Doctor called, went through the symptoms again. She said, "Have you ever had shingles?" No. "Chicken pox?" Yes. "How far away are you?" A few miles. "Get over here, quick." She told me where the clinic was, and she said she'd expect me within fifteen minutes.

Sure enough, she took one look, said, "Shingles." Oh fine. Said it was going to get a LOT worse -- it has -- and there wasn't a lot they could do, but she would prescribe ointments, anti-viral drugs, and Vicodin. If it got way worse, come back, otherwise, endure it.

How long? I asked. She said, "You don't want to know." I repeated, how long? She said, first time outbreak like this, could be months. And it can get very painful. If the pain gets out of control, call back, she'll prescribe something stronger.


It was a quick evaluation, to say the least, but I had realized that it was shingles when the flowchart of the advice nurse pointed there. Actually, the earliest symptom was a sharp burning pain deep in my leg that I attributed to a recurrence of the sciatica that had cropped up a few years ago. When I saw a small skin eruption on my leg, I did not relate it to sciatica. Instead, I thought it might be incipient melanoma -- what my father died of. But it didn't really fit any sort of melanoma symptom set I could find. It was something else, I was sure. When a few days later, the eruption spread suddenly, I still didn't connect it with shingles, though I was trying to figure out some connection with the nerve irritation and pain of sciatica.

When I talked to the nurse, the "ah ha!" moment arrived. Sure. That's what it is.

It is painful, annoying, interferes with sleep. I hate taking codeine. But it seems to control the pain (and scramble my brain!), so... one does what one must.

I asked the doctor what could have caused it. She said it was probably just my age and the fact I had had chicken pox when I was younger.


Grr. Talk about poison. Well, there you are.


  1. Ah yes, the shingles. I had an eruption of that a while back, with stabbing erratic pains in the abdomen area. They seemed worst at night. I remember going to my computer at 3 in the morning, googling what I thought my symptoms represented: I was convinced this was gall stones. Seemed to be in that area. I’d heard people describe gall stone problems, and what they said resembled this kind of pain. After a couple of nights and days of this, I'd had enough and went over to the walk-in clinic, preparing myself for surgery. As I sat on the examining table relating my woes, the doctor sat in a stool across the way, taking notes and asking questions. After I finished my story, with the self-diagnosis of gall stones, he remained seated, thinking, unconvinced. Then I said, somewhat parenthetically, "Oh, and I have this weird rash on my torso..." Before I said any more, he jumped up, the wheeled stool winging against the wall. "Let's see that rash!" he exclaimed. So I pulled up the lovely gown to show him. "Ah ha! Just as I thought. Shingles!"

    What th'??? Shingles? Sheesh. Yep, it's the chicken pox virus, coming out to haunt, after decades of hiding in the crevices of your body. It is one of the strangest diseases. Hurts like hell. But if you deal with the symptoms within about a week of them "presenting," modern medicine can at least lessen the extent and intensity with (very expensive) anti-viral drugs. Vicodin helped, also, but I just hate taking that shit. A colleague at work suggested going to an acupuncturist she had gone to for various problems. Acupuncture? By then, my back was so whacked, I couldn't sit or stand or lie down or walk or do anything without horrible wincing pain. Just like a badly strained back, which it was, from dealing with the pains in the front. Gads. What a mess. I called the acupuncturist and asked if he could deal with back and shingles pain. Oh yes, he said, those are common plights for him to treat.

    Now, it was all I could do to walk into that office, as I have a family background with medical professionals. Acupuncture is right up there with chiropractors, homeopathy, and voodoo, you see. But ya know, I figured I had nothing to lose but $75. If I didn’t have to take pain meds, that would be swell. After the first session, I walked out of that office with a straight back. I was in disbelief. Because while waiting to see him, I couldn’t even sit down for fear that I wouldn’t be able to stand back up. How can that be?? After one or two more sessions, the shingles pain had subsided enough that it was inconsequential. Now, how much of that was the pain naturally going away, or how much was affected by all those little needles, who knows. But the way the back pain vanished in a matter of half an hour or so astonished me.

    That’s the only time I’ve been to an acupuncturist. But it seemed to help. Or something did. That rash was a bother, though. It lasted weeks and weeks and itched but hurt.

    I bet lots of people self-diagnose when the problem is shingles, because, who’s ever thought about that? It comes out in odd places. The worst is the eye.

    Ramble ramble ramble. I'm sorry you're going though all that, Ché. It's a drag, but it does go away. And the older you are the worse it is. Lucky we weren't in our 80s or 90s. Which reminds me, I guess I better get that (super expensive) shingles vaccination sometime; apparently one can get it again, although not commonly.

  2. lea-p,

    Isn't that something? When this shingles condition comes on, we know something is wrong, but it is so easy, apparently, to think it's something else. And what we think it might be is pretty terrible. I understand how easy it was for you to think it was gall stones, for example. The pain is that strong and that bewildering.

    I really hate the codeine, but I took some yesterday, and it worked on the pain. Made me pretty squirrely, but the pain was much reduced.

    Gonna try not to take it today, though. We'll see.

    Hadn't thought of acupuncture, so thanks for the report on your own experience. I think it's a very good option if this goes on much longer. I can see how it might work given the nature of shingles -- skin eruptions and nerve irritations.

    (Not to moan and groan, but as I type, I'm having pre-migraine auras. Oh, man. If it isn't one thing it's another! Sheesh!)



  3. Dear Che,

    Nothing to add except that I'm sure sorry you've got this. I hope you're the exception and get better soon!

  4. Apparently I got the anti-viral medication in time for it to do some good. The pain has greatly diminished, and the rash, though still ugly, has started to abate.