The past few weeks have been awful. I’m currently recovering a nasty case of shingles on my scalp, face, and in my left eye. The worst of it is over, which I am very thankful for, but I’m still dealing with pain. In fact, I’ve had the same non-stop headache for over three and a half weeks now. The intensity varies, and I’m managing it with a mix of over the counter and prescribed painkillers, but I’m ready for it to be over.
The first sign that something was amiss was about four weeks ago, when I started getting intermittent headaches. Then, on Wednesday, November 11th (Veteran’s Day), the headache came back, and it wouldn’t go away. It was rather mild, so I kept going to work, but it would intensify over the course of the day, and by the time I got home, I was ready to take some Tylenol PM and just crash on the couch.
That weekend, I felt a big bump on my head, like a goose egg that you might get after taking a fall, except that I hadn’t taken any falls. I could part my hair and see that it was all red. I went to the doctor’s office on Monday, and I was diagnosed with cellulitis, a bacterial infection under the skin. At that time, the physical symptoms were limited to that bump, the redness, and the pain, so the diagnosis made sense. I got a course of antibiotics, and started taking them. My brother (who is a physician in California) advised that it might get worse for a day or two, before it got better.
He was right. It got way worse. The pain in my scalp was debilitating for most of that week. The swelling on my head was brutal – fluid was accumulating in a place where there’s no room for it to accumulate, since all that’s there is skin wrapped over my skull – and the pressure and pain was unbearable. I barely slept for three nights in a row. I remember pacing up and down the hallway in my house at 3am, screaming and crying because the pain was so intense. I also got a COVID-19 test, which turned out to be negative when I got the results later in the week.
On Wednesday night, my father (a retired physician) came over to check on me. He took one look at me, and diagnosed me with shingles. By this point half my forehead and my left eyelids and temple were red and splotchy, and vesicles, a clear symptom of shingles, were forming in a bunch of places. He took a couple pictures and sent them to my brother, who agreed that it was probably shingles.
My dad then immediately left and went to the CVS down the street, calling a doctor friend on the way to get some advice. The pharmacy was going to close in 15 minutes, but my dad talked to the pharmacist, gave him enough information that the pharmacist was able to confirm he used to be a practicing physician, and then convinced the pharmacist to give me a course of anti-viral drugs. (The pharmacist didn’t ‘give’ them to me, he charged them to my insurance, since I’m in the CVS system, and my dad covered the co-pay.) I started taking them that night. My dad is my hero!
I already had a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office the next day, and the shingles was confirmed, and it was also confirmed that my dad got the right amount of the right drug, in the right dosage. Woo-hoo! I also got a prescription for a non-addictive painkiller that’s approved for nerve pain, since shingles is caused by a virus that attacks nerves.
I was referred to an eye doctor, who saw inflammation inside my left eye. The anti-viral drug that I was already on was the best course of action, but he put me on a steroid eye drop that would also help, as well as an antibacterial ointment, to help prevent secondary infection, which was like smearing Vaseline on my eyeball. That doctor saw me four times in a week and a half, which I’m grateful for, because it would’ve been awful to have permanent damage to my vision because of this, and it looks like that won’t be the case.
Once I got on the appropriate medications, I started turning around, slowly at first. The vesicles all scabbed over, the bump went away, as did the redness, and the pain decreased (but didn’t go away entirely).
Nowadays I’m still dealing with that headache, and some tenderness on my face. I can feel individual nerves throbbing along my hairline, and also in my upper eyelid and around my eyebrow. I can tell that my left eye is still a little heavy and not quite as open as my right eye. I also have light sensitivity in my left eye that comes and goes.
Some days are better than others. Thanksgiving turned out to be a pretty good day, pain-wise, but the last couple days of this past week were pretty crummy. I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night, and ended up taking a half day off on Thursday because I felt so worn-down and headachy. (My work has been very understanding through all this; I’ve been very communicative with my leader, and I’ve been using my PTO days that I’ve barely touched during this pandemic year, and that’s what they’re there for.)
I’m also fighting some mental fatigue about all this. The pain is typically the worst in the first hour or two of the day, and I’m tired of waking up in pain and wondering if the rest of the day is going to be this bad. It’s hard to rally or get excited about the day with that much pain, and I feel like I’m actively fighting depression a lot of the time, pushing myself to stay positive and engaged. It can be exhausting. In an effort to avoid further depression, I’ve been avoiding the news somewhat, and have instead been watching James Bond movies to keep myself distracted.
There’s certainly plenty to be thankful for, and that’s what I try to remember. First of all, the worst is behind me, and I made it through that, so I can make it through the rest. Second of all, I’m thankful for my family – not only has the medical advice from my dad and brother been invaluable, but my parents have been awesome. They carted me around for a week to doctors’ appointments – and always waited in the car because of COVID rules – and also picked up prescriptions, went grocery shopping for me, and took JJ to their house and cared for him for a few days during the worst of it.
How long the lingering pain will last is a mystery. Hopefully not too much longer. I’ve been trying to get some exercise on the days when I feel up to it, and that’s been helpful and feels really good. After spending nearly the entire week at my house (excluding a CVS run the other day), I went for a drive yesterday with JJ, and ventured out to the store today. I will continue to stay positive and grateful, as best I can, and look forward to the day when this is all behind me.
Keep it up, David!
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