Posts tagged sickness

An Illness Called Shingles

OR The Best Kept Secret

FM was diagnosed with Shingles in his face, ear and head three and a half weeks ago. He has been hit hard and the pain has been nothing short of crippling. Almost a month into it, there is still no end in sight. By that I mean that he has been laid out flat, unable to leave the house and sometimes unable to get out of bed because of pain. A month is a long time.

The funny thing is that, when you mention Shingles, everyone seems to knowingly nod their heads, saying that they have had it or knew someone who had it. But neither of us had any idea about the severity of this sickness or its commonality.

If you have had Chicken Pox or the Chicken Pox vaccine, you are a candidate for Shingles. One in three people will develop Shingles. The Chicken Pox virus remains dormant in your body’s nerves for your whole life and can become active when your immune system is taxed or run down. Usually one nerve is effected, causing skin blisters and pain for the entire length of that nerve fiber. Many people experience pain in their torso or across their abdomen. FM’s is in a nerve through the head and jaw.

FM's  Shingles are effecting the entire length of his facial nerve on the left side of his head.

FM’s Shingles are effecting the entire length of his facial nerve on the left side of his head.

The Shingles name supposedly comes from the scabby blisters as they dry up but the real illness is the pain that the nerves can cause. It isn’t contagious among those who have had Chicken Pox but, while the blisters are weeping, it can cause Chicken Pox in someone who hasn’t been exposed before.

FM had only a brief stint with blisters but his pain symptoms have fluctuated daily and sometimes hourly. He has managed to go to work about four times over the past month but he usually comes home exhausted and needs to rest throughout the next day. We have just learned that Shingles symptoms usually last about 12 weeks (3 months!) but the worst part – the part where you are completely indisposed – lasts around four weeks.  Unfortunately there is little you can do about Shingles. You have to let it run its course and simple manage the pain through prescription drugs – lots of drugs.

For such a severe illness, I find it surprising that people keep so quiet about it. If a third of the population develops Shingles and is off work for such extended periods of time, you would think that more would be known about it. But I suppose that those who have it and survive its rigors never want to speak of it again. And who can blame them?

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What a Month!

It all started one month ago today. I went from being healthy, athletic and adventurous to being hooked up to machines that go beep all night. But luckily, because I am so healthy, athletic and adventurous, one month later, I am well on the road to recovery. Soon, this little episode will be nothing but a foggy memory.

It all started with a mild belly ache while I was working on the chicken coop but soon it progressed to doubled-over pain. After the pain continued to escalate, we figured that it was appendix-related, because of the right-sidedness, and we headed into town to the hospital. In no time at all, I was hooked up to an IV and given morphene. The CT scan told a very different story. This was no appendicitis. I had a twist in my large intestines, causing a complete obstruction, and I needed surgical intervention right away.

I suppose the mere suggestion of emergency surgery was enough to scare me straight but that is what happened. There in the ER, as spontaneously as it had twisted in the first place, my intestine decided to untwist itself on its own accord, instantly reducing my pain and allowing me to walk away and head home minutes later.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end here. We were told that this twisting  had probably happened before to a lesser degree and had a high chance of reoccurring, perhaps even more severely. I was told that I needed surgery to remove the damaged section of intestine and it needed to be done soon.

Despite my initial reaction of shock and denial, I managed to come to terms with the severity of my situation and realise that I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. ‘Elective surgery’ is a misnomer because surgery is never something that you would elect to do. I simply had to count myself as fortunate. Firstly, because the twisting hadn’t happened during one of our wilderness adventures, a few days’ journey from help. Secondly, because I narrowly averted a high-risk, emergency bowel surgery when I visited the ER.

In a relatively short amount of time (10 days), I was able to land a consultation with a general surgeon and I almost enthusiastically signed the papers for my surgical booking. I emphasized that I would easily be able to clear my schedule and come in for a last-minute cancellation, if that occasion arose.

It did. Within that week, I accepted a cancellation date, was admitted to hospital and had my surgery done. 20 cm of intestine were removed and I now sport a 14 cm abdominal scar. The whirlwind of time and activity then came to an absolute halt as I lay in a hospital bed for five days. Although my brain was murky with the concoction of drugs flowing through my back and my arm, my memories are snippets of precise clarity. There was gentleness from the night nurses, moans and cries of fellow patients, pain that took over my ability to think and a dry, parched feeling in my mouth as I tried to speak.

With FM ever perched at my bedside, we chatted whenever I surfaced about the issue of the moment, plans for the future and other random bits. He managed the streams of visitors and kept family up-to-date with my condition through emails and phone calls. He brought up concerns with the nursing staff and brought me tasty treats from the outside world, once I was given the green light to move beyond ice chips. He supported me as I took my first shaky steps around the ward and watched with interest when my first staples were removed.

This was taken right before 7 of the 13 staples were removed. Its going to be a beautiful scar! Can you picture a zipper pull tatto at the top?

This was taken right before 7 of the 13 staples were removed. It’s going to be a beautiful scar!   Can you picture a zipper pull tattoo at the top end?

As if a light were suddenly turned on, I felt instantly better and no longer could tolerate sitting in a hospital bed all day. Soon enough, the hospital din of beeps, tones, rings and alarms became almost intolerable. It seems that once you are conscious enough to hear all the noise, your discharge papers are issued. All my tubes and trolleys were unhooked and I was allowed to go home.

This Impatient Patient endlessly sits and waits for her discharge papers

This Impatient Patient endlessly sits and waits for her discharge papers

On that clear, cold December day, as we ferried across the Strait and drove up-island, I felt that my eyes were seeing beauty for the first time. I relished in the views of coastal mountains dusted with snow and the sun shining brightly but giving off little warmth. As I crawled into my own bed, I felt as if I had been swallowed up by heaven. There really is no place like home.

In the week since arriving home, I have hunkered down and done very little, except read. The big efforts of my day include putting a log or two on the fire, surfing the web for easy Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews and sitting amongst the chickens on the porch. But each day, I rest less and take on more projects (admittedly small ones). Running and racing are a long way down the path I am on, but I will enjoy the opportunity to re-learn and re-train. Next time someone asks “What are you training for?”, I will answer “For my health” because that is the truth of it all.

Remembrance Day 2013 will long be a day that I remember, but not for the right reasons. For me, it was more like the beginning of a lesson in Thanksgiving, as it reminded me to be grateful for my health and my healing.

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