An Early Christmas Present

 “Ask about getting a Shingles vaccine,” my wife says, as I prepare to leave for my flu jab.

Shingles? Isn’t that some medieval affliction, like cholera, typhoid fever, or the Black Death, and similarly consigned to the fringes of society? She assures me it is not, and is, furthermore, something I do not want to have.

And so, I ask the needle nurse about getting a Shingles vaccine. She tells me I won’t be eligible until I am 70. I am comfortable with that. I have never given Shingles a thought, and was certainly not planning on contracting it, so I tell her I will ask again in five years’ time.

Then I went home and got Shingles.

This caused great consternation, for two reasons. First, it is jolly uncomfortable, but more on that in a bit. Secondly, and initially more concerning, was this: for the past ten months I’ve been masked, sanitized, distanced, and going through bars of disinfectant soap like a wino through boxed Lambrusco (in a “gone as soon as it’s open” sort of way, not actual consumption), so how did this malady evade all those defences? And, more to the point, what else might get through? (I’m looking at you, COVID.) 

My fears were quelled, however, when I learned that one does not “catch” Shingles. Apparently, I’ve been carrying this around with me, like unwanted baggage, for some 63 years, ever since I had Chicken Pox. The virus, Dr. Google informed me, has lain dormant all that time, waiting for a chance to strike.

I blame my wife.

I’ve been happily going about my business with this sleeping virus inside me, not causing a bit of bother, until she pipes up and starts talking about it. I’m certain the virus perked up its ears when it heard her mention “Shingles” and thought, “Someone’s calling! Time to get to work!”

That’s my version and I’m sticking with it because there is no way I would have done this to myself.

It began innocently enough. Just a patch of tender skin, slightly tingly, like someone had rubbed it vigorously with extra-fine sandpaper. I dismissed it, but my wife put on her concerned face.

The next day, it had spread over the right side of my torso and my wife pronounced it to be Shingles. I dismissed it.

The next day, the rash appeared. My wife managed to avoid saying, “I told you so,” and I consulted Dr. Google.

I was advised to call the non-emergency health number (111). So, I did. I explained my symptoms to the person who answered the phone (they said they were a Doctor, but you never know; he could have found the gig via the Job Centre and took it because it was a step up from Loft Insulation cold-calling) and they told me to call my local GP. So, I did. There, at least, I was told up front that the person I would be talking to was not a doctor, but to spill all the gory details anyway, because that’s what they were there for.

I told the lady I had Shingles and she replied (literally, I am not making this up), “What do you expect us to do about it?”

Taken aback, I said, “Well, nothing, really. I checked your website. It said to call 111. I did. They said to call you. So, I am. I’m just ticking boxes. I have Shingles. If it gets worse, I’ll call back. Okay?”

She was happy with that, and I was certain the disease was already at its zenith and did my best to forget about it. Then I spent the next four days in bed, unable to move.

I know I must have, at some point in my life, experience more pain and discomfort than I have from Shingles, but I struggle to recall when that might have been. It was so excruciating and supremely uncomfortable that it was impossible to stand, or even sit. All I could do was lie in bed and pop paracetamol like a Ketamine junkie. Even breathing was painful.

Further research informed me that Shingles lasts from three to six weeks and that, sometimes, the rash and blisters go away, but the pain doesn’t. It can, Dr. Google affirms, last weeks, months, or even years.

Thrilling.

However, despite all this, given the choice between COVID, the flu or Shingles, I’d take Singles any day, mainly because its list of common outcomes does not include “death.” (I have since learned that you can, indeed, die from an extreme case of Shingles, but in much the same way that you can die from an extreme case of Stubbed Toe.)

At any rate, after a few days, the pain subsided to a point I would call “Manageable,” which allows me to get up and go about my business in a manner I would describe as nearly normal but involving more paracetamol and lengthy naps. If the malady follows its normal course, I can expect to enjoy it over Christmas and have its company as I ring in the New Year. I can only hope it is well and truly gone before my birthday.

I didn’t include any pictures on purpose. If you really want to see what it looks like, consult Dr. Google. I don’t advise this, however; some of those graphics are horrific.

In a way, now that I have Shingles, it seems like it was meant to be. What better way to end 2020 than with yet another unwelcomed calamity?

I hope your Christmas is as festive as it can be under these circumstances. And if you are ever offered a Shingles vaccine, take it.