My Painful Battle with Shingles
All alone and in pain . . .
I writhed in excruciating pain from my right waist radiating down my right thigh and two feet one early morning. It was 5:30 in the morning of June 9, 2009, a Tuesday. I just returned home from brisk walking, an exercise recommended by a nephrologist, my eldest daughter Pot and I consulted with, at a city hospital in Dagupan last June 1, where I was a walk-in patient with diabetic peripheral neuropathy problem.
I limped into our front door and sank into a rocking chair. Overwhelmed by the growing pain, I hugged tight my right leg where I felt the most pain. No one was in sight. When I left the house at 5:00 a.m., it was still pitch dark. Pot, my only companion in the house, was fast asleep. I knew that she needed a respite due to her tough times from a recently finished job contract in Manila and now, administering to me. This was my 9th day of work-out. The weather was bad but I was determined to complete it and I did.
I sweated profusely and within seconds I felt the dreaded onset of hypoglycemia. “Not again!” The last time this happened was last February, 2009 when I overdid my low-sugar diet and fell down semi-unconscious just I stepped out of the bathroom.
This possibility threw me in near panic, and I let out a subdued cry of distress. “Dear God, please help me”. As I tossed and turned in the chair, I saw my cell phone on a table far from my reach. I didn’t get up for fear of another fall. I remembered I set its alarm the night before at 6:00 a.m. Soon Pot would wake up and check if I already had my insulin injection. Thirty minutes after that, we would eat breakfast and it would only be after meal that I could take pain reliever. Anticipating a seeming long wait for relief, I choked back my tears.
God is full of surprises! I heard a door unlocked, saw my daughter still groggy from sleep. “Why didn’t you call me, Ma?” Pot asked. I argued “I can’t”, and added softly, “Thank God!” She admitted that she had a good night sleep. When she stirred from her sleep, she remembered that I was to have a follow-up checkup and FBS test scheduled that day so she jumped out of bed because we must be at the hospital early.
At the hospital . . .
At the hospital I followed Pot as I limped from one testing room to another. The results would be ready at 2:00 pm. My discomfort was worsening, so she suggested that we stayed at my sister-in-law’s house near the hospital. I agreed. Once there, I lied down with at least a little comfort and waited for what I called- the longest wait.
lunch, my sister-in-law’s driver took us back to the hospital. The doctor was
already there when we arrived. I was
quite upbeat knowing that we would not wait any longer. The doctor was happy to
see the results of my clinical chemistry, hematology, electrocardiograph,
ultrasound, chest X-ray, and flourescien angiogram. He said that I didn’t need new
medication because my glucose and blood lipids were under control. I was managing my diabetes fairly well.
I could have thanked him for that but I braced myself and asked him what to do with my pain. He admitted that the pain on only one side of my body was unusual. He told me to undergo Lumbosacral Spine AP and Lateral X-ray. It was 3:00 pm. After twenty minutes we handed him two X-rays. When he read the findings, I froze when he said “degenerative osteoarthritis, palliative care if minor, or the more radical, open surgery if major. An MRI might be necessary”. He ushered us into the orthopedic section for confirmation.
My ordeal had just begun. . .
At the Physical Therapy clinic, I had a 30-minute nerve rehabilitation treatment to alleviate my extreme pain. After wards, I was scheduled to undergo a three- times a week rehab sessions for 2 to 3 weeks. I was advised that if in the days to come, I would find it cumbersome to travel that far to the hospital, I could go to a nearer hospital and would have my treatments there. Coming home after a day of a series of tests at the hospital, I knew my ordeal had just begun.
Kit, my youngest daughter who also works in Manila, came home Thursday night, June 11, to spend the long weekend vacation with us. Friday, June 12, is Philippine Independence Day, a public holiday. The following day, June 13, would have been their Dad’s 58th birthday, time for the three of us to honor him. To mention, he succumbed to cancer at age 48 in 1999. He was a good provider and a doting husband and father.
Before dinner, my pain worsened. My right thigh felt like it would explode. The pain reliever after dinner gave me only little relief. In bed, I was inconsolable. I cried bitterly. I poured out the worst in me, something I never did before even at the toughest times. That night roles were reversed. I was the consoled; Pot and Kit were the consolers. We were sleepless that night.
The worst has come. . .
The worst was not yet over. The following day Saturday, I woke up with rashes on my right thigh. I thought it was burns from the hot compress I applied. Pot treated it with burn ointment. We celebrated Dad’s birthday simply as planned with close family friends and relatives. On Sunday, the rashes grew into very large and painful blisters. My daughters were alarmed. Kit insisted that I be confined to the hospital immediately.
The shocking revelation. . .
Monday morning, I was rushed to the hospital‘s ER. After the doctor treated my “burns” she advised us to continue the treatment at home. Back home, the blisters increased and the pain, too. The next day, I was wheeled back to the hospital’s dermatology unit because I was in too much pain. I sat frozen in the wheelchair when the dermatologist informed me that I was suffering from the highly contagious viral infection called Herpes Zoster, commonly known as “shingles” which infects the weak, elderly or diabetics, people with low immune system. I learned later that rashes from shingles appear on only one spot, which in my case I had mistaken for burns, accompanied by stabbing pain for the first 3-5 weeks. Treatment would last between 6 months- 1 year with recurring pain even under treatment. We were told that my schedules for the MRI and the rehab would be postponed indefinitely. At home, I imposed a self-quarantine in my bedroom, afraid of infecting Pot. I nursed my own wounds. I suffered in forced silence.
Managing my sorrow and pain . . .
Today, 6 months after, my wounds had healed but I am still saddened by the physical and emotional pain. I still endure the stabbing pain under these ugly scars on my thigh. My doctors, Dr. Oliver D. Ferrer (Dagupan City), Dr. Vicente S. Manuel, Jr. (Lingayen), and Dr. May F. Gonzales (Lingayen) told me on separate consultation, that I must learn to live with my pain until it lasts. For how long- only God knows when. They were one in prescribing Arcoxia for my pain and Lyrica for my shingles.
My hospital hopping in search for a more effective pain reliever led me to Dr. Jose C. Navarro (UST Hospital, Manila). He prescribed substitutes Dolcet and Calmpent which were really affordable. It was a consolation because at least I could save a lot on medicine, the fact that it would take a longer treatment for my damaged nerves, due to neuropathy aggravated by the shingles, to be able to regenerate. Dr. Navarro, a top-caliber neurologist, really knows his way around nerve pain. With him, I hope my lobbying for the right cure, ends.
My daughters have good reasons to be worried about me. Widowed at 52 and retired at 62, I choose to live alone in our house for practical reasons. I prefer a quiet self-fulfilled life, keeping house, and attending to my obligations as an active lector/commentator and choir member in our church. Acceptance is yet hard for me. But I know that in God’s own manner and time, I will understand. God will help me find my way again. With Pot and Kit ever so loving and patient with me, I will come out unscathed by these uneventful circumstances.