Shorty's Shingles - My 21 Year Old Daughter's Shingles Adventure
Shingles Doesn't Just Affect the Elderly
We all assume that young, healthy people are not prone to get Shingles. Think again, it happens to people of all ages! Consider the information below and talk to your doctor if you experience any of the warning signs. The sooner it's figured out the better!
How It All Began
My daughter is a vivacious, athletic newly turned 21 year old and for her to feel sick means there are big issues going on in her body. She was a Junior in College last Spring when I received a text from her that said her ear was killing her. I told her to go to the University Medical Center and have them check it out. Her ear and head hurt so bad she was in tears. They gave her some pain medicine and said they did not see any ear infection and to just take it easy for a day or two. That is a tough call for her, she runs 5-6 miles a day and spends much of her mornings in the gym, then goes to class and still finds time to socialize between studying and her journalism projects. The pain medicine helped and her ear pain subsided.
Eye Issues Begin
Less than a week later my daughter went back to the Medical Center because she thought she had pinkeye. Her right eye was red, and she was in pain, again. Despite the fact that they did not feel she had pinkeye, they gave her eye drops just in case. And once again, the condition seemed to subside. Little did she know what was going on inside her system.
Spring Break followed shortly after the earache and eye issues arose. That was a blessing because it brought her home. I started thinking she was just worn down, and needed a break from school, partying and living like a college student. I had no idea we would go through the ordeal and heartache that this would entail.
Her eye flared up again so we went to her regular Doctor at home. Explaining all the previous symptoms they put some dye in her eye and saw what they thought looked like a tiny scratch on her cornea. Okay, so now we are thinking she got something into her eye and that caused the pain and redness, and a scratch. They prescribed some more drops to make her comfortable.
The following day she was experiencing excruciating headaches. Back to the doctor we go and they then assume that maybe this is a sinus issue so she is put on antibiotics. To no avail, she continues to get worse. The headaches cause her so much pain she is not sleeping, or eating, and worse, she has stopped exercising, which leads me to believe she is really sick. Nothing keeps her from her running. Back to the doctors office, and it happens to be a Sunday this time. Yes, our doctors office has Sunday hours for really sick kids. He is so concerned about the severity of her headaches that he sends us to the hospital for a Cat Scan. As a parent, of course I am thinking the worst... could this be a brain tumor? He was sending her to make sure her sinus cavities were okay.
They take her in and bring her out still writhing in pain, literally. The pain meds make her sleepy, but don't seem to make much of a difference. Once the scan is read they send us back to the doctor to get the results. The Scan shows nothing abnormal. Now what? He is concerned about her eye, which is still red, swelling up like she'd been stung by a bee, and very painful. So off we go on a Sunday to an eye specialist. I don't think he was happy to be called away from his Sunday fun to come into his office for an emergency appointment. Nonetheless, he was concerned about her cornea, and the condition of her eye. He gave her some steroid drops to help with the swelling of her eye and asked us to come back the next day so he could monitor her eye.
The Red Line and Lesions Begin
The following day, Monday, as I am sitting across from my daughter in the waiting room of the eye doctor's office, I notice a very distinct red line running from the middle of her forehead down to the tip of her nose. That was a new thing. I later deemed it her "Harry Potter Lightning Scar." She also had a few pimples forming on her forehead. And her beautiful hazel eye was redder and looked more like she had been in a round with a prize fighter than the bee sting the day before.
Funny thing is the eye doctor did not notice these things until I pointed them out. He was so focused (excuse the pun) on just her eye and the pressure on her cornea. As soon as I mentioned the line and bumps, he said, "She has Herpes Zoster!" That sounds really nasty to a parent. "What in the world is that?" I asked. "Shingles, " he said. "That can't be right, Shingles only happens to old people," I said. Typically Shingles hits people 60 years of age and older but in RARE CASES, such as this, it can sneak up on young patients as well.
How in the world could my beautiful, YOUNG, daughter have gotten this awful thing? Evidently the Shingles virus comes from within our own body. When we get Chicken Pox it stays in our body, laying there just waiting for a reason to reappear as Shingles. And when it does, it typically follows a nerve path out and is isolated on one side of the body along that nerve line. Hers began with the nerve by her ear (hence the earache) and in a fingerlike fashion followed the nerve through her eye and down to the tip of her nose.
Okay so now what? Back we go to the Pediatrician's office, where they culture her eye and confirm she has shingles. Now they put her on Valcyclovir and Gabapentin and eye drops and something else. We had to make an excel spreadsheet to keep track of all her medicines and times and dosages. I felt like a nurse. She felt miserable and slept through her entire Spring Break.
My daughter was pretty much down for the count and miserable and looking like she had lost a battle in the ring. Her entire upper right quadrant of her head, into her scalp and hair was now busting with lesions and she was itching them like crazy. She had to take a shower every hour to keep herself from going crazy with the itching. In our infinite wisdom we tried Calamine lotion and witch hazel. These made it worse. So we fell back on our old standby, Neosporin and constant ice packs on her eye and forehead. Finally we found her some relief.
She was going to see the eye doctor every day at this point. The concern now was her eyesight. Her eye was not getting better, and he was really concerned about the pressure on her cornea. The nerve damage was severe from the Shingles virus and he wanted to make sure she did not lose her vision in the right eye. He referred her to a Cornea Specialist. This Doctor had an office both in our hometown, and also 50 miles away. The day she needed to be seen he was in the other office. So we packed up the car and headed South. He really seemed to know about this virus and the eye. I guess that is why he gets paid the big bucks and has the dubious title of "Specialist" when it comes to eyes and the cornea.
Dr. "C" changed her prescription to Acyclovir, and changed her eye drops too. And explained to her and to us that this was a serious issue and she needed to get her immune system back on track, and avoid stress in her life in order to recover. That was not going to be easy! She was already missing College classes and labs, although her Professors were more than understanding and allowed her to do what she could from home. Now we needed to see this doctor 3 times per week to monitor her progress.
Attempting to Get Back to Normal
After missing almost two weeks of class (after Spring Break) my daughter was determined to get back to school, her apartment and try to salvage her Spring Semester. Her eye at this point was still swollen, and she could not keep it open without using her fingers. The lesions had subsided, and so she was no longer contagious. (The contagious issue is not to get Shingles, but for anyone who has never had Chicken Pox, they can get it from the infected person with Shingles.)
I tried to get her to wear an eye patch, not just to shield it from the sun and dust, but to keep people from staring, and asking her every 5 minutes, "What happened? Were you in an accident? What's the other guy look like?" This was really hard for her. She is a gorgeous blonde with huge hazel goddess-like eyes. Now she felt like a cyclops.
She didn't like being at her apartment while she was feeling crappy. So my husband and I drove her back and forth for her classes (a 60 mile round trip) and also to see the doctor several times a week.
Finally, at some point she felt good enough to stick it out without her nurse at home, and she finished her Spring Semester, with a very droopy eye, and an attempt to keep a positive attitude. Summer came upon us and she was offered an internship in California for two months. All I could hear was the doctor telling her no stress. She was determined to spread her wounded wings and take the internship. One last visit to Dr. C and he said, "Sure, you should go to California. Just take it easy and try to stay out of the sun." I was hoping he would have put the "kibosh" on it, but that wasn't the case. So I packed up my daughter, sent her off with a friend in a car and she headed for L.A.
California Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be
About two weeks into her stay in California she realized that her pupil was staying dilated constantly. Meaning it would not adjust to light changes at all, it was frozen. I called Dr. C and he referred her to a California Cornea Specialist. She saw Dr. S and he was flabbergasted that someone so young had such a horrible case of Shingles. He wanted her to be a case study! Keep in mind, he deals with mainly old people, so he hadn't seen it in someone her age before.
He put her back on the Acyclovir and drops and she saw him several more times while she was in California.
Needless to say, she was miserable out there. Although the internship was rewarding and the people were wonderful to her, she was not a California girl and just wanted to get home. She finished up the internship, flew home and hoped all would heal quicker.
6 Months Later and the Shingles is Still Hanging On
Just this last week, as we prepared her to go back to school for her Senior Year of College, we visited Dr. C for a follow up appointment. He told us that the pupil thing may take months more to heal, and may actually never heal. Her droopy eye looks a little better, but still looks more like a lazy eye than a normal one. After a year has gone by since the diagnosis, he said they may consider plastic surgery to help lift her lid. She is back on Acyclovir and Steroid drops for her eye. One more follow up appointment coming this week, and who knows what or how this Shingles will affect her for the rest of her life. The first year is the hardest with regards to flare-ups and healing. Try telling a College Senior to take it easy, no stress, no partying and eat right. I can't be there to hold her hand 24/7 and keep an eye on her. But I do know that this experience has changed her in many ways. She understands that she is beautiful INSIDE AND OUTSIDE, no matter what her face or eye look like. She also understands who her true friends are - that have helped her get through this. And she really appreciates her family for all we have done to help her with this. I hope someday she can speak about this through her Journalism career, and reach other young and old people who have been affected by this strange and mean infliction. Shingles is no laughing matter, and can affect people of all ages. I hope this article has helped to see what potential signs may be so that you or someone you know can get the medical attention needed sooner rather than later.