|A kimono would have felt really nice on my skin.|
Over the weekend, the pain got worse, the rash began to look blistery, the bug bite seemed to look worse, and a rash broke out on my back near the bug bite. It also got blistery looking, and Monday I went back in to the clinic, where the PA diagnosed me with shingles and wrote me a prescription for valacyclovir and nortriptyline. The valacyclovir turned out to cost $250 (holy shit!). My father-in-law suggested I go to the local Urban Clinic, which mostly serves Native Americans but which is open to all (which hardly anybody knows!). My father-in-law works for the government, in charge of something to do with the area’s Indian Health Services, so he’s always got good tips like that.
At the Urban Clinic they quickly diagnosed me with shingles, even using me as a specimen to show others what form classic shingles took. The rash spots had the blistery herpes-looking stuff, and the area around them was reddened as well. The visit was free, thank goodness, and so was some sleeping / pain medication. I went to Costco for some generic meds (acyclovir), and it only ended up costing me $16.
I was given different stories about my likelihood of erupting with shingles again. At the Urban Clinic I was told that this outbreak means I’m unlikely to get it again, while the sliding scale fee clinic told me it put me at higher risk for recurrence. If you’ve had chicken pox, like I have, the virus apparently stays in your body, and can erupt at any time, usually when a person is older and their immune system starts breaking down slowly. Everyone said I was pretty young to be getting shingles. It can also be brought on by stress.
Yes, I’ve been under stress, working 60 hours a week for almost a year now, taking on another transcription job on top of that, caring for my children, worrying that I’m not getting any writing done, and all that comes with being a working mother with a working partner.
The pain that comes with shingles is unusual. It’s nerve pain, which I’ve never experienced, because shingles attacks you under the skin, and the rash is sort of a side development, not the main pain generator. The rashes itched, sure, but the whole right side of my back—shingles is nearly always one-sided—ached. Describing it to someone, I mentioned that it felt like my muscles were stiff and achy, but also that the skin was extremely sensitive there. The pain began to wrap around to my breast, making it achy as well. I haven’t worn a bra since about day three, which bothers me. My breasts are large (DD) and I have almost no shirts that hold them in with any success. So on these 100 degree days, whenever I went out I wore a sweater or a shawl. Plenty of people are comfortable not wearing a bra, and that’s cool. But I HATE the no-bra, baggy t-shirt look, so I wore my tightest camisoles and tank tops.
As a medical transcriptionist, shingles came to mind right away when I had the right-sided back pain, but I figured my job was turning me into a hypochondriac. Turns out I’m just super smart. I’m feeling sorry for myself that I had to cancel all my plans, which included a trip to Missoula and Spokane. I was also very much looking forward to a trip to my hometown to search the newspaper archives, visit the museum, and walk around doing some memory mapping for my book project. Still, I’m lucky to have had the week to recover, see the movie Brave with nine children, and I did finish three books (Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck). And today, finally today, I worked on an essay.