Family health

Shingles: Parenting through the pain

Shingles aren't just those things on your house. Read about one mom's experience of contracting the virus (and parenting through the pain).

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Photo: iStockphoto

Seven weeks ago, I was diagnosed with shingles and today they are still tingling away. I named the first one after my husband, the second after my child and the rest after all of my difficult clients. I’m sure every one of them played a part in this.

I had heard of shingles but didn’t believe it would ever happen to me. I pay my bills, look after my child and give my spare change to the homeless. From a vanity perspective, it is a horrifying experience. I look like a character in Game of Thrones and it doesn’t stop there. With every new blister comes unbelievable nerve pain that makes me want to scream and there’s nothing I can to do to stop it. Once the nerve pain weakens and the blister starts to dry up, that’s when the itching starts. It’s a non-stop test of my pain threshold.

There is a 72-hour window when you first contract shingles at which point you can take antibiotics to help reduce the severity and longevity. I, however, missed it. Instead, I was given a “pain management” plan that consisted of Tylenol 3 every two hours. I decided to pit my homeopath against my doctor to see who could cure me first. Both failed. Friends and family offered terribly useless advice like “stop stressing” which made me stress more. The more I worried about not stressing, the more I stressed that my stressing would intensify the experience—and it did.

Many viewed me as a modern day leper by keeping their old and their young away from me “just in case.” Bad news for those of you who had the chicken pox, though—you already have the varicella virus lying dormant somewhere dark and secret, just waiting for you to stress (see useless advice above: “stop stressing”). It is literally waiting for your immune system to weaken so it can crop up and cause you a world of pain and misery.

Read more: Pox talk: The pros and cons of the varicella vaccine >

But can you get it from me? Not very likely. You would have to try very hard and why would you do that? However, if you haven’t had the chicken pox and you somehow managed to contract the virus from me you still wouldn’t get shingles. You would get chicken pox and a lifetime of blaming rights and that’s not good for either of us.

The upside of the leper effect is that shingles allow you a daily excuse to get out of any unwanted activities such as annoying but obligatory events and, best of all, baby showers. No one wants a reptilian and potentially (but not really) infectious shingles-covered individual near their child. It’s OK. I have a kid of my own. I didn’t want to hold yours anyway.

Read more: New vaccine requirements for Ontario: What parents need to know >

There is a vaccination for shingles and anyone in their right mind would be wise to get it. But if you do happen to contract them—get to your doctor right away. You don’t want to miss that 72-hour window of hope.