When I woke Saturday morning in the king-sized bed at the Marriott, I just assumed the ache in my left side was from sitting or sleeping in the wrong position and it would go away. It had been a busy few days at the Annual Consortium for MS Centers meeting and I recognized my body was feeling the strain of the long days. I hopped the plane and made it home, with no more pain from my side but later that evening, it again began to ache and I commented that it must be a muscle strain.
Sunday I woke still sore, but not too bad and certainly there was nothing that gave me a clue it might be something else. It wasn’t until well after midnight and just before dawn I woke in such extreme pain I had my husband take me to the ER.
The kind ER staff took my vitals, gave me a hefty injection of morphine for the pain, wheeled me down the hall for a quick CT to look for kidney stones or other obstructions, and then came to the decision I had the shingles. There were three tiny red rash patches on my left side – that was all – and the ER doc was confident of her diagnosis. I thanked them all for their prompt attention and kindness, their painkillers, and my prescriptions, and went home. A few hours later the small rash had spread to larger areas and I had to agree with the doctor… I have the shingles. AKA Herpes Zoster, a close cousin to the Chicken Pox virus varicella-zoster. The advertising theme of one manufacturers at the conference had read ‘In MS, it starts with a flicker’ but I don’t think this is what they meant.
On the drive home I sent a text to my neurologist inquiring about the connection between shingles and my MS drug, natalizumab (Tysabri). The prompt reply said even though my immune system may be somewhat compromised by this multiple sclerosis drug, it was more likely the hectic pace I had been keeping at the conference I was attending and the after effects of major foot surgery was what made me susceptible to this viral infection. The irony is I was at a conference about MS and how to better treat people affected by the disease, and at no time did I hear shingles mentioned; but during my time there I must have been in contact with someone with an active case of one of the Zosters – either chicken pox or herpes.
I’ve considered the shingles vaccine in the past because I have reached that recommended age, but had not pursued it because live vaccines are not ordinarily recommended for people with multiple sclerosis. Had I known what this outbreak would be like and the pain involved, I would have gambled on the MS having a relapse and taken the shot as soon as I was eligible. The nurse tells me once my shingles have cleared I should consider getting the vaccine and I replied there was nothing to think over – I will take that shot if it means avoiding future episodes of the shingles.
In the meantime, all I can do is wait this out. I was put on an anti-viral medication thanks to the intuitive ER doctor, and that may have cut the duration of this outbreak, but I still can’t stand to have things touch my body. Consequently, I have spent the week in a loose-fitting nightgown and tried to move as little as necessary. I’ve cancelled all plans, including another trip next week and am happy to sit still and do nothing. I understand it will be too hot to go out this weekend anyway so I might try to make the most of this and sleep and write my way through the days ahead.
If you are eligible for the shingles vaccine and have not yet had it, do yourself the favor and get it! The temporary discomfort to your body for the injection and your wallet for the cost can’t compare to the pain and inconvenience of an active case of the shingles.