It started on 28 May, Monday, when I felt unusually exhausted. By Wednesday, I felt sudden hot and cold and a tinkling sensation running through my left arm and back. Sometimes the patch on the back became painful and the pain seeped through to the chest. I sensed that it was virus infection inside the body, as the pain was not on the skin surface. On Wednesday night I felt some rashes developed but not itchy. It dawned on me that it could be shingles. I called up my friend to find out how she coped when she had it. She had fever, saw doctor and rested 2 weeks. If the rashes ruptured, it could be itchy. It is contagious. Another friend called and told me that shingles were due to low immunity and heatiness. Take Vitamin C and drink plenty of fruit juice to bring down the heat. She offered to find out more about TCM physician who specialised in curing shingles, which is called “catching the snake”. It is widely circulated that patients ought to seek experienced physician who is skilled in curing the disease and prevent it from spreading and circling the body, which can reach the heart, and can be life-threatening. Sounds frightening.

In 2005, my aunt from KL had shingles while she was here on holiday. She had the same symptoms – felt hot and cold, and weak. Her rashes spread very fast. Somebody recommended a TCM physician well known for curing shingles and we made our way there. He did moxibustion and prescribed bottles of liquid medication. Her condition did not improve. She purged badly after taking the medication. A day later, she decided to quit and returned to KL to see her GP. She was given an injection and antibiotics. Thereafter, she recovered fast. Because of this episode, I resisted going to TCM for my case. I saw my regular GP in the neighbourhood on Thursday morning. She confirmed it was shingles and prescribed anti-viral drugs for 7 days and calamine lotion to ease itchiness of the rashes. Fortunately it was a mild case. The rashes did not spread and began to dry up on Saturday. It did not rupture at all. I was given another 3 days MC in order to rest well. I was delighted to be away from work. I read from internet that the causes of shingles are age, stress and low immunity due to cancer treatment. Looks like I am a legitimate candidate. Although I ate well and exercise, I did not have enough rest, and hence the low immunity. But I welcome it as it gave me a good chance and good reason to rest.

This is what I find out from the internet.

Shingles facts

  1. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox.
  2. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is not related to the sexually transmitted herpes virus disease called herpes genitalis, or the oral herpes virus, herpes simplex.
  3. Shingles may cause pain that can continue after the rash disappears.
  4. Steroids and antiviral drugs can help prevent long-term pain after shingles if they are started within the first two days of the appearance of the rash.

What is shingles? What causes shingles?

After an individual has chickenpox, this virus lives dormant in the nervous system and is never fully cleared from the body. Under certain circumstances, such as emotional stress, immune deficiency (from AIDS or chemotherapy), or with cancer, the virus reactivates and causes shingles. In most cases of shingles, however, a cause for the reactivation of the virus is never found. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for the development of shingles, although it occurs most commonly in people over the age of 60.

What are shingles symptoms and signs? How long does shingles last?

Even when there is no rash, the pain of shingl​es may be apparent. Before a rash is visible, the patient may notice several days to a week of burning pain and sensitive skin. When the characteristic rash is not yet apparent, it may be difficult to determine the cause of the often severe pain. Shingles rash starts as small blisters on a red base, with new blisters continuing to form for three to five days. The blisters follow the path of individual nerves that come out of the spinal cord in a specific "ray-like" distribution (called a dermatomal pattern) and appear in a band-like pattern on an area of skin. The entire path of the affected nerve may be involved, or there may be areas in the distribution of the nerve with blisters and areas without blisters. Generally, only one nerve level is involved. In a rare case, more than one​ nerve will be involved. Eventually, the blisters pop, and the area starts to ooze. The affected areas will then crust over and heal. The duration of the outbreak may take three to four weeks from start to finish. On occasion, the pain will be present but the blisters may never appear. This can be a very confusing cause of local pain.

How long is shingles contagious?

Shingles is contagious to people who have not previously had chickenpox, as long as there are new blisters forming and old blisters healing. Similar to chickenpox, the time prior to healing or crusting of the blisters is the contagious stage of shingles. Once all of the blisters are crusted over, the virus can no longer be spread and the contagious period is over. Shingles can spread to those who have not had chicken pox before. To put the mind of my colleagues at ease, I asked my GP to let me rest for the whole week till 8 June. I was surprised to hear that some people had shingles twice. Later on, I also heard from other friends who had shingles before. So, shingles are actually quite a common fare.

There are two important points to take note of from the internet learning:

  1. Go and see a GP for anti-viral drugs once rashes appear, within 1 or 2 days.
  2. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for the development of shingles, because the virus is in the body after one has got chickenpox. Hence, everybody has a chance to get shingles. And hence, no big deal.

After being on medication, I began to sweat profusely over the weekend when I ate or moved about. My temperature was normal, but I felt heaty inside. I guess this was the natural way the body was trying to address the imbalance. My arms were cold after sweating. I resumed exercising from 4 June, Monday. My condition improved much and I felt more energetic day by day. However, the sweating continued and made my tongue even drier and I got up a few times to drink water and pass urine in the night. As the medicine was to be taken 5 times a day after meal, I was busy eating and drinking the whole day. I felt happy and at ease, and my bowel movement was back to normal.

It is good to discuss with the GP on my condition instead of just listening and take whatever is prescribed. I am blessed to have a GP who listens patiently to how I analyse my condition and the probable underlying causes and how to resolve them my way. My usual conclusion is that I need more rest, and she usually concurs with me. From there, I gain my confidence and begin to understand my body better and know how to manage it. The GP looks at it only from the medical aspect, while I add on a little of TCM knowledge, plus common sense and past experience, and thereupon, decide the best course of action for myself. Here I am, enjoying my shingles holiday.

In Chinese, the condition of shingles is called 生蛇。休息了几天,蛇都给我吃掉了。精神和心情都很好。休息就是良药。​Rest is the best medicine. As always, after each illness, big or small, I emerge a better person, in terms of being more knowledgeable, more disciplined, more compassionate, refreshed, calm and able to make better decision.

Contributed by Lim Wai Cheng / NPC survivor
Date: 7 June 2012
Survivor since 2005

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