Most of us remember getting the chicken pox when we were kids. I remember it for two reasons, first being that the obnoxious boy with the round shaved head, who reminded me of Charlie Brown, had a Halloween Party. Most of our First Grade class was in attendance and we all got sick. The second reason I remember it was because my younger brother and sister also got chicken pox and my mother always said that this was why my brother was quick to potty-train. In those days kids wore cloth diapers and a wet diaper on poxed buttocks were no picnic.
Fast forward forty or so years and come to find out that the nasty virus from a First Grade Halloween Party has been lurking like a bad horror movie in my nerve cells. The virus escapes from his cozy little nerve cell and travels down nerve axons bursting out as a viral infection of the skin in the region of the nerve. This infection looks and feels a lot like those itchy pustules that you were not supposed to scratch when you had chicken pox. In this situation, it isn’t just a rash. We are talking about blisters that run along the branch-like ganglia of your nerves causing the most excruciating pain you can imagine. Think root canal with no anesthetic.
In my case, all of this action is on the left side of my face. The nerves affected include my gums, my jaw, my left nasal cavity, my cheek, my forehead, and deep within my left ear. It took me about a week to realize that what looked like a cold sore couldn’t possible have multiplied and migrated up my cheek. Nor, did I think it could ever hurt so much. Two days before we left for a trip to France my Dermatologist diagnosed it as shingles and prescribed the Aciclovir, which is used to treat shingles wicked cousin herpes.
Almost immediately I began to see an improvement and went on my merry way with no clue that this drama would come back to haunt me. PHN or postherpetic neuralgia is thought to be nerve damage caused by the virus. The damage causes nerves in the affected area begin to send abnormal electrical signals to the brain. These signals may convey intense pain and may persist or recur for months, years or (and here, I quote Wikipedia) “until death.”
For me all it takes my fragile nerves is a gust of wind, my hair on my face, or bright sunlight to set those ganglia all a tingle. That I have learned to deal with. It is the recurring bouts of pain on the left side of my face that make me want to track down that round headed boy from the First Grade and extract some sort of comparable retribution.
Not really understanding the consequences of shingles and never even being aware of PHN, I have done a lot of research. Chickenpox vaccinations have only been administered since the late 1990’s and there are no records yet on whether or not this lessens the risk of the virus laying dormant in the body. For those of us who had Chickenpox as children there is a vaccine to prevent shingles. We don’t hear about it at age 50 because it is more common in people over the age of 60. Unless you know someone who has had shingles you don’t have a clue. Now you do.