Shingles? Shit.

A low-productivity week, in many ways. A low-enjoyment week, too. The proximate cause? A shingles vaccine shot, part two.

I had the single-shot, pretty much side-effects-free version six years ago when I clocked 60. Offering about 50% protection, it didn’t prevent me from having a memorable-in-the-worst-sense attack, but my doctor believed that it likely reduced its severity.

So when she recommended the new vaccine — now offering closer to 90% protection — it was an easy decision for me. Of course I was in. Let’s not let that happen again.

In late September I confidently walked into my doctor’s office with the vaccine, part one. The first inkling of something being off was how much the shot hurt. Ow! And damn! Aggrieved, I rubbed my arm, but worse was to come. Two weeks of worse.

Severe lumbar pain, in a spot where my usual back problems don’t usually manifest. Nausea. Fatigue. Lethargy. Headaches. It was, I figured at the time, much like having a low-severity shingles attack, sans the blisters.

But the two weeks eventually passed, as did the two months until my next shot was scheduled. This time I was ready for the pain of the injection itself — sort of — but mostly I was anxious about the other side effects. Would I have dreadful back pain again? Nausea? Fatigue? Lethargy? Headaches?

No, no, yes, yes, and yes — plus a 24-hour bout of what could have passed for true influenza: aches all over, chills, and sleep disruptions.

Now, just a few days later, the side effects have cleared — Hurray! — leaving a few observations in their wake.

First, my initial attenuated shingles attack and my short-lived dark night of the flu were tiny indications of what it’s like to suffer with a painful and unfixable condition: the merest breath of a hint. Based on that, I can’t know what I’d decide for myself with respect to medically assisted dying under the right/wrong circumstances, and I sure don’t want to judge anyone else’s decision.

Second, I’m in awe of people who do hang on, and who also hang onto themselves as people and some joie de vivre while suffering from, dying from, painful and unfixable conditions.

Third, I sure hope that I’m on the right side of that 90/10 split.


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14 Responses to Shingles? Shit.

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Ouch! I sure hope you are on the right side of that 90/10 split.

    I took a different decision several years ago and decided “not” to get the vaccine. Played the odds. About a year and a half ago I got shingles. I was fortunate: I got to the doctor by the second day and so was able to get the antidote prescription which helped ensure that the case was fairly minor. I’m not covering a major case…and don’t want a return of even a mild case either.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yeah, whenever I talk to someone who’s had shingles, the vaccine gets no argument. And I wouldn’t really go back and change my decision even if I could: it was definitely the best thing to do. But another reminder that best is not the same as good.

  2. Very interesting, as I have a ‘script in my purse from my new doc who recommended it. I had shingles 25 years ago — a nightmare!! but if my reaction to the old-age 4X-stronger flu shot is any indication, I am now considering foregoing the 2-part shingles vac.

    I had organic flu in February (first time in 20+ years, no flu shots ever) and got severely desalinated and could barely move any muscle. Four days in hospital — not THAT sick, but I guess they worried it would turn into pneumonia. It didn’t. They were wonderfully kind throughout, despite the epidemic across the city and 1,000 children turned away from CHEO every day, or so I heard.

    I did have to have to spend 24 hours on a gurney in a hallway, but heard and saw this:

    Doctors had worked on several “terminal” incoming people, in a room stiff with equipment, opposite me all night. In the morning, I woke to see two doctors walking behind a gurney that held an upright, grinning middle-age man. One doctor said to the other, “Hmm — he wasn’t as dead as I thought he was.”

    ANYWAY, had the 4X flu shot in October and I got induced flu for 3 days: high fever, aches, some nausea, so I guess my immune system isn’t as great as I thought it was. So if you oldies — not old, mature! — out there are thinking of the 4X flu shot, you might need to schedule a few days off, with bed rest, just in case.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yikes. So sorry about all your flu troubles. Being hospitalized makes one believe the stats on annual deaths from influenza — mostly kidlets and geezers. So yes, I get the flu shot (although they wouldn’t give me the 4X one this year) and will continue to take all vaccines on offer. But it’s good to be prepared.

    • Alison Uhrbach says:

      Just so you know, the fact that you react so vigorously is actually a sign of a GREAT immune system – it’s showing how well it’s working by reacting to the vaccine.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Alison – Oh. That’s good. 🙂 Actually, very good. Thanks! And now that my reaction is done, I can appreciate its strength.

  3. And I thought this immunization would be a romp in the park. You have given me much to ponder even though a very dear friend did not get to a doctor within 48 hours for the ameliorating shot and suffered for months not only with the shingles but from the side effects of pain medication. I wonder if your reaction was typical? I’m very glad to know you have recovered.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Oh, yeah, shingles is awful. (Are awful?) So I think the thing is to go for it, but to be prepared (mentally, schedule-wise, and logistically) for a nastier-than-usual reaction.

  4. Judith Umbach says:

    My prescription for the new shingles shots is awaiting a time when I could feel sick for two days – as my doctor recommended. I don’t have time to be sick for two weeks – who does? All the same, I will get the new one because I have had singles four times, once causing four months off work plus four months of very annoying irritation. The last case was post-old-vaccine and happened when I was on a trip; it was much less severe than the unprotected cases. We live in hope.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Yes, I figured you’d have an informed opinion on this! We do, indeed, live in hope. And in the knowledge that (at our age) if we have a blister of any sort we should assume it’s shingles and get to a doctor soonest. Let them decide it’s not!

  5. Marilyn Smith says:

    Isabel, I am sorry to hear about the nasty horrible uncomfortable very bad reaction you experienced from the shingles vaccine. I got a one-shot vaccine last year after my Mom at age 93 came down with shingles — and I really had no reaction other than a sore arm after the shot. My Mom was diagnosed about 3 days after she noticed a rash because she waited to get it looked at, and although she got the shot, she had symptoms and pain for nearly a year. Anybody over 50 should get it! The vaccine!!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marilyn – Yes, I agree. And I’m glad this round is done. Of course, no vaccine lasts forever . . . 🙁

  6. Alison Uhrbach says:

    My sympathies about the shot – but YES, both Corvin and I have had both the “one shot” old Shingles vaccine, as well as the new 2 shot Shingles vaccine. And yes, we both felt lousy. Corvin less so – just having a nap the day after, which is unusual for him. I reacted more to the second shot, despite waiting close to the 6 months, as advised by our pharmacist to lessen the affect. I felt lousy for 2 days, and my arm hurt for another few days.
    But – compared to Shingles – we’re happy to have the shot.
    We lose perspective on the value of vaccines because we don’t see the results of the disease usually – but with Shingles – we all probably know someone who’s suffered – and that’s enough to motivate ME to get the vaccine.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Interesting. No one warned me to schedule it for when I could take a few days off if necessary; nor did anyone (doctor or pharmacist) suggest spreading out the shots to reduce the effect. Medicine is an art and a science, but sometimes I wish a good protocol would spread faster. But overall, yes, very lucky to have access to the vaccine. Lots don’t.

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