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Doug Clark: Readers hold sore spot in memory for shingles

Welcome to the Shingles Bar. Unhappy Hour is about to begin.

Don’t go ordering any well drinks, though.

All we serve here are things like famciclovir, Valtrex and other drugs used to fight this shape-shifting scourge of a virus that – without the vaccine – will afflict 1 out of every 3 people in their lifetime.

On Sunday I wrote about my own recent shingles battle that, truth be told, is still kicking my ample behind.

Tuesday night, for example.

I woke up three times from these pain tsunamis that flowed through the nerves in my back, around to my chest, and back again.

Mark Kammers knows.

“The best way to explain the pain of shingles? Imagine your chest and back are on fire and your wife is trying to be helpful by putting it out with an ice pick.”

True that. I’ve done more panting lately than a Lamaze class for asthmatics.

Kammers is one of several dozen readers who heeded my call for tales of shingles travails.

Here’s one I didn’t expect. Right before turning off the TV Tuesday night, this weathered face popped onto the tube.

Ex-firefighter Dennis Grogan, he says.

I’ll be damned if the old guy doesn’t look me straight in the eye and start talking about red sores on his neck that made his life a living hell.

“I can tell you from experience, it is bad,” he announced. “It’s something you never want to encounter.”

Watch Doug Clark talk to KHQ’s Dave Cotton about shingles

I thought I was hallucinating. Then I realized this was a commercial for Merck, a company making shingles vaccine.

There’s a reason behind this buzz about shingles.

Everybody who’s ever been exposed to chickenpox has the shingles virus living inside and just waiting for an opportunity to be all that it can be.

But while shingles can afflict people of all ages, the vast majority of cases occur in the 60-and-over crowd.

Remember all us aging baby boomers?

It’s a swinging shingles playground.

If only I could go back in time. I’d definitely get a dose of that vaccine.

Right after offing Hitler’s ma, that is.

“Well, Mr. Clark. I would advise you to still get the shingles vaccination,” offered Margie Long. “I am 69 and have had shingles three times in my life!”

I’d like to think that was bum luck. But this was one of a number of multiple outbreaks.

“Over a 34-year period I have had shingles four times,” reported Diane Folland.

OK. Now that’s just crazy.

One of the bizarre things about shingles is that there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to where that telltale rash might crop up.

Arms. Legs. Hands. Face …

Wanda Conner told a sad story of the intense head pain her stepfather felt.

“He had a plethora of ailments at the time and I think this may have gotten lost in the shuffle, so to speak. After some time he was finally diagnosed with shingles on his head.

“They never went away and he lived with pain until he died.”

Getting shingles in an eye is a horrific scenario.

One victim, Mike Scalera, said his shingles in “the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve” left him with a severe sensitivity to light.

“I couldn’t handle even a cloudy day and I couldn’t look at a computer screen, which makes my occupation as a software geek very difficult.”

Let it be said that getting the vaccine is no rock solid guarantee against shingles.

Some luckless individuals get the shots and still come down with the nasty stuff.

But those cases are comparatively rare. The case for vaccine is overwhelming when you consider these testimonials …

• “I have had pain before but nothing like this. I damned near went out of my mind” – Tony Demma.

• “Pain? I have had four children, but this pain was far more memorable” – Janet Javorka.

• “Ten years ago I woke up with shingles on my neck. It was a large patch of swollen red bumps that felt like it was almost on fire” – Courtney Morse.

• “Once the headache finally abated, and the open sores on the left side of my face, up into my hair went away, my skin would itch until I wanted to scratch the skin right off my face” – Dave Roberts.

Well, it’s closing time. Thanks to everyone who joined in, plus Matt Monroe for the Shingles Bar metaphor.

No matter what comes out of all this, I have the satisfaction that my pain has reached one wise soul.

“Your story convinced my husband (who is about your age) to go get a shingles vaccination,” said Debbie Miller.

“He may not always take his doctor’s advice, but he’ll listen to you!”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.


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