Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Attack of the killer bugs

I've been laid low since the weekend with a bout of what I discovered was/is shingles.

I'd heard the name, and that it was nasty, but hadn't really appreciated just how nasty. I'd had a very disturbed night's sleep on Sunday, full of a dull ache in my side that kept me awake, and when I eventually had dropped off to sleep with the aid of a couple of ibuprofens, I discovered to my horror the next morning a nasty rash extending in a huge arc across my ribs underneath my right arm. At first I thought it might be some sort of insect bites but it looked a bit too severe for that.

I surfed around before making a "diagnosis" of
shingles, and got some contradictory advice over what to do about it: some indicating that it would clear up naturally of its own accord and others that prompt attention of a doctor was advisable. I rang the surgery mid-morning and the receptionist told me that my doctor was "on long term sick leave" and the earliest I could get an appointment was Thursday - though I could have a chat to the other doctor on the phone on Tuesday. It seemed to me that describing a rash over the phone was a bit of a non-starter: surely the doctor was going to need to see it in order to make any sort of confirmed diagnosis?

I gave NHS Direct a ring. They were pleasant if a little beauracratic, taking down quite a few bits of information they didn't really need just to give a bit of general advice on whether it might be shingles, and if so, what I should do about it. After toying with the idea of a visit to the NHS walk-in centre, I hit on the idea of an appointment to see the surgery nurse: surely she'd at least know what a shingles rash looked like? I got to see her at 2.30pm: she took one rather aghast look and told me I really ought to see the doctor. As I was about to find a polite way of phrasing it, she took me aback by saying I could come back at 4.50pm. I suppose the surgery must maybe 'hold back' a number of appointment slots just in case the nurses find something that needs urgent attention?

The doctor said it was a very characteristic shingles rash, which extends in a wide arc from the backbone, tracing the path of a nerve under the skin round under the arm towards the front. It's apparently like an adult version of chickenpox: the same virus which had caused that when I was about nine or ten I guess had lain dormant all these years and for some reason had become active again. I asked whether it was something that would recur, but he said not: within about ten days it would scab over, fall off and that would - hopefully - be the end of the matter. He did give me a course of
Aciclovir, an antiviral, to assist in the process. I shall be decidedly pleased to see the back of it!

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