Last month, on March 5, when District Leader Geoffrey Davis started experiencing flu symptoms and a weird skin reaction along the right side of his body near his stomach, he assumed it was an allergic reaction to food he had just eaten:
“I could feel each individual hair on my skin standing up; and then it went numb,” said Davis, a resident of Crown Heights.
So, immediately, he headed to the pharmacy to purchase some over-the-counter allergy medicine. He took the medicine and drank lots of orange juice and green tea, and for three days tried to heal himself.
“But none of that help; not one bit,” said Davis. “Then the bumps came. And then, finally, excruciating pain. My skin burned like it was on fire; it might be the worst pain I think I’ve ever experienced.”
Finally, he checked himself into the hospital. And as soon as the doctor peeked under his shirt, he said, “Shingles!”
Davis said he had no idea what the doctor was referring to, as he’d never heard of the disease. The doctor explained that Shingles is the varicella zoster virus—basically, the chicken pox virus that has decided to pay another visit to the body.
If you’ve ever had chicken pox, then know that it never really went away; it just went to sleep in your nerve roots. If the chicken pox disease ever decides to “wake up” and return a second time—usually due to stress, some medications or an aging immune system– it shows up as Shingles.
And it could be, Davis attested, quite possibly the most excruciating pain you may ever experience.
The doctor told him that unfortunately after it sets in, it had to run its course.
For Davis, that meant the next few weeks of mind-numbing pain, assuaged only by a constant rotation of Calamine lotion, heating pads, Acyclovir (Shingles antiviral medication), Percocets (pain killers) and Gabapentin for his nerves.
“And you can’t do anything except lay in bed, because your entire body completely breaks down,” said Davis. “And what was crazy was… every past injury I’d ever had suddenly returned, because my nerves were heightened.
“Like, I twisted my ankle years ago. So my ankle started feeling it was twisted again. My wrists were injured years ago from playing baseball, and those started hurting. So now, not only was I suffering from all the pain from the virus, but I can’t walk either, because my ankle is twisted again. It’s horrible, just horrible.”
Shingles is not contagious, although there are some cases where someone with an open rash can spread it to someone who has not yet caught the chicken pox.
Davis said his pain lasted for about two weeks hardcore, along with the arrival of the old injuries. By the third week, it begins to wane and the old injuries clear up. And by week-four, there’s still residual pain, but it’s much milder.
“But now the body has to get itself together again. And my doctor warned me that it may never really go away entirely… that I will likely experience tingling in the area for the rest of my life.”
Davis said he wanted to share his story, because he wasn’t familiar with Shingles and so he wanted to make sure others were. Not only that, had he recognized the symptoms and gone to the doctor earlier, sometimes the doctor can catch it and arrest its symptoms.
Also, what many people may not know is that in the last decade, a Shingles vaccine, Zostavax, has been approved by the FDA and made available to the public. One vaccination has a 97 percent success rate in preventing the disease in patients 50-59 years old and and 84 percent success rate in patients 60-69 years.
“I want to encourage anyone who is over the age of 50, maybe even 45, to go get vaccinated. I would never want anyone to experience what I experienced—especially if there’s a way to prevent it,” said Davis, who is 52.
“During these last few weeks, I gained perspective: Suddenly nothing mattered anymore—not work, not money, none of the things that were stressing me out before. All of a sudden, the only thing that mattered to me then and now is my health. Taking care of yourself is first.”
For more information on Shingles, read this Health Magazine article.