pain in the…face: part four

I understood that the postherpetic neuralgia (source of the “pain in the face”) ended after a time, but that the longer from onset of herpes zoster till treatment began, the more nerve damage there was. The more nerve damage there was, the longer the healing time. Oh, yeah. And some people never got over the pain. I predicted I was one of the latter! I mean, I tend to attract the worst, the least common, the most unusual manifestations of what can go wrong with the human body!

By August of 2007, the continuing pain affected my ability to work. I left work early on some days because of pain attacks, and the frequency alarmed me, although it all fell within my allowed sick time. I had a total of five weeks vacation a year plus holidays by that stage of my work life, and often I used vacation time for sick days because the pain pretty well killed any possibility of long trips. I decided to see a pain specialist, a physiatrist.

The doctor had me lie down on an examination table and bring my knees up. The examination involved a mini-cattle prod (similar principle, lower level of electrical shock), needles stuck into nerves, and little jolts of electricity.

I joked with the doctor about how I hoped I wasn’t about to become a galvanic experiment where she’d trigger a nerve to make my legs dance or something rude and embarrassing. She laughed, and the testing was surprisingly mild and easy. She’d stick a needle in, trigger the nerve, and her laptop recorded the results. She did this on both sides of my face to establish the degree of damage to the right side nerves.

She prescribed Gabapentin, which evened out the pain to a dull roar. She also prescribed Cymbalta for nighttime use. Between them, I had control of the pain at last!

Control, at least, until I retired early (see “who I am” for details) and ran out of health insurance and prescription refills. Then it was back to pain, if not so severe. I mean, the last time I screamed out in pain and threatened to join the Evil One’s minions or God’s Warriors, depending on which gave me pain relief first, was 2007! (I was serious then, however, and suffered a brief lapse in faith. To Hell with the devil, too. He also failed me! Ha!)

The shingles left me completely deaf in my right ear because of scarring of the ear drum. I have a lovely scar from my ear to my eye brow, and another from the corner of my right eye down to my lip. There is another scar from my right ear to my lower lip, which pulls the center of the lip to the right to where the corner of my mouth used to be. It’s all very complex…and painful, the worst part of the pain in my face. The scar is tight, which exacerbates the pain.

The scars from herpes zoster don't bother me, but the pain is wearing.

The scars from herpes zoster don’t bother me, but the pain is wearing.

The tragus on my right ear was wasted away by the ear infection as well, though there seems to be no specific benefit to having one other aesthetics.

pain in the…face: part 1

I suffered a shingles attack (herpes zoster) in October-November 2007. It left me disabled and scarred, and postherpetic neuralgia still plagues me each and every day.

You know it’s bad when your doctor, a veteran with over 30 years’ experience, states, “This is the worst case of herpes zoster I’ve ever seen.” Yeah, not the second or third worst. Not just your garden variety stuff: The worst. Should I be proud?

The pain is everything you’ve ever heard it is. At one point I called on God or Satan to end my pain. I screamed out a challenge: “I will follow whichever one of you ends this pain!” (Thank God I live by myself!) Neither showed up. Neither sent a representative. I suspect the goat sacrifice wasn’t adequate. Perhaps they were going for a human sacrifice.

After two, three weeks of hospitalization, first to contain the herpes zoster, which affected the right side of my head, down to my shoulder, then to bring me back from an inability to make my mouth and tongue work properly to get nutrition into my body, additional effects popped up. I’d dropped over 30 pounds, for example. When I mentioned that to a nurse, she got a look of envy on her face. “No, you don’t want to lose it this way!” I told her.

I often come down with disease so rare my doctors pull in every specialist and intern they can “to witness this unusual case “. Wegener’s granulomatosis is rare enough I’ve only met one other person with it, and she and her husband came from hundreds of miles away. My pulmonologist noted he had two other patients with it, one of whom died. (“Not from WG,” he said, clearly reading the fear on my face when he mentioned it, off-hand…!)

But this isn’t about WG, this time. It’s about herpes zoster and pain. Herpes zoster and novel effects it can cause, rare moments that bring out specialists and interns alike “to witness this unusual case.” The teeth on the right side of my mandible started loosening and falling out! That part of my jaw, simply, died. Dead because the vascular system died, and the tissue supported by it – teeth, jaw – died, too.