About a decade ago I had a dream that an enormous spider had gotten in my bed and bit me on my back. I remember thinking, “I need to wake up and kill that sucker” but instead fell back asleep.
Next morning I had a huge cluster of red “bites” on my back.
My first reaction was to completely freak out and make my husband Mark search our bedroom for the tennis ball-sized spider from my dreams. After finding nothing but dust balls and cat toys, I made him spray our entire house with industrial-strength spider spray.
A few days later we were in a restaurant eating when, once again, I felt something stinging me on my back and stomach. My first thought was that the dream spider had gotten into my clothes and was getting revenge for trying to murder it back at the house.
I calmly went to the bathroom and then frantically took off all my clothes (somehow managing to get into a stall first). I shook everything out but the only thing I found was a new cluster of “bites” on my stomach, and the original ones on my back now felt hot and seemed to be spreading.
Completely grossed out, we went home and I started searching online for what I was now sure was some rare form of Spider Cancer.
Instead, all the indicators pointed to one thing: Shingles.
Shingles? No way! Shingles was only relegated to 90-year olds in nursing homes! No one under 30 (okay, 50– but I’m stopping there) could actually have such an ancient disease, right?
Wrong. As soon as I lifted my shirt for my doctor she immediately said, “Yep, you’ve got shingles.”
Turns out shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus—the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox can get shingles. Basically the evil chickenpox virus lives on in our nervous system forever and can eventually reactivate and climb back through the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Voila, shingles.
I don’t want to scare anyone, but for me the pain of shingles can only be compared to two things: childbirth and scorpions, both of which I’ve experienced firsthand. Just like contractions, the pain of shingles is unrelenting—only it feels like you’re being stung over and over by scorpions.
The good news is that shingles isn’t life threatening (although at times I didn’t believe this). It is treated with antiviral medications and painkillers. LOTS of painkillers…
Although I’m much better now, I still sometimes have pain on my back where that original shingle–aka spider bite—occurred. (They call this phantom pain “postherpetic neuralgia” or “crazy person pain”.)
As for the cause, my doctor said it could have been a combination of stress and aging—quickly adding her usual “but you look great for your age!” to keep me from crying.
Bottom line, anyone of any age can get shingles, although it is most common for people over 60.
Guess all I can do now is wait for gout, Bubonic Plague or some other strange, archaic disease to come after me in my dreams….
(To learn more about shingles, go to http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/shingles/DS00098)