Shingles: The most painful episode of my life, even worse than childbirth - Christa Ackroyd

It’s not often I sit down to write what could be seen as a somewhat selfish column.

Normally there are too many ills of the world to tackle other than my own minor issues. Only this one probably affects you too if you are of a certain again. And I think it is both inefficient and unfair. And quite frankly inexplicable.

Two years ago this May I suffered what for me was the most physically painful episode of my life. And yes it was more painful than childbirth. It began while I was on a little boat with friends sailing around the islands of Croatia, one of my favourite parts of the world. I was relaxed and well, swimming in the deep blue sea and walking the hills of towns and cities which I love to explore.

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At around two in the morning I woke to what can only be described as the most horrific shooting pains I have ever experienced. My first reaction was that I was having a heart attack. I somehow managed to fall back to sleep sending my husband to meet our friends for breakfast.

Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

At around ten I staggered towards the dining room to join them only to pass out with the pain and see me plant face down on deck, sweating and gasping for air. The pain had quite literally taken my breath away.

The Captain was called and immediately turned the boat around. Even through my suntan he could see I was as white as a sheet. An ambulance was ordered and after being whisked to hospital in Dubrovnik a suspected kidney stone was diagnosed. And that was that.

I was pumped full of painkillers through an intravenous drip and quite frankly I felt as happy as Larry. When they wore off it was an entirely different story.

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The following day the true source of my pain revealed itself in all its red, raised, angry glory. Across the whole of my right torso the agonising sores that had literally developed overnight were instantly recognisable. As luck would have in one of our fellow passengers was a doctor.

He wrote down the medicine I required immediately and I set off staggering to the local pharmacy who promptly told me I had to see a GP. Taking one look at my face she asked me to show her my symptoms and she was horrified.

Even though she wasn’t supposed to she gave me the tablets and insisted I present myself at A&E on my return to Yorkshire. Which I did only to find the senior registrar call all his staff to my bedside to announce it was the worst case of shingles he had ever seen.

Shingles had kindly chosen not only to attack the whole of my front right side but then worked their way round to completely mirror their painful and unattractive lesions all across the right side of my back too. I was in a mess. And in total agony.

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Two years on and I still attend the pain clinic at St Luke’s hospital in Bradford where they have tried every treatment known to man to end the pain. It is still there, though admittedly not as bad as it was when it first attacked my body. It is more a rippling stabbing sensation across my damaged nerve paths. But it still hurts.

I had never really heard of shingles in someone my age but had associated it with much older people and even then had no idea as to how painful it could be. Nor did I know how prevalent it has become. But it has. For those who have had chicken pox the virus remains dormant.

What triggers it to rear its decidedly ugly head again no one really knows, but boy when it does it lets you know it’s there and raring to go. The NHS are well aware of the increase in shingles so much so that every time you turn on the telly there seems to be some advert for it begging us to go for a jab.

It tells us what I now know that shingles is really really painful. But can be prevented.

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Research, as is my want, suggested if you have had a bad case before you need a jab now so I called my GP never wanting to go through anything like that again. Simple.

Only I can’t have it. If I was one year younger at 65 I could, in fact I would be encouraged to, but at 66 I was told I would have to wait until I was 70. If you watch or read the adverts again it makes it perfectly clear in the small print you can get the jab at 65 and can even wait until you are 80 to take up the offer.

If you are 70 you can do the same. But not the four years in between whether you are prone to it (the likelihood is it will then come back) or not.

What is more in my case despite having two auto immune diseases unless I take a certain level of a certain medication (which I can’t because I am allergic to it), that doesn’t count either.

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So here is the question. Is it because there is a shortage of the new and super effective vaccine for shingles? Research tells me not and that it is ‘readily available’.

It also seems many eligible patients have failed to take up the offer and only around 30 per cent of those who can have it have chosen to do so. So it’s not that. Is it because of the time it would take GPs to roll it out? Well I am due this week for blood tests so that can’t be right either. I am there in front of them.

Is it money? So why the expensive adverts on the TV telling us we need it? I am at a loss to find a common sense answer. It seems that rules is rules is rules and no matter what your history, them rules can’t be broken.

And quite frankly it all pretty stupid. By my calculations there are well over two million people in the 66 to 69 age bracket in this country who are being deliberately ignored, left out and banned from a vaccine which according to the adverts they would benefit from.

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They must do or it wouldn’t be being offered to 65 year olds. The governments website doesn’t tell us why we can’t have it at 66,67,68 and 69, just that we will ‘have to wait’ until we are 70 or 2028 by which time we would be 70 anyway. And that by 2033 everyone will be offered it at 60.

So where to turn to? The Shingles Support Organisation said they are contacted on a daily basis by angry people who fall into the not young enough or not old enough trap. They simply shared our frustration but said it wasn’t their policy to change, though they know many in the same position who have written to their MPs. I choose to write this.

Of course I could pay for it. But at £450 a shot (or rather two shots) why should I or you when younger friends are being offered it now?

What to me would make more sense is if the vaccine is in short supply, if it’s a question of finances, or GP hours, whatever the reason then why not reduce the year of eligibility each year from 70 downwards so that this year 69 year olds get it, next come the 68s and so on.

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We know the risk increases the older you are. And as far as I can remember from my schooldays 66 is older than 65. Or is that too logical to resolve this illogical conundrum?

Much has been talked about the postcode lottery when it comes to treatment on the NHS . Now it would seem they can add the age lottery to their list of things that need sorting.

In the meantime if you are eligible for the shingles vaccine go for it. I wouldn’t wish the pain it can cause on my worst enemy. I’ll see you in four years.

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