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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
My life with shingles 'It was like I had gone a few rounds with Conor McGregor'
I incorrectly believed that shingles was contagious, writes Carol Reddy Locke

AFTER A SERIES of operations I contracted shingles. In March 2014, I had a gastric bypass. This truly saved my life and both the doctor there and the care I received were fantastic.

While I knew my medical conditions would affect my recovery and my immune system would be compromised, I never expected to suffer from shingles.

About four months after the surgery, my pain increased to an unbearable level, so I attended my GP, who is amazing. He knows the level of pain I can tolerate and has kept me from going insane over the years that I’ve had Fibromyalgia (FM), a rheumatic condition with muscular and joint pain and Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN), a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve.

Unbearable pain 

I was assuming the extra pain was due to these ongoing conditions, flare up after surgery and an impact of the continuing weight loss and changes to my body. I was prescribed a morphine patch for the pain, which I had used in the past when pain was unmanageable and usually took one to two weeks to settle.

Within two days I was back to my doctor. The very small blister on my ear, which I previously took no heed to, had spread to the side of my face and my body. It was both itching and the pain was very bad. It was a different pain than the usual FM pain – it wasn’t moving around every few minutes and was a dull pain.

It was like I had gone a few rounds with Conor McGregor.

I was so tired and felt like falling sleep all the time, but the pain didn’t allow me to; the tiredness was absolutely awful. My GP mentioned shingles, but sent me straight to St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny to be sure. I was admitted overnight and put on antibiotics and a pain drip. The nurses explained about shingles and that it was more than likely caused by a shattered immune system.

shutterstock_238042393 Shutterstock / PANYA KUANUN Shutterstock / PANYA KUANUN / PANYA KUANUN

I had been working full-time and my daughter was six years old at the time. On top of this, the build-up to the previous Christmas been hectic; we had also travelled to Arizona in January 2014 for my son’s wedding and when I returned I was very unwell with food poisoning I picked up in the airport in New York.

I hit a brick wall 

Then I had a flare up of FM in February 2014 and my surgery in March. Bang, I hit a brick wall.

Shingles was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My body almost broke down. The pain, fatigue, blisters, itching, headaches and the fear that the rash would travel to my eyes just simply overwhelmed me. Luckily it didn’t spread any further; the symptoms must have lasted over a month.

I incorrectly believed that shingles was contagious. As it is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus within your body, you cannot catch shingles from anyone else. However, if you have not had chickenpox, there’s a chance you may catch it from someone who has shingles.

I had chickenpox as a child and I have since learned that while the virus never leaves your body – it sits dormant and may show its ugly head as shingles many years later.

Even though I now know that shingles is not contagious, at the time I kept my eating and cleaning utensils separate and washed everything with boiling water. My husband (God love him) was thrown into the spare room as any sound was perishing my head. I mixed baking soda and water to make a paste and rubbed this over me and even wore gloves to try and stop myself from itching.

I was on antibiotics for six weeks, as well as viral cream and pain killers. Underlying conditions or not, shingles causes horrific pain and discomfort for all patients.

Today when I find myself very tired, my right ear lobe will itch and turn red, since having shingles. Chronic Pain Ireland provides an amazing service of help and support for all chronic pain suffers and with their immense knowledge and understanding, you will get through it. Having a great network of medical and care personnel I will be grand.

Carol Reddy Locke is a married mum of two living in County Carlow. If you would like more information on shingles, please visit

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Carol Reddy Locke
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