George, get well soon and I can relate.
On Wednesday, July 22, I woke up with a dull headache. It was localized on the right side at the top of my head. I thought, “This is strange. I NEVER get headaches.” But I decided to wait it out and took no pain relievers.
By the next day, Thursday, the headache was a bit stronger, so I popped a few Advils. “No problem,” I thought, and I was pleased to note the pain went away for most of the day while the pills did their thing. That evening I played tennis, and played well, although I kept feeling a constant, but not too severe, pain in exactly the same part of my head. However, Thursday night, the pain got quite a bit worse and I wound up needing even more Advils just to be able to sleep.
Friday, I stayed home to work not only because I had a project that needed some peace and quiet to get done, but also because a few friends had arranged a friendly doubles match in the late afternoon. Again I played tennis, but this time having to take 3 Advils to dull the pain in my head because it was, by then, pretty unrelenting and a lot stronger than previously. Yet I still managed to play quite well in tennis and wound up winning 2 of the 3 sets that I played, with the foursome trading off partners each set.
However, by the time Friday night hit, so did my headache. Despite popping 3 more Advils, the pounding was getting pretty severe. Then I took my blood pressure and was alarmed to see it up around 166/103. I got scared, and with my wife I drove myself to the hospital emergency room. Four and a half hours and one CAT scan later, I was told by the emergency room doctor that there was no evidence of a stroke, bleeding on the brain, or a brain tumor, but my BP was too high and he was not sure whether that was the cause or the effect. He sent me home with some BP medicine, called it a migraine, but then noted that it is “very unusual” for anyone who does not have a history of headaches – like me – to suddenly get a migraine for the first time so late in life. The instructions were to take the BP medicine and as much Advil or Tylenol as I needed and come back if things got worse. Also, see my regular doctor ASAP.
Saturday, the headache was still there and it hurt like hell, but I found that if I took 3 Advils every 4 – 5 hours it was tolerable. So, I blithely went out and played a USTA 55+ doubles match that I had been scheduled to play earlier in the week. Much to my surprise, I again played well as the tennis seemed to keep my mind off the constant (but now Advil induced dull) pain in my head. Not only did I win, but so did the team.
Sunday was a long awaited tennis treat that I had decided I was not going to miss unless my headache was so bad I literally could not stand or see. It was a four hour outing that had been arranged by a local tennis pro on the grass at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. I LOVE playing on grass courts and it also happens to be my best surface So, this time I popped 4 Advils an hour before the event was to start and I dutifully dressed up in my tennis whites and went out to play and have fun. Despite all the pain killers in my blood stream, my head pounded pretty much constantly during the entire outing. However, I did not let it distract me and I played probably my best tennis over the previous 4 days. With a variety of doubles partners and opponents, I did not lose a set during the round robin event, and wound up dispatching a 17 year old nationally ranked girl 6-2 in a set of singles who the pro told me was “going to whoop your a$$” before we started. (Thus, the reason why I say grass is my best surface, because the score would have been surely reversed on clay or a hard court.)
But Sunday night, my head pounded almost unrelentingly and no amount of Advil could stop it. All night I tossed and turned and barely got a few hours of sleep. I also noticed, for the first time, what appeared to be a silver dollar sized welt from a bug or spider bite that had appeared high on the right side of my forehead for the first time after I returned home from the tennis. I did recall changing my hat during the outing and reckoned there may have been a bug or spider in the replacement hat when I put it on my head, but I could find no evidence of a bug or spider carcass in the hat when I looked for it. Very strange.
This past Monday, the welt on my head was more or less the same in the morning, but my headache started to move lower so it was no longer at the top of my head but started to localized more in about a 4 inch diameter location right beneath my right ear. I also started to feel flu like fatigue, although my temperature remained normal. (Also, my BP was starting to come down closer to the normal range.) I decided to stay home and work from the computer. During the day, between emails and finishing up various work assignments, I also played around on Google to see what I might be able to self diagnose was causing my headache – now pretty much constant over 5 days. My initial diagnosis, based mainly on the intensity of the pain that had now localized pretty much at my right jaw joint, just below my ear, was that maybe I had the mumps. But then I recalled that I already had the mumps as a kid.
However, as the day wore on, I also noticed that the presumed bug/ spider bite on my high right forehead seemed to be getting bigger. Into the early evening, staring into a mirror, I also thought I noticed several more “bug” bites moving but up into my right scalp and also moving lower on my forehead. But about 11:00 pm, I even thought I noticed several more rash like bumps on and around my right eyebrow and on the bridge of my nose. All of these bumps were also incredibly sore to the touch. And my headache was still pretty much constant. For an instant, I thought “maybe it’s poison ivy,” but then I remembered that I have never been allergic to poison ivy and the probability of that striking me for the first time in my life past the age of 60 was probably as unlikely as my suddenly developing migraines at the same age.
Playing around again on Google, I suddenly figured it out: Shingles. Everything fit. So, first thing Tuesday morning I made an appointment to see my regular doctor and, sure enough, shingles it was. He gave me a week long prescription to an anti-viral drug, Valtrex, and also told me to continue to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen as much as needed for the pain. Additionally, he insisted that I go see an eye doctor that day because, by then, the lesions were all over my right eyelid and around and beneath the same eye. I did see an eye doctor and was relieved to hear there was no evidence the shingles had yet gotten into my eye, but I was also given anti-viral eye drops to prevent that from occurring.
I have spent the last week in intense pain from the shingles. They also have gotten a lot worse, spreading pretty much over the entire right side of my head, from the crown down over the entire forehead and down to my eye. But fortunately, and probably due to the anti-viral treatments, they have stopped spreading and, according to a follow up visit that I had Friday with the eye doctor, have stayed away from my eye and cornea. So, the good news is that I am on the mend. I was even allowed to go play tennis yesterday, which I did.
But the bad news is that it is going to take several more weeks, at least, for the shingles to progress to the end stage. Right now all of the lesions have crusted over. They no longer hurt, but they itch like hell. And I still have the same dull headache that this started out with, albeit it is not as severe.
But the really bad news is the eye doctor told me I cannot wear my contact lenses for at least another week, and maybe longer after he reevaluates me at the end of this week. Instead, I had to wear my glasses to play tennis yesterday. As a result, I played awfully. I could not see the ball in any of my periphery, which is precisely the reason why I never play tennis with glasses on and pretty much only play with contacts these days. Because of this, I missed a ton of easy volleys and serves/ overheads in yesterday’s match that, the weekend prior, I would have been nailing in the middle of the strings wearing contacts.
I hate getting old. It sucks.