Saturday, December 30, 2006

Another Stupid Gall Bladder Trick

I have posted a couple of times before on how my gall bladder keeps managing to pretend to cause me illness. When I started getting rather severe pains under my right central ribs (Friday before Christmas), my first thought was now what? I looked around for bruises - nope. Since I had only a modest fever, and really really didn't want to wind up in an emergency room two days before Christmas, I decided to tough it out if I could. Early Tuesday morning I showed up at the walk-in clinic, the doc checked me out, thought it might be a kidney stone, and sent me in for a CT scan.

When the scan was read, my old gallstone (and lots of pain)were still there, so she set up an appointment with a surgeon for the following afternoon. Early the next morning I noticed a few more pains, and two or three little pimples over the main pain locations. I actually had a pretty good clue what these meant, took them to the doctor, and she agreed.

Chicken pox, a generally mild disease that most children get, or used to get, is caused by a virus called Herpes zoster (or varicella zoster). H. zoster has the nasty habit of hiding in nerve cells near the spine for many decades after the original disease has run its course. If your immune system is weakened, perhaps by age or stress, the virus can proliferate and propagate along the nerve and its branches all the way to the skin. The resulting infection of the nerve often produces intense pain. When the infection reaches the skin, ugly red blisters erupt along the portion of the skin innervated by the affected nerve - in my case, a stripe from just above the right side of my belly button to my right lower back.

The tricky part is that since the infection starts at your spine, and works its way out, intense pain is common before the superficial manifestation. When the affected nerve root is the right T-9 (from the 9th thoracic vertebra) the pattern of pain occasionally results in an unnecessary gall bladder surgery.

The reason I happened to recognize this when I had the first eruptions is that I know a whole cluster of people who have recently had the disease - shingles. The thing is, you can't get shingles from somebody with shingles - if you haven't had chicken pox, you can get that, a disease mainly of the skin, but shingles comes from the inside.

There is now a vaccine for shingles, and based on my experience, I recommend it - shingles can hurt like hell, and in some cases, can be dangerous. There are also anti-viral drugs which reputedly shorten the course of the disease, and I'm hoping mine kick in soon.