Well, I’m here to say that, in case anybody wondered, having a first and in-depth experience of shingles while cruising singlehanded on a small boat is an absolutely terrible idea! On the other hand, having that experience present itself in the neighborhood of a friendly and supportive harbor and community really helps a lot.
Shingles is a follow-up to childhood chickenpox, endured by some of the people who had chickenpox, generally sometime after they get to the age of perhaps starting to think about reading glasses. It is something to do with herpes, affecting nerves and skin, as well as muscles associated with nerves. It’s not a nice time, but you get a lot of sympathy. In all the assorted health experiences I’ve had, in telling people this or that I have never heard so many emphatic exclamations of “OH NO!” as I have during the last two weeks, followed by complete understanding of whatever is going on to try to make it better, and offers to help. Though it’s been a difficult time, it’s also been very heartwarming, and the kindness from everybody, from total strangers to an assortment of friends, has made the whole process easier than it might have been.
This event got into gear just as I arrived in Belfast, planning to be here for three days or so, meeting up with Suzanne on her way to and then from Gouldsboro. It’s now been two weeks, and thoughts of departure are becoming more realistic. For a person who prefers holistic medecine, Belfast is ideal as a place to land during a healthcare situation. There are quite a number of holistic healthcare practitioners, as well as folks with thoughts on whom to recommend. Two of those practitioners came to the dock to make boat calls, for which I am enormously grateful; those visits resulted in a nice range of possible treatments in addition to what I was already doing.
All of this brings to mind the larger subject of illness or injury while solo cruising. I still have thoughts of Newfoundland, and this issue of possible incapacity is the one that slows that idea down the most. The bottom line is, would I be willing to live somewhere for an extended amount of time during a recovery process, far from people who know and care about me and my well-being? Two or three weeks is not such a big awful deal, but what if it was a few months? A year? My new long-term residence? Being a person who does not travel easily at the best of times, other than in one or another rather unique boat, the question is real. How much am I willing to risk, in order to go sailing? To sail far?
Risk is inherent to everything – to life itself, as well as to any venture in a boat. But one measures, holding the possibilities alongside one another. Having shingles on a small boat can make a person really wish to be at home on land, being taken care of, with all of the comfort that both of those imply. During the worst of it, I seriously considered that we could take the boat out of the water right here on the adjacent ramp, and I could ride home by road to our new place in Gouldsboro, an hour and a half away, and say “enough.” The situation eased, and I’m glad to still be on the boat, but it does get you thinking.
As it is, I am now close enough to seaworthy to be ready to give it a try. With luck I will go across to Holbrook Island, outside of Castine, and continue recovering in the peaceful stillness of the surrounding woods and rocks. Sometime after that I hope to be working my way east, back toward Gouldsboro.
In the meantime, my heartfelt thanks go to each one of the many people who have helped during this extraordinary time.
[Posted from the cove at Holbrook Island, a few days after the initial writing.]
Following are some of the strategies for shingles that I’ve found. It is important to note that I am not a healthcare practitioner, and these are not recommendations; what I have done, or thought about doing, or learned along the way, are all included as food for thought for readers in doing their own research.
Clay packs – In my experience, clay packs both help the blisters to dry up, and are soothing for that bizarre skin nerve pain that is part of shingles. I put some clay in a container, add enough water so that when it is all absorbed it makes a soft paste, put on skin, cover with plastic so it doesn’t dry out, keep on for 15 minutes to an hour, whatever feels good. It gets removed gently, with water and/or a moist washcloth. It’s messy, but plastic sheets are useful, and the clay cleans up easily. Clay for doing this sort of thing can be found in natural food stores, or ordered online. This one is my personal favorite (I’m including this link for readers’ convenience, and am not receiving anything for posting it or any other references on this blog):
Pascalite Superfine Powder, found by scrolling down on this page: http://www.pascalite.com/Prod.htm (For skin that’s tender, the “superfine” is likely to feel more gentle, and soothing.)
Shingles Rescue Plus, made by Peaceful Mountain
http://store.peacefulmountain.com/products/shingles-rescue-plus (also available from many other suppliers) – this is a water-based gel that includes both homeopathic and herbal ingredients. It is fragrant, which was problematic for me, so I only used it for one day, but it was very soothing.
Lemon balm (Latin name: Melissa officinalis) – there are a number of products available for shingles that include this herb. It is also available as loose, dried leaves, at natural food stores in the bulk herbs section, or online. The loose herb can be made into a tea which can be drunk, and/or applied to the skin. The plant is in the mint family, so it’s a question whether it is appropriate for use at the same time as homeopathic remedies. Anybody considering using this herb might want to do some in-depth research – there are mentions of thyroid considerations, perhaps among others.
Homeopathy – I like homeopathy best; for many reasons it suits me well. Choice of particular homeopathic remedies depends upon the characteristics of the individual. For intense problems, for example shingles, I believe it’s best to find a skilled homeopath for guidance.
Magnesium oil – this is magnesium chloride in water, called “oil” because it feels oily, like the greasy feeling of sea salt that has dried on the surfaces of a boat. Magnesium is important to a wide array of cellular functions, and can be absorbed through the skin. I ordinarily use this stuff to help with muscle cramps. One aspect of shingles can be what feels like intense muscle pain, quite similar to the feeling of having pulled or otherwise strained a muscle. According to the medical folks, this is actually a nerve problem and not the muscle itself, but since I usually use magnesium oil for muscle strains, I used it for this and it seemed to help. Later, when the blisters got going, it was too irritating, but it was good in the early part of the overall process. This is my personal favorite, but there are others available too: http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Minerals-Magnesium-Oil-oz/dp/B001AD0HL8
Seawater – especially as a cool compress using a washcloth. This feels outstanding at the time, including where there are blisters, and seems to help with reducing skin discomfort later on in the day or evening – I’ve tried for doing it twice a day. There’s a lot of magnesium in seawater, along with many other minerals. There are also microscopic bits in seawater that I’ve been learning about recently, called phages, that apparently go after bacteria and viruses. Nothing but good, if it’s true!
Raw honey, applied topically, is mentioned for shingles in a number of online sources – I didn’t do this, because it’s messy, and would have been difficult to manage over such a wide skin area while on the boat. Otherwise I would have tried it, using Manuka honey, which is said to be particularly good for treating wounds and burns. Honey is completely liquid at body temperature, so when used for a skin treatment it needs to be contained somehow, either with bandages, or maybe plastic.
EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), brain retraining exercises, and basic breath work – each of these has also been very helpful. Resources on everything except the breath work are described and referenced elsewhere in this blog, and can be found by using the search box in the upper right part of the page.
There are of course mainstream Western medicine approaches to shingles, including antiviral medication, and now a vaccine to increase chances of preventing it in the first place. There are also other holistic treatments not discussed here (acupuncture comes to mind). As everybody says: check with your doctor!
Shingles is a wild experience, and a wide array of approaches for getting through it can be helpful… I wish anybody who needs this information the very, very best in a speedy recovery.