Shingles and the medicine man

Medical problems can be a challenge overseas. Lately, I’ve been beset by several – severe pain in my right hip to my calf (for 10 days now) that feels like the muscles are going to explode; an ear at about 80% hearing (I think because of wax buildup); and the latest – a strip of blotches/rash along my back wrapping to my chest.

I went to a clinic for the leg pain and was prescribed drugs that are not working, and now that the pain pill portions are gone, the pain remains. Working on the ear with hydrochloric acid.

Figured the rash was a reaction to my eating too many candied pineapple chunks. I’ve had similar reactions when eating too much sugar fudge. Some antiseptic cream seemed just fine. But my friend Non was not having any of it.

She left work this morning to come to me, to insist, yes insist, that I go with her for medical treatment. Shingles was mentioned, something I thought pertained to pain in your shins. What do I know?


Sorry about the focus but it’s a phone cam. Ingredients for the brown salve.

I argued that the clinics would be full by now and we should wait until they reopen at the end of the day. Not going to a clinic, she said. Then her best friend showed up, also skipping work. They both thought the rash was very serious.

How am I going to argue? So off we went, me on the back of a motorcycle, one of my favorite ways to travel.

Non’s friend was leading the way, down streets unknown to me, down alleyways, and finally on a street of decrepit homes. We stopped at one that featured an array of what looked like broken down motorbikes in front and numerous bird cages, some occupied, hanging from the ceiling.

shingles.doctor2An old man sat under the cages, mixing various herbs in clay pots. He was wearing a simple robe and was deaf. He was a local shaman, if that’s a name for a Thai medicine man. At any rate, his gig was providing traditional Thai medical treatments using herbs and oils.

I wished I had brought my camera, but these terrible cellphone photos will have to do.

I was instructed to sit on a wooden bench next to the doc’s medicines. Four women chattered away as he looked at my rash.

Then the doc poured a clear liquid into a shot glass. I figured it was his early morning boost. Instead, he sipped some and then blew it on my sores, doing that until all the rash had been covered. I’m guessing it was an alcohol wash.

Then he grabbed a small plastic pot where he had poured out an orange-brownish mixture. This, he and Non applied to my rash.

I was then instructed not to eat seafood or fowl for 3 days, which is two of the three foods I do eat, leaving only pork or vegan (NOT!). The doc gave me a small packet of the brown ointment and I was told to come back the next two days for more treatment.

I gave the ‘doctor’ 100 baht ($3).

Upon returning home, I asked what the rash was and was told again it was shingles. Doubtful, I looked it up. Yep, it’s shingles.

So what is shingles, and why did I get it?

People who have had chicken pox earlier in life retain the virus, in a dormant stage. At some point, it might ‘wake up’, causing shingles. They’re mostly annoying but can be dangerous if left untreated.

My shingles just happened to occur when I’m dealing with other issues. Comes in threes, right?

Bottom line: my two escorts were happy I had taken their advice. However, now I need to make that motorcycle ride two more days, but bringing a real camera tomorrow.

Thankful for friends.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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