Lyme Disease: An Insidious Sickness
Nearly thirty years ago I came down with Lyme Disease. At the time, not a single doctor was able to diagnose me correctly. I was in the prime of my life, athletic, strong, with stamina to spare. Within a matter of weeks I was incapable of even getting out of bed.
Doctors diagnosed me with everything from rheumatoid arthritis, to MS, to fibromyalgia. They were all wrong. Lyme disease isn't common in Texas. There are some lyme ticks but not to the extent it is in the northeast--which is where I was only two weeks before everything went wrong on me.
It never occurred to me that a single tick bite I got on a camping trip in Wisconsin could lay me out like an invalid. It started with weakness in my joints, severe numbness, and finally headaches so profound, Greg couldn't stop me from crying. I was in so much pain I couldn't think straight.
We went to the emergency room. Then came a slew of tests with no conclusive results. I went to neurological specialists. I had only one anomaly. Apparently both hemispheres of my brain reacted to tests that should only produce results in one hemisphere at a time. I remember the doctor calling in a colleague for a consult. The older man said it was rare but not a symptom of disease. I'm just special that way. I would've laughed if I had felt better.
This went on for months. At one point I was so low I started writing out my will and a letter to Greg so he'd know everything I did for dogs, bills, and household itineraries.
I offered to quit my job, but my lovely boss refused. He gave me an indefinite leave of absence with a promise that my job would wait for me whenever I could get back. I have never seen such generosity since from an employer.
Almost weekly I went back to my regular doctor to let her know that my symptoms were getting worse. She'd prescribe more powerful narcotics and more specialists. Neither helped.
At the end, I was ready to die. I had exhausted all my options. We didn't have the internet back then, but Greg caught something on television about an insidious disease that came from a tick bite. He was shocked when he learned the symptoms. I was suffering from the same things.
We went back to the doctor and asked if this was possible, adding the new information that I had been bitten just before everything got bad. At the time there was no accurate test for Lyme, so she prescribed a much stronger antibiotic.
Nine months went by.
Slowly. Very slowly. I started getting better and stronger. It was humbling to have been so weak, especially when I had been at my prime. After feeling so poorly for so long, I didn't take anything for granted. I was careful with what I ate and drank. I walked in the fresh air when I could, but as soon as I started getting tired, I rested. I didn't want to jinx it.
Eventually, I went back to work, first for half days and then longer as I felt stronger. It took a long time to believe I was free from that curse.
Since then if I have even an inkling of those same symptoms a cold chill runs down my back.
Two weeks ago, I got bitten by another tick. It wasn't a lyme tick but I did get that telltale circular rash. It was then I decided to see the doc and get antibiotics--just in case. I never want to relive that episode again.
I tell you all this because I want you to take tick bites (or any bite for that matter) seriously. I waited far too long to get treated. There's a chance those symptoms might return later in life. There seems to be some indication that the bacteria can lie dormant, but it's more circumstantial evidence.
Things to know about Lyme
- Lyme disease is carried by the deer tick which is smaller than most common ticks. It's generally found in the northeastern and north central part of the US and southern Canada.
- Wear insect repellent with DEET.
- Check yourself and your clothes immediately after hiking in the woods or tall grass.
- Be a friend to opossums, guinea hens, snakes, and chickens. All of them like to eat ticks.
- Protect your pets with tick repellent.
- I highly recommend buying a tick remover. They're cheap, and they make it easy to remove the tick.
- Lavender, garlic, sage, chrysanthemum, beautyberry, and mint are good tick deterrents.
- If you get bitten, pay attention to any rashes. Seek medical attention if you feel the least bit ill. The sooner you can treat it, the quicker you'll recover if it is Lyme.
- Know that most tests for Lyme aren't very accurate. All your doctor can do is take every bit of information (especially your symptoms) into consideration.
- Don't give up. I know that's easier said than done. I suffered for months not knowing what was wrong and that made things worse.
Are ticks a problem where you live? Have you ever been bitten by a tick?