For those who may not know, May is Lyme Disease Awareness month. If you live in the Northeast, I’m sure you know someone whose life has been affected by the disease. It’s becoming prevalent across the country, but many people suffer for years because doctors don’t believe they’re actually sick.
My Personal Story
I had Lyme Disease in July 2008. It started with flu-like symptoms and progressed into pain that I can’t even describe. I had a headache that made me cry. My body ached like it never had before. I could barely walk down the stairs. I had a fever that sent me into both chills that made me cover up with dozens of blankets (in July) and sweats that soaked through my pillow. I was tired constantly. I had no idea what was going on until I stepped into the shower on July 3 and saw an enormous bulls-eye rash high on my left thigh. I consider myself extremely lucky for having that rash because it doesn’t alway materialize. (It’s not true that it appears in all cases — it doesn’t). I was able to get into the doctor’s office and my NP didn’t even bother with a blood test. She called my case “classic” and the rash was large enough to warrant a prescription immediately. I was on a 21-day course of doxycycline. It worked, but it was a while until I felt normal.
And lest you think Lyme Disease only happens during the warm weather… in January 2010, my then-4-year-old was diagnosed with it. His only symptom was a swollen knee that was causing him to have difficulty walking. He never complained of pain, nor was he lethargic. Originally we though he injured his knee by falling on the tile, but when we took him to the pediatrician, she immediately suspected Lyme Disease, especially when we told her we remembered pulling a tick off of him a month earlier on an unusually warm December day. She urged us to take him to the lab for the blood test (though we didn’t need convincing), and two days later I got a call that he tested positive for Lyme. He was on a lengthy course of amoxycillin, and that seemed to clear it up. We’ve had no problems since then.
Deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks) carry the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. The nymphs are as small as a poppy seed and can be tricky to spot, which is why it is important to know what to look for. Here is a chart for comparison.
It’s both a blessing and a curse to live in an area where Lyme Disease is common. At least our doctors believe us when we tell them our suspicions. That’s not the case in other parts of the country. Believe it or not, there are doctors that deny Lyme Disease’s existence, insisting that the excruciating pain and other symptoms are all psychosomatic. To learn more, I’d highly recommend watching the documentary “Under Our Skin.” You can view the trailer here. I believe that many PBS stations will be airing the film this month, and I know it is also available on Netflix (including streaming).
There is so much misinformation about this disease, and for some reason the medical establishment does not seem to want to find a cure. (That is not to say all doctors fall into this category — there are many wonderful doctors, including our own, who are vigilant and many who dedicate their lives to this disease). I wish the pharmaceutical companies would put a fraction of the effort into finding a vaccine or cure for Lyme Disease as they do for finding ways to make an old man’s erection last. But I’m not confident that will happen.
The best we can do for now is work on prevention. Here are some tips:
- Use insect repellent with 20% – 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing to prevent tick bites. For most things I prefer natural options, but in this house you don’t go outside without a healthy dose of bug spray. I’ll take my chances with the DEET.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks to keep ticks off your skin. Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help keep ticks on the outside of clothing.
- Check for ticks every single night. “Tick checks” are a part of summer in our home. Be sure to look under the arms, scalp, and groin.
Unfortunately, I think I will always live in fear of this disease. Last summer I noticed a dot on my leg while I was in the shower. I convinced myself it was a tick and picked away at it until it started bleeding. Turns out, it was a mole.
To learn more, start by visiting LymeInfo.net. There are plenty of other sites, as well. Lyme Disease is not a joke, it is not something to take lightly, and it is most definitely real.