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Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Hint of Lyme

I had the recent misfortune of finding this tick in my bed.
A few mornings ago, I encountered a tick in my bed.

I don’t think I’m the only one who would find this alarming. What made this discovery even more harrowing, however, was the fact that I had just finished a “New Yorker” article about “The Lyme Wars,” in which one victim of the tick-borne illness recounts how she would “just lie on the ground writhing.”

I, too, felt like writhing as I read Michael Specter’s dense and disturbing piece about how “many Lyme specialists believe that short-term antibiotic therapy may suppress symptoms but rarely cures the disease”; about how there is “no evidence that prolonged antibiotic therapy helps patients with Lyme, so insurance companies almost never pay for it”; and about how the incidence of the illness in this country is “growing rapidly.”

Specter lists “dozens of possible symptoms” of Lyme, including “headache, joint pain, neck stiffness, chest pain, bladder dysfunction, hypersensitive skin, unexplained fevers, weight loss, sweats, chills, fatigue, blurry vision, heart murmurs, sleep disturbances (including too little or too much), difficulty with concentration, lightheadedness, and mood swings.” On any given day, I could avouch for at least several of those—even before seeing a tick squirming in my bedsheets. Now I was certain I had Lyme.

So I ran screaming to my husband, who perused the Internet to appease me. Jeff identified my bedfellow as an American dog tick, which was a good-news-bad-news conclusion. I had, indeed, been sleeping atop a tick, but apparently it belonged to a variety that doesn’t usually carry Lyme.

“We’re doing all we can,” Jeff said, after we had inspected our own bodies and checked our three young children and dog for more ticks, before changing the sheets and pillowcases. “We can’t worry about this too much,” my husband counseled. “It’s just part of life.”

Then he went work, leaving me alone with the kids, the dog and the tick. So I decided to call the vet for reassurance.

“If it wasn’t on Buddy, then I wouldn’t worry about him,” she said.
“I’m more worried about me and my kids.”
“Well, I only treat animals,” she reminded me. “You’ll have to call your own doctor for that.”

Dialing our pediatrician’s office, I reached a nurse who reiterated that it was not American dog ticks but rather deer ticks, the ones the size of a pencil head, that usually carry Lyme. “They’re so small, they’re hard to detect,” she said.

I didn’t find that very comforting.

“Have you read ‘The New Yorker’ article?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“Well you should,” I retorted, deciding that I knew more about this disease than she did, and hung up feeling worse.

Later that day, I ran along the Cynwyd trail near our house, still trying to calm down, when I spied a pair of teenagers scaling a rocky ledge in the woods. ‘If they don’t fall to their deaths, they’ll probably come home with Lyme,’ I thought, shuddering, glad I wasn’t their mother.

My anxiety even infected our son.
“Is that a tick?” Griffin, 6, kept asking that afternoon in the yard, every time he spotted a mosquito or gnat.
“Ticks don’t fly,” I reassured him, unable to reassure myself.

Trying to keep our 7-year-old dog off our bed since finding the tick has also proven hopeless. We’ve settled for encouraging Buddy to nestle in a blanket at our feet, but he keeps creeping up to our pillows during the night.

Awaking each morning, my dog’s heated breath on my face, I am convinced I will find an engorged tick in my privates. And I’ve come to believe that I’ve not only contracted Lyme disease but also post traumatic stress disorder from staring down the barrel of a tick-loaded gun—aimed straight at the bright-red bull’s-eye I keep expecting to appear.