Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tick Sick

I'm not really one to jump on the bandwagon of all of those awareness months out there, but I'll make an exception for May--Lyme Disease Awareness Month. I guess I'm kind of late to it, but I want to write about it because Lyme Disease has been a big pain for our family, and I want you to know about it so it's not too big of a pain for yours. 

Our war with Lyme started about 6 years ago when our oldest son,  then a 4-year-old, started limping. There had been no injuries, and the limp would come and go. No child that young could fake a limp so well. We asked him if he was in pain, but he didn't even seem to notice anything different. We wondered if it were growing pains or some other benign childhood thing, but took him to the doctor just in case something was wrong.

We were more than surprised when the first thing our doctor suggested was Lyme Disease. We had seen no tick. There had been no tell-tale bull's-eye rash. He had no fever. No aches. No anything except a once in a while limp. It turns out that our doctor knew a good bit more about Lyme than many other doctors because her husband had progressed to a later stage of Lyme before he was diagnosed. None of us liked the idea of putting our son on a month-long (or more) course of antibiotics, so she suggested we could think about it and observe since we were just about to leave for vacation. 

Later that week she called my husband's cell phone while we were camping to check how our son was doing. We told her the limp was still there, and she strongly urged us to go ahead with the medicine. About 3 days into the treatment, the limp went away for good. 

Then, just last spring, our 7-year-old second-born starting having some troubles. He didn't much feel like eating he said. Strange. He also started having some pretty bad headaches. And then he said that he didn't feel like doing his school work; it wasn't that he didn't want to do his work, but he said he felt like his brain just couldn't do it because it felt all foggy. Then his legs were hurting; sometimes the shin, sometimes the ankle. 

Each of these symptoms was unrelated in my mind. The lack of appetite, I thought, could possibly be just some phase. Of course, ever since he was little when the pollen was particularly bad he was prone to horrible headaches. And the school work? Well, I was pretty sick of doing school work and ready for summer break, too. The leg pain must have been growing pains or something; he'd had leg cramps sometimes before. While each of these problems troubled me, not one thing was enough for me to consider going to the doctor.

One day he had a sort of splotchy face. Was it too much sun? Maybe poison ivy or maybe one of his brothers scratched his face while they were wrestling around. The next morning he woke up with a rash. It wasn't an ordinary rash. It was faint circles. It put me in mind of ringworm, but it wasn't the same exactly. It wasn't scaly or anything like that. And I found it really strange that ringworm would pop up overnight all over his body--his face, arms, trunk, and legs. I considered Lyme Disease, but I had thought that bull's eye rash had to have a tick-bite center. None of these did. I took pictures and called the doctor.

You can see a small circle on the inside of the left calf and a larger one on the right calf.

Our doctor took one look at his rash and confirmed it was Lyme. She took pictures, too. He was started on a 4-6 week course of antibiotics. And he began to improve almost right away.

Then a couple of weeks later we were off to my brother-in-law's wedding in Ohio. Just as we got on the interstate, my oldest son (then 9 years old) said that he had a tick crawling on him. Great. He handed it up to me, and I couldn't believe how little it was compared to the other ticks we had picked off of our children and dog. But at least he'd found it, and it wasn't attached. I got rid of that tiny disease-carrier.

A few days later, at the wedding reception, my eldest started feeling sick. His head hurt. He just didn't feel good. We left a bit early and started driving back to my brother-in-law's house where he promptly vomited all over the bathroom floor. It seemed he had a stomach bug. While on vacation. Now we just had to get him better and wait for the other 4 kids to come down with it. Away from home. Sigh.

The next day his stomach was feeling some better, but he just felt horrible. He had a fever. Once in a while he felt well enough to be outside and playing whiffle ball, but mostly he just wanted to rest. The next day we headed home.

Over the next week or so, he seemed better, but sometimes was just tired or had a little headache. He wasn't always wanting to eat either. My husband and I were beginning to wonder. One day he had some splotchiness on his face--was the one splotch sort of part of a circle? The next day he had the same circular "bull's eye" rash all over his body. Our doctor told us not to second-guess ourselves when we had concerns again. She also said not to wait for the rash; call her if they ever had any of the other symptoms again. He got antibiotics, too-- 4-6 weeks.

Later in the summer, our dog had a weird "episode." It was like his back legs wouldn't work right, and he was really frightened and seemed to be in pain. After a few minutes it passed. We took him to the vet who tested for Lyme, but it came back negative. A few months later he had another shorter episode. Then another a few months later. We took him to the vet again. She x-rayed his hips (he had to be put under for that), but all was well with that. She did note that his back legs were not as developed as his front legs. And his Lyme test came back positive. You guessed it. Antibiotics.

It seems that we've had lots of battles that have turned out okay. But really, it feels like a never-ending war. I can't even count the number of ticks we've picked off of our children and dog. And couch. And refrigerator. In our house the boys (and man) get "summer" haircuts, not so they will be cooler, but so we can spot ticks more easily.

We just spent several hundred dollars and have built a coop for guineas which will be delivered in a couple of weeks, all in the hopes that when we can let them free range they will eat up all the little blood-sucking ticks. You might not realize it, but with a husband, 6 children, a dog, 3 cats, several fish, a large vegetable garden, homeschooling, and umpteen million unfinished projects I want to do, I don't really want the extra responsibility of guinea fowl. I don't want to be tied down with them.

More than that, though, I don't want any of my loved ones to have Lyme Disease. Really, we've been quite lucky in the Lyme department because we've caught it fairly early. I have a cousin who almost lost her vision because of Lyme. Another friend had shoulder problems and Bell's Palsy. I've read way too many horror stories about what untreated Lyme does. If you haven't and don't know much about the disease, you should type it in your favorite search engine right now and read about it. Become familiar with all of the many, many possible symptoms. Your or yours could have the disease and only have one or two or ten or no symptoms. Frequently tests for Lyme come back with false negatives. It mimics so many different diseases. It is frequently misdiagnosed. It can be chronic and difficult and expensive to treat. It can leave permanent damage.

That's my public service announcement for the year. Please educate yourself. It's not an ailment you want to play around with.

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