“Your test for Lyme disease was positive.” she said.
“Oh, shit,” I said to my husband after I hung up from the call. “You should have Lyme disease, not me,” I said.
I was not being spiteful or wishing this upon him. It was just an observation about which of us had exposed him/herself to risk more often. He has bird dogs and hunts. He spends hours and days in the fields and woods where ticks live. He has pulled ticks from his dogs and his body on many occasions. He has visited the ER for tick removal. He carries a little plastic tick remover on his key chain. He has never been prescribed antibiotic treatment though, presumably because the ticks never held on long enough to infect him.
We live in the country and deer are daily visitors to our yard and fields. As I sit typing, one of them is rustling the high grass in the field. Mice squeeze in through those tiny crevices of a 100-year-old farmhouse. Perhaps we should get that cat my daughter wants for our grandson. When my son’s cats were here, those little creatures did not escape their claws.
It really does not matter whether you live in city or country though. At my son’s house in Swissvale, deer were a daily sight in his front and back yards. They could be seen claiming the right-of-way and stopping traffic on the street in front of his house. A nurse working at Children’s Hospital told me they were seeing a lot of Lyme there. The ticks are on the playgrounds with our children and grandchildren.
In The Beginning
My husband recently experienced knee pain. When he described his symptoms, I diagnosed a tear. “OK, Doctor Yockey,” he said. When he came home with that very diagnosis, I teased; “I guess I am a doctor.” Unfortunately my medical knowledge comes from personal experience. Though I have known a few people who had Lyme disease, none of them were close friends who shared their symptoms with me. My knowledge of Lyme disease was limited.
My First Mistake
My first mistake was not insisting on a Lyme disease test when the disease was first mentioned. I was not proactive for my health at the doctor or at home. I never saw a tick or examined myself when I had been in our woods. So when the nurse mentioned Lyme disease as the reason for a rash I had not even noticed, I should have asked for a Lyme disease test. Why did she not suggest it? Was it because I had not come to them for that complaint? At the Butler ER a couple of days later for another complaint, I mentioned the rash again. That nurse confirmed that my rash could be indicative of Lyme but did not suggest the test or even that I visit my doctor. I did visit my doctor a couple of days later. That was when the Lyme disease test was ordered. The Physician’s Assistant wondered aloud why neither of my visits to medical facilities had produced a Lyme disease blood test. The next day the doctor’s office called for my pharmacy information to call in the prescription for 30-day round of antibiotics.
“Does this mean the test was positive?” I questioned. “It’s a precaution,” she said. It was several days later when someone called with that positive result.
After I completed the round of antibiotics, the doctor’s office called with more test results. I asked if they would retest me for Lyme disease now that treatment was done. She said she would call back later with that answer.
No retest, she told me on that return call. I questioned that answer with my reasoning.
“I thought the antibiotics would knock out the infection, so wouldn’t a retest confirm that?” I quizzed. She said she would call me back with that answer.
A couple of days later the physician’s assistant who had treated me called with more test results and answers. She told me that once you are positive for Lyme disease, the antibodies remain. That would make any retest positive. OK, that made sense then. My reply was that it seemed as if we would just be waiting for more symptoms to develop to confirm whether those antibiotics hit the bull’s-eye of Lyme disease.
But….you can be infected again by a tick bite, so if I develop symptoms later; I might never know from which tick bite they originated. Is it too late to be super cautious? Never! I will hope the antibiotics were potent defense and be more proactive now.
Learning About Lyme Disease
A few days after my conversation with the physician’s assistant, I got an information sheet about Lyme disease from her. It was printed from Wolters Kluwer UpToDate® (http://www.uptodate.com/home©2016 UpToDate®) website. I went to that website to read a few other articles suggested at the bottom of those sheets. Their website is a paid subscription, so I went to other sites for more information.
From Wolters Kluwer and others:
The UpToDate® printout said that a tick infects a person only if it is attached for at least a day.
A doctor on a morning show said recently that the tick must be attached for 36 hours to infect a person while a neighbor-nurse told my daughter it was 48 hours. I never saw a tick at all and wonder how I could miss it for that long. I really do bathe daily. My husband told me that I would feel it clinging and digging in. So where was that little bugger that infected me?
Some of the symptoms for Lyme disease are the rash that is often described as a bull’s-eye, aches and pains, fever, headache, stiff neck, and heart problems. Passing out (or dizziness) was also listed on one site.
My rash was large red splotches on my arm, chest, stomach and legs. Did that mean I was bitten in all those places or that the rash spread? I had not even noticed those red splotches on my skin, perhaps because I was too focused on my back pain.
I had several of the other symptoms including the two instances of passing out as well as a headache and stiff neck. I attributed those to my crash into objects as I passed out. If only I had seen that stealthy tick, I might have removed it before it could infect me.
UpToDate® mentioned the blood test for diagnosis but noted that it takes some time for a test to be positive. There is no point in doing the test immediately, and they even suggested that a doctor might diagnose Lyme disease from a patient’s symptoms without a blood test.
I was treated with the round of antibiotics as well as having some of the symptoms indicative of Lyme disease. How long does it take for a positive result from a blood test? My husband added that dogs often test positive for Lyme disease when they do not have it. He then compared my aching back to the aches and pains that dogs experience with Lyme disease. He seemed to want to equate my symptoms with his dogs. Certainly we do share many things with our pets.
For the Future
The CDC recommends that you wear repellent, shower soon after being outdoors, check for ticks daily, and call your doctor if you have a rash.