Living With Lyme, Part 1: A tick

Three years ago on May 5th (I remember because it was my best friends birthday) I was bit by a tick. The circumstances surrounding the tick bite aren’t to be considered ‘normal’. I say this because after a 21st birthday celebratory tequila shot, it became imperative for us to go onto the roof to look for shooting stars. Access to the roof was through the backyard-a yard that was, for the most part, mowed. Some miscellaneous debris and random weeds poked through here and there, but it in no way resembled a jungle.

The walk through the backyard to the roof access takes less than 20 seconds. So, when I woke up bright and early the next morning with a tick happily nomsing on my left shin, I can only assume it was from that brief-less-than-a-minute time that I spent in a fairly well kept backyard.

Recently a medical professional told me that it was “my fault” that I have Lyme disease because I chose to go hiking in the woods (I paraphrase). Ignoring the blatant judgment, and obvious lack of doctor/patient care communication skills, it was immediately clear to me that this person knew nothing about Lyme and the ticks that spread it.

Most flyers and pamphlets that you will find in doctor’s offices will tell you to check yourself before and after you go for a walk in the woods (or to not go for walks in the woods), specifically at the ankles and waist. Most say to wear certain types of clothing when hiking, or repellent to help prevent ticks. Well, what about the people who absolutely detest hiking but get bit by a tick anyways? What about the ‘indoorsy’ folks of the world? (Gasp! Yes there are a few of us here in Maine, but we are here and happy about it.)

My point is this: ticks are everywhere, and multiplying in droves every year. For some, yes-they went hiking. For others, there is just a perpetual dark cloud of plain bad luck following them-or is that just me? You can get bit anywhere. Wherever there is nature, there may be ticks. Your cats and dogs can easily bring them into your house-so make sure that even they are up to date on their vaccines and whatnots.

The symptoms following my tick bite were textbook. Within days I presented with the typical “bulls-eye rash”. However in my case it looked more like a squiggly drawing of a jelly fish. Another tip! This whole “bulls-eye rash” thing is not to be taken quite so literally anymore. As long as you present a rash at the site, you are good to go for a round of antibiotics.

But let’s not forget all of the other fun symptoms! There’s body aches, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, etc. Of course, if you type all of these into WebMD you will find that you could have anything from the common Flu, to Leukemia, to ALS. Fear not! You were just bit by a tick.

Now let’s say you don’t know you were bit by a tick. It feeds on you like a vampire, falls off, and you go about life like the happy unaffected person you deserve to be. What then? Because I’ll admit it, these symptoms are about as freakin vague as they come. It could be just a cold, really. What do you do then?

Unfortunately, the key here is this: prevention, prevention, prevention and awareness, awareness, awareness!!! I realize how unhelpful that is, but there it is. If you present with these vague symptoms, you cannot ignore them. If a few weeks, or months go by and the symptoms come back, or become worse you need to see your doctor. One of the problems diagnosing Lyme is how vague the symptoms are. Which is the main reason behind why so many doctors for so long believed that Lyme disease was mostly a fantastical mental illusion created by the patient.

You’re biggest hint that you may indeed have Lyme is the body aches. Your joints will become excruciatingly painful for no apparent reason. The knees are the most common joint affected. And the fatigue. You will fight through it, but you will be exhausted. If you don’t know if you were bitten by a tick, keep your eyes peeled for these two major, worsening symptoms: arthritic level joint pain, and unbelievable exhaustion.

Next week: what these vague symptoms can turn into (and in my case did), the absurd journey I went on to get diagnosed with Lyme disease and the antibiotics they put you on.

Hannah Barry

About Hannah Barry

I am a 26-year-old Mainer. I was bit by a tick 4+ years ago and I've been battling Lyme disease and its various coinfections ever since.