When I started hunting a 20 years ago I never heard anyone talk about deer ticks nor did I ever see one. Today, ticks are one of the top things I think about when I'm in the woods (second only to The Big One). I've been bitten twice in the last 5 years and pulled countless off of me. They are evil little bugs that can change the course of your life if you don't pay attention to them. So, with so many hunters taking to the woods again this Saturday for the opener of Turkey Season it seemed timely to write about my experiences with ticks and Lyme disease in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of protecting yourself against ticks and as a reminder to check yourself every time you come in from the outside (not just the turkey woods).
The number of diagnosed Lyme disease cases is skyrocketing but far more go undiagnosed because doctors are not aware of it. If a patient does not present the classic Lyme symptoms (i.e - tick bite or a bullseye rash) many doctors won't even consider testing for Lyme unless asked to do so. It is a frustrating process and one I hope you never have to endure. In the following paragraphs I will recount the frustrating stories of a couple family members who went undiagnosed for a long time thanks to oblivious doctors and then end with a link to an article that has been floating around Facebook lately. This particular article explains the disease well but doesn't discuss the frustrating aspects of trying to reach a diagnosis which is why I will. Otherwise, I encourage you to click on the link to read more about it.
Case Study 1 - My wife: It all started when I got a call from her while she was at work when she told me she felt "really weird". She had tingling all over her hands and legs and felt spacey in her head. She made it through that day of work but things grew weirder and weirder (and more scary) as the week progressed. She was able to get in to see her PCP but that went nowhere. On Friday night of that same week the symptoms had reached a level scary enough to warrant a trip to the ER where we sat for 5 hours and were eventually told that she was probably experiencing an anxiety attack. (That went over really well...) This is where the lack of a tick bite and bullseye rash really put a block in the doctors brains. She was presenting with classic Lyme symptoms - achy, spacey head, tingly, fatigue, etc. yet the docs would not listen to her suggestions of Lyme. The blood tests had come back negative in the ER and to a Doc that is not Lyme literate this is enough to rule it out. The next day we went back to the ER again. The tingling sensation had progressed from the tips of her extremities to the core of her body. This progression is similar to that of another scary disease so at the council of a Neurologist friend we headed back to the ER again (for another 5 hours) to be safe. This time we had a new doc who listened a bit more thoroughly and did many tests including a lumbar puncture. Everything was normal again but we were extremely disappointed to learn that the Lyme test had been canceled. What the heck?
We were finally able to get a local doctor to at least prescribe some antibiotics even though Steph still didn't have a positive test result. This carried her over until she was able to locate a "Lyme literate" doctor in Manchester, NH. He listened to her and on the first meeting told her that he was convinced it was Lyme and would start treating it for her right away while waiting for more thorough test results to come back. Sure enough, the more accurate tests he ordered returned positive for Lyme. He was the 5th doctor she had been to and the first one who would seriously consider Lyme disease as a possibility.
It has been 9 months now and she still experiences symptoms every single day. It's frustrating to relive the process of trying to find a doctor who was willing to listen but if she hadn't been her own advocate she would never have received a diagnosis and she'd be in much worse shape, guaranteed.
Case Study 2 - My Dad (Hunter Extraordinaire): Dad has been dealing with Lyme like symptoms for a long time. Looking back it's obvious to see. He's been to the doctor countless times in an attempt to determine what was wrong. He's been told that he has arthritis, fatigue, and that he is probably just getting old. (That really happened - His doctor told him that he was just getting old.) Finally, after years of wondering, his doctor decided to test him for Lyme disease, and wouldn't you know it, the test came back positive. So, his doctor put him on a 4 week supply of antibiotics and case closed, right? Wrong. It seems another misconception among non Lyme-literate doctors is that the disease is curable similar to that of a minor infection. Just throw some antibiotics at it and you will be fine. They will tell you that you might feel the effects of the disease for a while (a lifetime) afterwards but the disease is really dead. It's frustrating for sure. Fortunately, Dad is also going to see a Lyme literate Doctor who will treat him more thoroughly.
Last fall my wife and I were having a casual conversation and we decided to count how many people we knew that had Lyme disease. We were surprised when we were still counting after 15 people. Just yesterday in church we could count 5 people sitting within one row of us that had been diagnosed with it. Lyme disease is on the rise and conducting regular tick checks is extremely important so you don't find yourself in a similar situation. In summary, I hope you will remember the following action points.
1. Conduct regular tick checks and take precautions when in tick prone areas. I love to hunt and I'm definitely not going to quit because of some dumb bug, but this dumb bug packs a big punch. Wearing tick repellent clothing, treating your clothes with Permethrin, and conducting regular tick checks needs to be part of your regular routine when coming in from playing in the woods or your yard.
2. Be your own advocate! If you think you may have Lyme disease do everything in your power to find a doctor that will listen. Time is of the essence and the sooner you are treated the better chance you have at making a full recovery.
3. Be informed! You can be better informed about the disease by reading the article below by Brett Harris. You can also learn by being married to someone who has been infected with it but I suggest reading his article - it's a much easier way to learn. He does a great job explaining the rise of the disease and provides many more links to other resources in the article.
Read this article: How to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases by Brett Harris
Happy hunting everyone and please be aware of ticks!
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