Lyme: A Sick Sign of the Times

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By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — Ailments?

You name them, I have — or had — them.

Whenever I’m asked to go over my list of daily medications, it takes longer than eating soup with a fork.

I’m a medical dictionary with legs.

As much as I vowed not to be my father’s son, well, I’m my father’s son.

Migraines? Check. High blood pressure? Check. Diabetes? Check? Seasonal allergies? Check?

Bad ticker? So far, so good (digits crossed).

Although I tend to dodge the flu bullet, bronchitis and strep throat know my name as if I was Norm walking into Cheers to add another brew to his tab.

I wouldn’t say I’m sickly, but I have been sick.

And never as sick as I was during the weekend of July 4, 2014.

That’s when I was stricken with Lyme disease.

It happened on a schlep through the torturous Long Island Expressway (LIE), which I call the “Big Lie” because it should not have the word expressway in the title, just to visit Cape May 2.0 – Mystic, Conn.

Mystic was nice enough, I guess (eye roll), but it sits perilously close to a town called Old Lyme, Conn. We were there, in the birthplace of Lyme disease, for a visit to one of those beaches that isn’t really a beach and I had the temerity to sit on a bench in the shade and listen to some tunes.

A few days later, we were in the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and I was shivering as if the joint was a meat locker. I had to sit outside, in the warmest spot I could find, for some cold comfort.

The ride home was just as bad. It was clear I was not well. I remember being in a Wawa outside of Chalfont, again shivering and feeling so close and yet so far from our front door and my own bed.

Because we have a family tradition of not knowing how to use any of our 17 “easy-to-use” thermometers, we were only guessing at the level of my fever.

It wasn’t until I checked out an irksome rash on my hip that it all made sense. I Googled “Lyme disease” – birthplace Old Lyme, Conn., where 7 in 10 ticks carry the disease – and the rash was a match to the traditional bull’s eye that deer ticks leave on the hide of their victims.

Because of the holiday weekend, there was no way I could wait to see my family doctor (he would have probably just told me to lose weight anyway, since that’s his solution to everything), so we spent Independence Day in the ER.

The doctors and nurses — and assorted others — were at-first dubious of my self-diagnosis but were quickly made believers.

The problem, I was even more ill than I thought. Too ill to even treat until they stabilized my vital signs with an IV drip and began chipping away at my 103.5 fever.

I left a few hours later as a “lucky one.” Lyme disease is not something you want to miss, and it was caught early. My fever went from a 103-101 seesaw to a 101-99 seesaw and then normalized by the end of the week.

But the rest of the month of July was, pretty much, one long nap. I’m not just talking my typical middle-aged lazy guy naps (I’m an Olympic Nap medalist going back to the 1988 Games).

These were more like daily comas.

While it would be a stretch to say I had any serious lasting effects, I can also say I was never quite the same.

And to think it was all caused by miniscule blood-sucking insect that, to my mind, serves no earthly purpose.

I wouldn’t wish Lyme disease on my worst enemy — well, maybe a Dallas Cowboys fan from Philadelphia (I’ll let you slide if you are from Texas) — and it’s encouraging that there is awareness and measures to take when being outdoors (my solution is to avoid the woods altogether, but I know some of you don’t understand the wonder of a temperature-controlled environment).

But here is the bitter reality, and all the hiding inside can’t get us around it: Lyme disease is only going to rise as one of the many signs of climate change.

LymeDisease.org issued the ominous results of a new study by Carnegie Mellon University and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, which looked at the relationship between climatic variables and the occurrence of Lyme disease in 15 U.S. states and predicted — not warned, but predicted — an approximate 20 percent increase in Lyme disease by mid-century, with 95 percent of the cases in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

“Tick-borne diseases are an important public health concern and the incidence of these infections is increasing in the United States and worldwide,” said Igor Dumic, researcher at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and the Mayo Clinic Health System, who led the study. “Lyme disease is a classic example of the link between environmental factors and the occurrence and spread of disease.”

Those who refuse to acknowledge that climate change does not exist, don’t realize that it already affects them in ways they can’t fathom, and it may not become more real until their house burns up in a California wildfire or if a tick does what it did to me — crawls up and bites them on the butt.

The aforementioned study, which appeared in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, is enough for me to keep my eyes glued wide open.

From 1991 to the present, it has been raining Lyme ticks. From then until the present, cases after have risen from 10,000 to 28,000 per year the last five years, and I was caught without an umbrella in the place for which the scourge is named.

The fact that I caught my bout with Lyme early enough to avoid permanent damage was worth all those lottery tickets that never net me more than enough to buy more.

I know what it’s like not to be well, generally. Specifically, I know what it’s like to have Lyme disease.

Sadly, with no one immune to the environment, more of us are in line waiting to have our numbers called.

This column originally ran in The Times Herald on Dec. 9.

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