During these lovely summer days we’re tempted to be outside enjoying nature, but beware: predators lurk in the weeds. Here in the Midwest, we’re in a Lyme disease area so I thought it might be a good idea to let you know what symptoms to watch for, a task made sadly easier when my associate Dr Rubin, known for his love of the outdoors and risky gardening habit…well, I’ll let him tell you what he did on his summer vacation.
From Dr Rubin:
My first symptom, a headache, actually awakened me from sleep. “Must have been the wine,” I thought, resuming my slumber. But in the morning, the headache was still with me, along with a peculiar sense of tiredness and brain fog. When I tried some t’ai chi, I could tell my balance and coordination were definitely impaired. “Ugh. I hope I’m not coming down with something,” I thought, opting for a morning nap in a comfortable Adirondack chair.
When I awoke no more than 20 minutes later, everything was worse: headache, body aches, chills. “Damn it. My vacation and I’m getting the flu.” Everyone was sympathetic, but everyone was also just fine. Later, this fact would help diagnose what was happening.
The next three days were awful. “This is the flu from hell. Maybe I should have had the flu shot.” Now the headache went into high gear, quickly followed by persistent and extremely painful aching in my back, hips, and legs, rounded out by fever, night sweats, and bed-shaking chills.
I prayed for sleep, which rarely came.
By the fifth day, the fever and chills were down and I felt a tad better, but the muscle aches and headaches persisted. Thinking this was no way to spend a vacation, I flew home, staggered into the office for a couple of Meyers’ cocktails (the intravenous vitamin mixture we administer for its antiviral and immune-stimulating effects) and a few days later felt well enough to return to work.
What puzzled me was this: the flu season was over. Even though I didn’t remember any tick bite, I’d been gardening a lot at our weekend home in Wisconsin (something my traveling companions had not been doing), and so I tested myself for Lyme disease.
As if some evil spirit were trying to get even with me for trying to diagnosis myself, all my symptoms returned in full force the following day. Just to cover the Lyme possibility, Dr E wrote me a prescription for the antibiotic doxycycline. I would remain on it until my test results came back. We could always stop the drugs if the test came back negative.
But they didn’t. I had Lyme disease.
Today, completing the currently recommended one month course of doxycycline, I’m definitely better, although even now I still feel in “recovery mode.”
Dr E’s comments:
Sensibly and safely living in the big city of Chicago, largely isolated from Mother Nature’s wrath, I have to say I’d never seen an actual case of acute Lyme disease until Dr Rubin’s.
We regularly test patients who come to us with severe flulike symptoms out-of-season or who’ve been bitten by a tick in a Lyme-rich area, but the test results routinely come up negative. Nevertheless, because doxycycline is a really safe antibiotic, I agree with the current CDC recommendation to treat patients like Dr Rubin who have an out-of-season bad flu or who are returning from a high-risk Lyme disease area (like some parts of Wisconsin), recognized tick bite or not.
Apparently Dr Rubin’s brain fog and headache weren’t severe enough to interfere with his diagnostic skills. He only needed me to write the prescription. If he’d had the same symptoms during the tick-free, gardening-free winter months, he’d likely be among the dozens of others with flu.
For a look at the villainous deer tick and the typical bulls-eye skin lesion that’s linked to Lyme disease, click here and then though the first few photographs in the slideshow. Most people, but certainly not all, get the bulls-eye sign. Dr R is among the latter.