According to Duane Gubler, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insect-borne diseases were responsible for more human illness and death in the 17th to 20th centuries than all other causes combined.”
Could a little, painless, bug bite devastate your life? The answer I can say with certainty is yes! I am a 47-year-old woman who has suffered for 35 years because of a simple tick bite.
I am pretty bugged about the life-altering bite, but even more ticked off at the medical neglect that some Lyme disease sufferers endure. I know five local people who are certain they got their fateful bites at Lake Nacimiento, Lake Lopez, or Santa Margarita, yet they were told that Lyme disease does not exist on the Central Coast of California.
I grew up in Arizona, where I was a rambunctious little tomboy who loved to camp, ride my motorcycle, and hike. Being in nature has always been my addiction, one I now fear at times. I was always running around in the woods and bushes, as a child, and finding a tick on me afterward was normal.
But one particular tick bite at age 12 is burrowed into my memory. I noticed I was losing hearing in one of my ears. My Daddy discovered an engorged, nasty tick embedded in my ear canal that had obviously been there for a few days.
Around the time of that bite I recall coming down with fierce, flu-like symptoms. I missed two weeks of school. I lay in bed and cried with a raging fever, muscle pain, and sweats. It felt like a monster was in my body moving from one joint to the next, eating me alive. Little did I know how very right I was: It was the beginning of a very long, painful, and frustrating journey.
I gradually became unable to sleep because of joint and muscle pain. I always felt like I had the flu and missed lots of school. I remember falling asleep in classes and getting into trouble. My grades faltered, though I had been a good student.
By high school I was still suffering but trudging forward, believing it would eventually go away because of what the doctor told my parents—that I was having “growing pains.”
I managed to be a cheerleader and even became the first female school president going into my senior year, in short, a go getter! Who knows, I might be running for president today but for that eight-legged insect. That summer, all hell broke loose in my body. I gained 30 pounds and every joint became red hot and swollen.
I visited a new doctor and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 18, and vividly remember being told the news. The doctor crippled his fingers up and said, “You will look like this and be in a wheelchair by the time you are 30!”
Unfortunately, I was not tested for Lyme disease back then, because the disease was not really recognized. Had I have been tested early and given a round of antibiotics I may have had a shot at a normal life, not a life in pain.
I had to drop all activities, everything I loved. I barely graduated from high school because I had so many sick days, but forged on through three years of college. Lyme disease destroys the immune system and, as a result, I was constantly ill, being around kids and germs while doing my student teaching. I ended up with shingles for two weeks.
I moved home, got married one year later, and ever since have continued to be vigilant and hopeful for an answer to the never-ending, excruciating pain everwhere and the relentless fatigue. I have seen countless doctors during the last 35 years, have tried some pretty wild therapies, and spent a fortune just trying to have a life.
Through the years I have had a slew of diagnoses—rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein Barr virus, fibromyalgia—I will spare you the rest of the “labels” slapped on the real culprit, Lyme disease.
The ailment is regarded as the “Great Masquerader” and the “Disease with 1,000 Faces.” It is often misdiagnosed, confused with a variety of chronic illnesses, including even ALS, Parkinson’s, lupus, and MS, and is even suspected in some Alzheimer’s cases.
A few doctors suggested I see a psychiatrist because nothing really showed on my blood tests. I must be a crazy, depressed, hypochondriac? I was starting to believe them until I did my own sleuthing and requested a proper Lyme disease test.
Lyme is a very stealthy bacterium that can morph and hide very effectively! If you have had it for a period of time and it is not caught shortly after the bite, chances are it may not show up with regular blood tests. If you are battling a mystery illness and wondering whether you may have Lyme disease, I recommend reading about the illness, getting proper testing, and finding a Lyme-literate doctor. The best blood test I am aware of is through IGeneX LABS, in Palo Alto, California (800-832-3200).
ABC News recently broadcast a report on Lyme disease, stating that it may be the pandemic of the 21st century. The documentary Under Our Skin: The Untold Story of Lyme Disease is a real eye opener!
For more information on Lyme disease, visit the websites canlyme.com, lymediseaseassociation.org, and learn about the new documentary on Lyme disease, Under Our Skin, at www.underourskin.com.
Jacque Simmons lives in SLO County. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.