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Lyme Disease–The Curse of the Great Outdoors, by Martta Kelly

My day ended like every other day, with me standing in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing my teeth before bed. On this night, however, something was different.  After brushing my teeth, I smiled, and I noticed something was not quite right.  My smile was crooked, and try as I might, I could not straighten it out.

I asked Tom if he noticed anything different about my smile and whether out of kindness or drowsiness, he said he did not.  I told him that I thought my smile was crooked. He said he didn’t notice anything.  But I know my body, my face, and I knew something was terribly wrong.

The next morning, not only was my smile crooked, but the whole right side of my face was off.  I couldn’t raise my right eyebrow as high as my left one and I could not wink my right eye.  I could close it but I could not wink it. When I was not smiling, my right lip drooped.  My first reaction was that I had suffered a stroke.

This time, Tom did notice that something was not right, but he assured me that I was not having a stroke.  After all, I could still walk without losing my balance, chew and swallow, speak without slurring my words.  I knew my name, could recite my address, and knew who lived in the White House.

Tom seemed to think I had Bell’s Palsy, a temporary paralysis of the facial muscles that is brought on by any number of causes: stress, trauma, a virus, sleeping near a draft, pregnancy (not in my case!).  He had first hand experience with this, as his eldest son had it as a young man. At any rate, we both felt that a trip to a neurologist was in order.

The neurologist reassured me that I did not have a stroke, but confirmed that I did have a mild case Bell’s Palsy. He said that it would clear up on its own in a couple of weeks.  He did offer to put me on prednisone for a week to speed things up. Being an impatient person anxious to get her smile back, I took it.

That was the good news.  The bad news, he told me, was that Bell’s Palsy could be a symptom of tick-borne Lyme disease and he suggested that I be tested, adding that there’s been an epic number of Lyme cases in our area this year.

When you are tested for Lyme, they first perform a blood test called ELISA.  If it comes back negative, you do nothing, but it’s suggested that you get retested six months later.  If it comes back positive, however, they send you for a conclusive test called the Western Blot. This is because the ELISA test often reports false positives.  Both my ELISA and Western Blot came back positive.

I was not at all surprised I had Lyme.  After all, I spend an inordinate amount outdoors, working in my garden mostly.  Our house backs up to a wooded area that is part of a golf course.  All of this greenery, naturally, attracts critters of all kinds, including deer and their nasty ticks. I also don’t dress properly for working in the garden.  I embrace summer and work around the yard in shorts, t-shirts and open-toed sandals.

The doctor asked me how I was feeling otherwise and that was the strange thing: I felt pretty good.  No aches and pains, no fever, no headaches, no rash from a tick bite.  I did tell him that I was not running up to par.  He reassured me that that was probably  more of a direct effect from the heat wave we had been having. When you have Lyme, he explained, you’re more sensitive to the heat.  Fatigue is be a symptom of Lyme but it’s an overwhelming fatigue.  I did not have anything like that.

I was given a 28-day regimen of an antibiotic (doxycycline).  The doctor was confident that I will make a full recovery but he explained to me that even though I will always have the Lyme antibodies, those antibodies do not provide immunity. That means if I am not careful, I can get infected again.  So no more open-toed sandals in the garden. It was also recommended that I wear insect repellent when I am out in the garden or woods (something with Deet as an ingredient). I was also told to avoid running or walking in high grasses because that is where ticks like to hide out.

Tom was also tested but remarkably, his test came back negative.  It was recommended that we both get re-tested in 4-6 months.  Fun stuff!

Despite all of this, I’ve kept up with my running but I didn’t sign up for any July races, mostly due to the heat.  As of this writing, I am off the antibiotics and each day I run, I feel stronger and stronger and have been able to tackle longer distances again so I take that as a good sign.

So as much as I cursed the Bell’s Palsy, it led me to get tested for Lyme, which was caught early, so it was a bittersweet blessing in disguise.

The takeaway from all of this is that, unfortunately, we lovers of the great outdoors, and outdoor sports, have to be careful.  Check yourself for ticks before you go in your house, check your clothing, your kids, your pets. Wear insect repellent.  It’s also not a bad idea to get tested for Lyme when you go for your yearly physical.  Everyone is different, not everyone will have symptoms, not everyone will have a visible skin reaction to a tick bite. There’s a lot we don’t know about Lyme but there is one thing the experts agree upon: The earlier it’s caught, the better.

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