I have been a professional gardener for 15 years. I currently have Lyme disease and have had it twice before. Fortunately, the first two times I presented with the bull’s eye rash, a telltale sign that sometimes shows up after a tick bite. This third time, there was no rash, though I had, indeed, been bitten. In fact I’ve been bitten more times this year than all of my other years as a gardener combined.
I felt tired but had been working hard in the hot weather. I was having joint and muscle pains but blamed that on hard work too. And then one day I just knew something was wrong…I was sick. I went to the Walk In Clinic in Wainscot and after consultation with Dr. Kerr, got on a course of antibiotic.
When I went to The Time for Lyme seminar last Friday at The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, I learned that what had transpired for me was the appropriate course of activity: I had listened to my body and the doctor had listened to me. Diagnosing Lyme reliably with any test, at this time, is so impossible that the doctors at the seminar all said the diagnosis must be clinical. In the absence of sure signs like a bull’s eye rash, the doctor must ask appropriate questions and the patient must reply with thoughtful and careful consideration of their symptoms.
And I learned much more. There are many more tick borne diseases than I knew. There are many forms of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A tick bite can deliver more than one disease in that one bite. One may be bitten and not even be aware of the bite. A tick bite can cause diseases worse than Lyme. The symptoms can be confusing and disguise themselves as other conditions or diseases. Ticks live in our yards, at the beach, in the woods: all those places we love to be in the summer. They are so small and like to bite us in such discreet places that they are hard to detect. They can infect our pets and be brought into the house on them and then fall off onto the carpet or floor.
Am I trying to frighten you? Yes, enough to make you aware that tick born disease is a real concern in this area and the rates of infection are increasing.
What to do? The most important thing to do is to inform yourself. Time for Lyme has a very good website with great information and good links. They also highly recommend self-advocating. If you feel flu-like symptoms that don’t really behave like the flu, you may have Lyme disease. If you get a very high fever suddenly, you may have one of the other tick borne diseases and should seek medical help immediately. If you feel you may have Lyme and go to a doctor but do not receive the kind of attention you feel you need, speak up or go to another doctor. When you call, ask if this doctor knows about Lyme disease. Be persistent…
And here are steps to take to combat Lyme disease:
You can protect yourself. I spray my clothes and some exposed areas of my body every day before I go into the garden.
I have my loved one help me check myself every evening.
I pay close attention to aches and pains to evaluate their cause.
There is good news. The medical community, both doctors and researchers, are learning more about these diseases and doing research to find vaccines and better diagnostic tools. There are landscape design and maintenance methods that can help reduce ticks in your yard. There are ways to protect your pets.
There are spraying and pesticide programs to help reduce the tick population in your yard.
And, most importantly, there are groups like Time for Lyme that are informing the public, sponsoring research, monitoring and sponsoring legislation for research and establishing support groups.
The seminar, for me, accomplished its mission. It informed me and it told me to inform myself further.
Inform yourself about this increasingly prevalent disease and the diseases that can come from a tick bite. Start with the Time for Lyme website: www.timeforlyme.org
For gardening discussion call 631-434-5067.