Big surprises can come in pretty, little packages
August 31, 2009
- Small bite causes large problems
FORT POLK, La. -- All I wanted to do was mow my lawn. It was a warm Sunday morning, my beloved boyfriend had just placed a spanking new drive belt on my Craftsman rider, and I was just about to climb aboard when I noticed a little bug on my arm.
I mindlessly brushed at it, but it did not move.
I looked closer and discovered it was a tick. He hadn't been there long because he wasn't engorged yet, but he had been there long enough to bury his head, so I had to really tug to get him off.
I say "he" because, as I discovered later, it was male. I have seen ticks before, but this one was kind of pretty. He had bright red legs and mandibles and white striations down his back. I let him crawl around on my fingers as I inspected him, them flicked him back into the wind to disappear forever. I considered keeping him in case I ended up with Lyme disease, but the chances of that are quite small, right'
About a week later, I noticed a raised blister at the bite site. I tried to "pop" it, but nothing much came out.
The next day, I had a slight fever, and my blister looked a little yellow, so I slathered some good
old anti-bacterial cream on it.
The day after that, I had a higher fever.
By Friday, I was achy in my bones and very feverish. I thought I was getting "the crud" that had been going around the office.
Saturday morning I awoke to find more tiny blisters on several parts of my body, and the bite site was raised with a large red circle around it, a definite infection. My fever was fluctuating from 100 to 102.9, and no amount of Tylenol was reducing the fever, so I decided I should go to the emergency room.
While I was waiting for my dearest to get dressed, I finally decided to look up ticks on the Internet, just in case it was a Lyme disease carrier. It turns out Lyme disease is carried by brown-legged ticks, like the deer tick and American dog tick. My tick had red legs. Then I found two photos of a species called the Gulf Coast tick -- a male and female. The male has the white striations on the back, just like mine had.
I was relieved to discover this species does not carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. It does, however, carry different bacteria. This little guy is notorious for spreading something called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
I think I'd have preferred the Lyme disease.
Don't let the "Rocky Mountain" name fool you; it's only called that because that's where it was first discovered. The emergency room fixed me up with a tetanus shot and, because I am allergic to penicillin, a sulfa-based oral antibiotic and antibiotic cream for the wound.
I followed up with my family physician that Tuesday (he was out of town Monday) and explained my situation. He gave me another antibiotic and sent me for blood tests.
I began to feel better after using the second antibiotic, a great little drug called rifampin, which is also used to treat tuberculosis and meningitis. This stuff turns urine, sweat and tears red, so they recommend you don't wear contact lenses, as they will stain.
I followed up with doc again, and he said the blood tests were negative for the spotted fever. But, he said there was a chance that the antibiotics they gave me at the ER had begun to break it down before I could get my blood tested. Nonetheless, my doc treated me for spotted fever with the rifampin, and my symptoms went away, so it's pretty likely that's what I had.
Like a good little patient, I took all 15 days of my antibiotics. On day 15 I consumed the last pill, and thought I could at last mow the grass in peace.
After about two hours mowing, I came in to shower off. I was itchy, and thought it was from all the dust and clippings. No such luck. I had hives.
The hives were on me Saturday, Sunday and Monday, which was when I revisited the good doctor. Apparently, I had developed an allergy to the antibiotic and needed a steroid shot and antihistamines to get relief from the itch.
I got home from getting my shot, took a nap, and awoke to find hives on my lips and eyes, not to mention all the other strange places I found them. Miserable, I called the doctor's office to ask how long it would take the shot to take effect. Her reply: 24 hours. What' Another whole day of this infernal itching'
These three weeks of physical ailment gave me time to evaluate the actions, or lack thereof, that brought me all this misery. I should have:
Aca,!Ac Worn long sleeves and pants and bug spray to mow the lawn,
Aca,!Ac Kept the tick in a small container with a damp paper towel to prevent dehydration of the specimen, that way it would have been tested instead of me,
Aca,!Ac Left the 'blister' alone and seen the doctor after the first night of unbreakable fever, and
Aca,!Ac Visited the ER for the steroid shot Saturday instead of waiting for Monday morning to see my regular doctor (I thought I'd save a few bucks that way, but I paid for it with four days of scratching).
Now I am recovered (I think) from the trauma, but I felt it was important to warn others that big surprises can come in small, pretty packages. And by the way, darling, if you're reading this, would you mind mowing the lawn for the rest of the year'