The Third Bite

After being infected with Lyme disease (twice), going untreated for over a decade (resulting in Chronic Lyme Disease), and being infected with multiple co-infections, it’s been a tough recovery. It’s been tough to accept these illnesses and symptoms as something I’ll have for the rest of my life.

June 21, 2014

I encountered one of the most terrifying things a “Lymie” can experience — another tick bite..again.

I’ve pulled many ticks off of pets (and even other family members). However, I’ve never had a tick removed from myself since I was very young. At first, just the sight of tick was emotionally difficult. Starting six years ago, when I  found out that my symptoms were caused by ticks/Lyme disease, I avoided going outdoors as much as possible (not that I was ever an “outdoorsy person”.)

Recently though, my anxiety had become much more manageable. What worked for me was talking about my fears with a therapist and being consistently exposed to ticks (by having to pull ticks off my dog and cat each year). These things helped reduce the anxiety, and let me go outside without stressing out  (the general anxiety I experience daily is another story).

The road to recovery never runs straight, flat, and smooth, with no bumps or hills. I’ve taken many steps forward and many more backward, mentally and physically.

Looking back, this incident was only a minor setback. At that moment though, it was the end of the world…

It was just before 6:00am on Saturday morning. I remember checking the time, as I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the past few months. When I had rolled over onto my shoulder, I felt something wasn’t right. It was sore and uncomfortable. I reached to massage my shoulder and felt a bump. “Please be a piece of food or something that’s stuck to me,” I said to myself. I knew it wasn’t — I didn’t eat anything in bed. I was searching of a logical explanation; a tick just couldn’t be an option.

I was half asleep, yet I could feel my heart was racing. I reached over my shoulder, using my fingers to pull off whatever it was. I felt my skin pull up with it, resisting. I again attempted to remove the thing, this time twisting it, then pulled. I was successful.

I held it in my hand as I reached for the light switch. Then I felt something crawl down my hand. I screeched, flung the thing, and heard it hit my pillow.

Only now do I turn on the light and wake up my boyfriend, which I should have done from the very beginning.

I turned on the light, and there it was. A tick…THE tick that bit me. I had never seen one move so fast. It seemed to effortlessly run across my pillow.

If someone had told me they did this, I would think that it was a horrible way of going about the situation. Or if I was asked, “should I try and pull something off my back, not knowing if it was a tick or not, or have someone look at it and help?” the answer (to me) would have been quite obvious (the second option). If you were by yourself, maybe I could understand it more, but to be with someone who could help you (not to mention having tweezers on hand), anything else would be silly.

It got me, it got me! Wake up, get up! There’s a tick in the bed!” I yelled to my boyfriend, “Don’t let it out of your sight!

I ran to the kitchen and brought him a ziplock bag. I couldn’t capture it myself.

The tick that bit me

The tick that bit me

He took my tweezers and placed it in the bag. I ran into the bathroom to examine the back of my shoulder. The tick bite was staring back at me in the mirror. I took a couple of deep breaths, telling myself it was fine.

I had him and the family check me for ticks, three more times. I took the sheets, along with the clothes I was wearing and put them in the dryer first (on high), then washed them in hot water (this will kill any ticks if there were any still lurking). We doubled checked the site of the tick bite to make sure the entire tick was out, though it was a good sign having the tick try to make a run for it. I cleaned the area with rubbing alcohol and showered in case there were any other ticks on me, and could potentially be knocked off or knocked loose.

I e-mailed my doctor explaining what happened and had them call in antibiotics right away.

At this point, my adrenaline rush was coming to an end. (For the most part) I had done everything I could have — should have — in that moment. I sat in the kitchen, replaying what just happened in my head. It all happened so quickly. I was exhausted, but too traumatized to go back into bed. I sat in the kitchen for a while, staring at the tick.

I’ll never get over the fact that this tiny, tiny creature can completely change your life.

I started thinking, ‘how did this happen’? This can’t happen! I take all the precautions! The pets are treated with Frontline, they don’t sleep in the bed (for this reason), they are checked each time they come inside, I check myself and have help checking for ticks. What did I do wrong?

The day before, I went for a short walk — only a few minutes — on a road (not on a trail, on path, or in the woods.) I did find one on the dog, but it hadn’t had time to attach (I checked her as soon as she came inside.) But that’s what I mean, I checked for them. It is possible I missed it? I feel that’s unlikely, since it was not your poppy seed sized tick. It was a big tick. Did I happen to wake up right when the tick bit me?  How long was this tick even on me?

I now had fallen asleep sitting up. I went in and out of sleep, crying, until my body became pained by fatigue. I went back to bed as my fatigue had overpowered my fears.

That night, I barely slept. I wish I could escape from reality in my dreams. Most of my nights are filled with night terrors of — you guessed it — ticks (and bugs in general).

I was bit by a tick …again. I can’t believe it, I just can’t. I try to keep in mind, what’s done is done. I can’t change what happened, but I can control how I handle it.

Next steps started forming in my brain. My first thought was to send the tick out for testing. A few months back, I received a fantastic donation of the Lyme-Aid tick testing kits. These were one of the best donations I’ve received! The kits have been one of the most successful ways I’ve been able to spread awareness about Lyme disease/ticks. Despite the horrible situation, I tell others that finding the tick is the best possible scenario (besides not being bitten by a tick at all!). You have found the tick, properly removed it, and now you can send it out to be tested.

That’s when I remembered, people come to me for advice, support, help, when they or someone they know are bit by a tick. What kind of example would I be setting if I didn’t handle the situation the same way I would advise others to?

The Aftermath

After a few days, it was a bit easier to look at the situation as if someone came to me and told me this. The first thing I would tell them, is that they did everything they could in the situation and that you can ask yourself all these questions (how could this happen, how long was the tick on me, etc.), but you are more likely to make yourself sick doing that. You’ll never know the answer to these questions. You could live in a plastic bubble, never leave your house and I think you could still run into a tick. But that’s no way to live, there’s no quality of life.

I have to admit, the initial actions of how I handled it (pulling the tick off myself when I had tweezers and another person to help me remove it) is something I definitely would recommend against.

Soon after sending out the tick, I realized it wasn’t a blacklegged tick, it was an american dog tick. American dog ticks are not known to spread Lyme disease but they do carry other co-infections like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Tularemia. While they are rare, especially RMSF in the northeast, I’ve already had it. These both can be fatal if not treated.

I stuck with my initial decision to take doxycycline (antibiotics) for 2 weeks. I followed up with my Lyme Literate Medical Doctors (LLMD). One is a psychiatric nurse practitioner; the other, a chiropractor and herbalist. The herbalist was able to determine that the tick did not spread any co-infections (I will have to talk about how he was able to do this in another post) but I still took the antibiotics for two weeks. I would have done a month if the tick bite site had gotten worse, if it were a back-legged tick, if it took me a while to start the antibiotics, or if any other factors were true.

It is very controversial, so I tell individuals to take a look at all the information that is out there (from reliable sources), talk to their doctors, talk to family members, and to remember that they can ultimately decide what method(s) of treatment is best.

Antibiotics

Doxycycline (antibiotics)

What you and I can take away from this…
  • Take (or keep taking) all possible precautions to prevent tick bites
    • Don’t think it won’t happen to you or don’t think it is pointless to take precautions
  • Be prepared, Plan ahead
    • Know what to do if you, a family member or pet is bit by a tick (have tweezers on hand, rubbing alcohol (to use AFTER to clean the site; do not use it to try and “draw out” or “suffocate” the tick with rubbing alcohol or any other methods you may have heard- these are all myths!)
    • Know how to properly remove a tick
    • Check your whole body for ticks, but really pay close attention to areas they like (ex. armpits, behind your ears, scalp, groin area)
    • Think of a treatment plan you want to follow in case you are bit by a tick (and with your doctor); do you want to treat it naturally, with antibiotics, maybe both? Do you want to send the tick out to be tested first?
  • Don’t stay indoors/avoid going outside just to avoid ticks
    • If you develop anxiety or any other mental illnesses/symptoms, please talk to your doctor. I truly understand if this has happened to you and know you are not alone. Nor should you feel ashamed. These fears are real and understandable, but cannot take over your life.
    • Again, this goes back to taking proper precautions; if you go outside, dress properly, wear bug repellent, etc.
  • Keep calm
    • I know easier said then done, but you will survive! I thought it was the end of the world in that moment, but looking back on it, I think of it as a learning experience and something that will make me stronger!

Sharing what it is like to live with Lyme disease & other chronic illnesses to spread awareness; health advocate;

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