Well, hello. It’s been so long since I wrote a blog post, I had to make a new blog. But I’m just sitting here feeling kinda crappy, so what else do I have to do? (Spoiler alert: if reading about the minute details of other people’s illnesses isn’t your jam, you might want to go find something else to do with the next six minutes of your life. No hard feelings. Long story short: Lyme Disease sucks.)
So, a week and a half ago, I was tromping through the woods in upstate New Hampshire. “But Sarah,” those of you who know me will say, “you live in Oregon.” Yes, I do. I was in New Hampshire on a research trip for the book I’ve been writing for about ten million years. And yes, tromping through the woods was part of the research.
I was there with my mom, which might have been part of the reason we maybe weren’t as good about the tick checks as we should have been. What forty-year-old wants to get butt-naked in front of their mom? Or vice versa. So she looked at my back, and I looked at hers, and we just kind of did the rest of our bodies ourselves. Turns out, there are other parts of our own bodies we really can’t see with the eyes on our heads.
Cut to last Thursday. I’d been home from New Hampshire for a few days, and I was sitting at my son’s baseball game when all of a sudden I didn’t feel so good. I felt bad about not walking over to say hi to my son’s friend’s mom before I left, but I just couldn’t. I had to get home Right. Then. My husband found me crumpled on the couch about half an hour later.
The first couple days were okay. I had fevers that rolled up and down like a roller coaster--you’re shaking with chills, it’s getting higher, you feel like you might incinerate, you’re at the top, you start to soak your clothes with sweat, you’re coming down!--but the fevers only got up to the 101 range, and I felt well enough to sit in bed and write. Well, my head hurt. And my body ached. And I had the teensiest bit of a cough. But really, I was okay.
Sunday morning, everything changed. My husband is a pastor, so he left the house at zero dark thirty as he always does on Sunday mornings, and the idea was that I would drag myself down the stairs and out to the car so I could drop my four kids off at church. But when I woke up that morning--actually at about 4 am with violent chills that shook me for an hour, and I never did get back to sleep because I felt that bad--I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. My temps were in the high 102s. It didn’t seem safe for me to walk down the stairs, much less operate a vehicle. I did not open my computer that day. I laid in bed and tried not to die.
By Sunday afternoon, I remembered something. My insurance company has been advertising this Teladoc service, where you pay ten bucks to talk to a doctor. I don’t really know what I expected a doctor to do over the phone, but I decided it was worth a try.
After I registered with the website, I figured I should take my temperature before the doctor called. As I peered down at the rapidly escalating number on the thermometer with my right eyeball, I started to panic. Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no. It finally stopped at 103.7. He’s going to tell me to go somewhere.
And that’s exactly what happened. The doctor had a perfectly lovely phone voice and asked all sorts of great questions, but in the end, he told me I need to go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room. “Do you have someone to drive you?” he asked.
My husband was out in the backyard on a work call. I texted him twelve times in a row and called twice before he finally got off the phone and ran upstairs. “We have to go to the Emergency Room,” I told him.
“Not Urgent Care?”
“Let’s go to the ER.” As far as I was concerned, I was dying, and I had already spent ten dollars on a middle man who shuffled me down the line. Why spend another forty-five at Urgent Care when they were probably just going to put me in an ambulance?
At the ER, my temperature had, of course, gone down. Don’t you hate that? It was only 100-something at Triage. But it was a lovely Sunday afternoon in June, which, in my limited experience, is an excellent time to get through to the ER. I only had to curl myself into a fetal position on the widest chair in the lobby for maybe twenty minutes before they came out to get me.
By the time I got back to the room, though, my face was on fire. “Do you usually look like that?” the nurse said when she walked in. “I’m going to take your temperature again.” 102.9.
Then the doctor came in. Honestly, I don’t know where they get some of these people. This guy was perfectly nice and all, but nice isn’t really the sum total of what you want in an ER doc, is it? You also want 1) someone with normal speech patterns and 2) SOMEONE WHO FIGURES OUT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
First, the speech pattern thing. This guy began every sentence, I kid you not, with the words, “Yeah, I was gonna say.” As in:
“Yeah, I was gonna say, hi, my name is --. What seems to be the problem today?”
“Well, I’ve had a fever since Thursday, and today it was 103.7 at home, so--”
“Yeah, I was gonna say, so you’ve been having fevers?”
“Yes, and also, I have a really bad headache--”
“Yeah, I was gonna say, do you have any other symptoms? Headaches?”
“Yes, really bad headaches. And my back hurts, and--”
“Yeah, I was gonna say, does your back hurt?”
It was the weirdest. You were going to say… when? When I was already answering your last question? Or you just have a strange need to pretend like you were about to guess what was going to come out of my mouth?
Honestly, how does someone get through medical school like this? I assume in all those four years there’s at least ONE DAY where you practice talking to a patient and somebody observes you and tells you how you did. I can only assume that somebody was being too nice to this guy. Well, his “Yeah I was gonna say” thing is weird, but I hate to bring it up… People! Stop being so nice to each other!
I mean, I will feel bad if the guy has an actual speech disability. But I’m not feeling so well right now. Mea culpa.
By this point, my in-laws, who live in upstate New York, were texting my husband, “LYME DISEASE. TALK TO THE DOCTOR ABOUT LYME DISEASE.” Well, okay, they probably didn’t say it quite like that. But that was the general drift. So we did. And here’s what Dr. IWasGonnaSay had to say to that:
“Yeah, I was gonna say, for Lyme Disease, do you have a rash?”
Bear in mind that by that point, my fever was back up to probably over 103. And I had been sick for four days. I had not been performing luxurious self-care routines in front of the mirror. And my husband, who was terrified of getting sick himself, had been keeping a wide berth. So honestly, how were we supposed to know if I had a rash? But I hadn’t seen one. So I said no.
“Yeah, I was gonna say, if you don’t have a rash, then it’s not Lyme Disease.”
And here’s what I would like to say, in the radiant glow of hindsight, to that ER Doctor: First of all, it’s not true, what you said. People can have Lyme Disease without a rash. But second, if a patient comes to you with a high fever, instead of asking her if she has a rash, look for one yourself. You are a doctor. It’s called an exam. I promise I won’t feel weird about it. It is, after all, why I am there.
Instead, they sent me off for a chest x-ray to look for pneumonia (negative), and did a nose swab to check for flu (nada). They gave me some IV fluids. Then, they sent me home.
“It’s just a virus,” said the nurse. “You’ll feel better by day eight.”
Are there really viruses that make you feel this bad for this long? I wondered. “But my head hurts so bad…” I was honestly surprised that they hadn’t ordered an MRI to watch my head explode in real time, at least for science.
“We can’t do anything about the symptoms,” she said. “Go home and get some rest.”
Luckily, luckily, the next morning I caught a break between fevers and decided to take a shower. Luckily, I was toweling off in front of the mirror. Luckily, I spotted a big reddish patch on the back of my right knee.
“What is that?” I asked my husband.
I had already called and made an appointment at my primary care doctor’s office. Now I knew what I was going to say.
“I think I have Lyme Disease,” I said when the doctor walked into the room.
I could tell she didn’t believe me. “Let’s start with the symptoms,” she said.
But as I unspooled my story, and especially when I showed her the rash, she caught on. She was brisk, but she followed the CDC protocol, which I had already looked up before I came in. “Ninety-nine percent of people who walk in and say they have Lyme Disease are wrong,” she said on her way out, “but I think you really might.”
I do like to be right. I gave her a weak thumbs up.
The next problem was the antibiotic. I’m allergic to penicillin, so the doctor had prescribed doxycycline, which causes nausea. Sure enough, less than half an hour after I took it, that baby came right back up.
The ibuprofen I’d taken that morning had come up, too, along with the single nibble of an edge of a Nutri-Grain bar I’d swallowed along with it. In fact, I hadn’t kept anything down since Saturday.
I called the doctor’s office--this was at 12:30 pm--and they promised to call right back. I spent an hour lying on my bed in a feverish haze, head throbbing, imagining how nice it would be when they admitted me to the hospital to administer the antibiotic via IV drip. Someone will finally take care of me…
But it wasn’t to be. I called the office again an hour later and found out from the “Patient Coordinator” that the doctor had written a script for an anti-nausea med, but the nurse hadn’t called it in to the pharmacy yet. “She’ll call you right back.”
An hour later, I called again, this time in tears. I wasn’t sure which would happen first: my head exploding or incinerating, but either way, death was imminent. “Could you just please tell them I feel terrible?”
“She’ll call you right back.”
They finally called the medication in at 4:30, and the pharmacy had it ready at 5:30. All afternoon I had been lying in bed thinking, I’m sure labor was worse, but this is a close, close second.
“Take this medication with a small meal in case of upset stomach,” reads the Doxycycline bottle, so in addition to two anti-nausea tablets, I also ate the largest meal I could bring myself to swallow: three Saltine crackers. Even so, I spent the next two hours in agony. My head was throbbing, my whole body was feverish, and I couldn’t lie down because if I did I was sure I’d throw up. All I could think about was my tiny, shriveled stomach with nothing but two globs of cracker and that one enormous pill burning a hole in its lining. I don’t want to compare myself to cancer patients, because cancer is obviously way worse, but let’s just say I have a whole new empathy for people on chemo.
But. The medication worked. That was last night, and this morning, my headache is much diminished (though not altogether gone), my fever is lower (though again, still present), and I actually ate half a bagel.
Now I’m going to take another of those doxycycline pills. Wish me luck.