My Texas escapades were cut short when I was diagnosed, then undiagnosed, then re-diagnosed with Lyme disease. The end of my six-month internship was nearing, but I’d been hired on for an additional one-year commitment as an apprentice. That position would entail an increased load of medical work in the animal clinic coupled with an advanced leadership role. I’d still be living in a trailer with six other people, but The Apprentice Trailer instead of one of three intern trailers. I was excited in many ways but also beginning to doubt my abilities as I noticed my body slowly getting weaker. Soon, standing became an actual task. My arms ached when I reached for things above my head. The joints in my fingers screamed with fire when I pressed syringes to release gruel into the crying mouths of baby birds.
My roommate, Brandi, had recently gone to the urgent care after feeling tired and nauseous. These symptoms alone could have been linked to the common flu or simply heat exhaustion. However, a tell-tale bull’s-eye rash on her stomach suggested a tick might be to blame. Sure enough, a blood test revealed that she had Lyme disease. Once on antibiotics, she began to feel much better.
Initially overlooking my increasing fatigue and acute pain as the result of being over-worked, I started to become concerned after speaking with my supervisor and asking for a lightened work load. I spent a week manning the phone hotline, working the normal 9-5 desk job, but just taking down notes from callers with a pen or keyboard created a nauseating pain. At times my joints were so stiff, I had to try using my left hand, only to find those joints stiffened just as quickly. It was time to hit up the doctor.
Offering a brief overview of my day-to-day interactions with animals, the doctor asked if there was any possibility that I could have been exposed to Lyme disease.
“Funny that you should ask,” I commented. “My roommate was just treated for Lyme.” In fact, I could very easily have been exposed to a deer tick seeing as I spent days working in the deer yard nursing more than fifty orphaned fawns. I didn’t have that bulls-eye rash, though, like my roommate had. The rash occurs in 60-80% of infected cases, according to the CDC. I guess I’ve never really fit into the standard “norm.”
The doctors started me on pre-cautionary antibiotics and poked my arm for a blood test, assuring me that the antibiotics would do no harm to my body in the event that I did not test positive for Lyme. I took the twice-a-day Doxycicline for almost a week. The medicine was intended for a 21-day cycle, but when the test came back negative, the doctor said to stop popping the pills. He was a doctor, so I listened to him. He referred me to a rheumatologist and general practitioner suggesting I be tested for a whole panel of diseases and disorders ranging from arthritis to multiple sclerosis to lupus, even fibromyalgia, which I was sure, if it ever did hit me, wouldn’t ever happen until my elderly years. Being out-of-state, the health insurance was posing to be a very difficult issue. And, my symptoms persisted, in fact worsening to the point that I had trouble walking.
When I commit to something, I follow it all the way through. Despite the discomfort, I managed to finish out my internship. But due to financial reasons, my overall poor health, and the fact that I desperately needed some coddling from Mom and Dad, I postponed the start of my apprenticeship. Immediately upon my arrival home, I was bombarded with doctor appointments, needle pricks, and the anxiety-inducing waiting game. They filled 12 vials with my blood. I only know because I saw them on the table beforehand. I would have collapsed in the chair if I dared peek during the process.
Luckily, my new general practitioner was determined to figure out what was causing my body to feel this way. When the Lyme test came back negative, he scrutinized it, noticing the range was border-line. Instead of writing off Lyme disease once again, he sent it out for a further test called the Western Blot. About a week later, the results came back indicating I was indeed positive for Lyme. It was back on the antibiotics. After one month, I felt better in some ways but worse in others, and so my cycle was extended for yet another month.
I followed up with an infectious disease doctor who also treated an infection in my leg that resulted from a weakened immune system. I never knew infections could be so painful! It has been over two years now, and the scar on my leg remains. I was self-conscious about it for the first year, but now I think it tells my story quite well. Some people get dealt unlucky hands. The ill-fated must remember that no matter how far from reach the rainbow lies, it’s always there, always attainable.
As my body began recuperating, I decided it was best to remain active instead of vegetating on the sofa. Though I was exhausted, it still drove me nearly insane not being able to run for what was now six months time. Instead of running, I took up leisurely bike rides and swims. I began helping out my neighbors and friends of friends to both keep busy and bring in enough money to pay off my student loans. I cleaned houses and cooked family dinners, did other people’s grocery shopping, chauffeured kids and dogs, and slowly worked my way up to yard work. All the while searching for the next step, my bones gradually felt at ease and my energy level increased. My dad said he knew I was feeling better when I started talking in a British accent again.
After more than six months of a life that had to change, to mold, to readjust, a life I didn’t know if I would get back, I had a lot of painful firsts. They were followed by more jovial seconds. The first time I came back from a run, I wanted to cut my legs off from the cramping and strain. The next time I went out, I couldn’t stop running. The first time I strung my guitar, my fingers didn’t want to form the chord shapes. The next time they wanted to pluck away like a monkey with a hammer. The first time I was able to run my fingertips along the faux ivory of that wooden, upright piano I’d played since I was eight years old, I had to double-check that my joints weren’t actually on fire. The second time, I couldn’t stop composing. Finally, I could open jars again, I could write, I could put my hair in a ponytail without experiencing excruciating pain, burning, fatigue, and stiffness. Oh how I’d taken for granted these little things in life.
By the time three months in Perrysburg rolled around, I was ready to be on my own again. I didn’t quite feel 100%, but I had gone from needing to ask for help to being able to bite through the pain. And soon, I hoped, there would no longer be any physical distress, other than that spawned by physical labor in the animal world.
Time spent at home made me reflect and realize that I wasn’t quite done paving opportunities for myself. When I was in junior high, I wanted to be a marine biologist. A part of me still felt called to protect our oceans. I declined the apprenticeship in rural Texas and accepted yet another internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida working at the Dolphin & Whale and Sea Turtle Hospitals. I wouldn’t be earning even a stipend, and I’d have to find a place to rent, but I had money saved up and so much more to learn. I think nearly every day how very different my life could have been if I’d gone back to Texas. I would probably still be there now, three years later. But so much has happened since then, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, a million dollars, or even a million guinea pigs.