As a general rule, I don’t like true stories. They are not well plotted and the characters tend to the boring side of things. I like it when the author takes liberties. But for this story, I’m going to stick to the truth.
My birthday was last week, but I need to start a few days before that. I was in the shower (don’t get excited, it’s not that kind of story) when I noticed a weird, circular rash on my thigh. The more I looked at it, the more it looked like a bullseye. I know that’s a classic sign of Lyme disease, but my birthday is in the middle of winter. How on Earth could I have been bitten by a tick in the winter?
I had a nice little internal debate about what to do. Except for the rash, I wasn’t showing any symptoms. It seemed crazy that I might have Lyme disease. One the other hand, I know how nasty Lyme can be if it’s not treated early. So I called my doctor. I decided that a co-pay and a little embarrassment was a worthwhile cost to get him to tell me that it’s nothing.
I went in. The nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, and everything else. Everything was completely normal. Then, the doctor came in. I showed him the rash. He said, “Huh.” Then he asked me a whole bunch of questions about where I’d been the past few weeks. I hadn’t been anywhere where ticks are likely to live. So, he asked me a whole bunch of questions about symptoms. I was feeling fine. He decided that it was either Lyme disease or a fungal infection, but he was leaning towards fungal infection. He asked me to put athlete’s foot cream on it. If it grows with the cream, it’s Lyme and if it shrinks, it’s not. He was going to be out of the office for a few days, but he would be back on my birthday. He told me to pay attention, if it grows at all, or if I start showing any symptoms, to call him back.
I was feeling better when I got home. At least I had some peace of mind. But the next day, I started to feel like I was getting a cold. The rash was unchanged, so I told myself it was just a coincidence. Over the next few hours, I continued to feel worse. I started running a fever. I was pretty miserable, so I convinced myself that I had Lyme.
When my birthday rolled around, I called the doctor first thing in the morning. I told him that I was having flu-like symptoms and I didn’t think the rash had shrunk. I booked an appointment for a little later that day and went back to sleep. When I got to the office, I was feeling way worse than I had been a few days before. The nurse did all the same stuff as my last visit, but this time, she swabbed me to test for the flu (It’s remarkably unpleasant having someone stick a Q-tip up your nose). I let her do it, but I knew it wasn’t the flu, I’d had my flu shot. I had Lyme disease.
In a little while the doctor came in wearing a mask. I had tested positive for the flu. I asked him about the rash, and he wanted to take a look again. It had actually grown about a centimeter bigger. I asked what that meant and he said that it really looked like I had both the flu and Lyme disease at the same time. I asked if there was a test for Lyme, but he said at the stage where the rash is still showing, the test is incredibly unreliable. He felt it was best to start treatment right away.
For the flu, he said there wasn’t anything to do. Theraflu only works if taken in the first 24-48 hours and it had been longer than that. For the Lyme, he wrote me a prescription for Doxycycline, an antibiotic. He then told me about all the tummy trouble I could expect from the antibiotic. I was overjoyed.
I filled the prescription on the way home, crawled into bed, and stayed there for the rest of my birthday. I didn’t have any cake or ice cream. The closest thing I got to a gift was being diagnosed with two diseases and some pills that were going to give me diarrhea. For me, this was definitely a record setting bad birthday.
It’s been almost a week since my birthday, and I’m feeling much better. I’m still not 100%, but I’m functional. I probably won’t be 100% until I’m done with the antibiotic. I don’t think I’ll ever know what was the Lyme and what was the flu, but it was an experience that I never want to repeat. I just hope that next year’s birthday is better.
I apologize for the lack of plot and the boring main character. I felt like it was a story worth telling, though. Partly because it’s a fairly unbelievable story, and people like those. And partly because I can act as a warning for others. Apparently, with climate change, winter doesn’t protect us from ticks anymore. Just think, whatever the month, if you’re feeling lousy, it could be Lyme disease. Or the flu. Or both.