It was summertime, and I was driving through town with my truck window down, when a lady from church hailed me. I pulled over, and she sashayed up to the truck. “You know, you’re always writing about Lyme Disease? Well, I’ve found out how to keep the ticks off. You need to tell all the hunters about this!”
I’m always ready to admit my ignorance and acquire new knowledge, so I pulled out my pen and a notebook. “Shoot!” I said.
“My husband and I were over at the lake this weekend cleaning up the yard, and when he showered that night, he hollered for me to come in there. He was covered up with ticks! We picked over a hundred off of him, then I took my shower and we checked me for ticks, but there were only a few on me. Know what the difference was?” she demanded.
Now, I have noticed lots of differences between men and women, which don’t even include showers. Mental pictures were bouncing around in my head, but I suppressed them and replied innocently, “No, Ma’am. Why?”
She hiked her skirt a few inches. “Panty hose!” she crowed triumphantly. “I had on panty hose, and he didn’t. Obviously, ticks can’t get a grip on them and sure can’t get up under them. You tell those hunters to wear panty hose, at least until it frosts!”
Now, I generally try to stay away from empirical statements like that, but she said to tell the rest of y’all. No, I ain’t tried it myownself. It’s a little late for me to prevent Lyme.
Over 30 years ago, I apparently got bitten by a tick, or maybe cleaned a game animal that was infected with Lyme Disease, and got it into my blood that way. At any rate, I contracted Lyme Disease, and it went after me arthritically, if that’s a word.
Whatever, I got it, and it went to the bone — and joints! With at least 24 broken bones and a dozen other joint injuries, I was an ideal host for Lyme arthritis. Since it was normal for me to hurt, especially in the wintertime, no one thought anything about it getting worse. I didn’t even go to see the doctor, not for the arthritis, anyway. When I did mention it, while in the office for something else, his reply was to be expected — indeed, my own mother had said the same thing: “Son, you just played too much football; you’ve got terminal arthritis: it ain’t gonna kill you, but you’re gonna die with it!” By the tenth year, I was taking a couple dozen painkillers — aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, BC Powder, whatever — a day during the wintertime, when cold weather made the pain and stiffness worse.
Then I was assigned an article on Lyme Disease by a national magazine, which I turned down, initially. I told the editor, “I don’t do that kind of writing; you call Neill, you get humor!”
“Fine,” he agreed. “Write us a humorous article on Lyme Disease, and we’ll pay you a thousand bucks for it.”
“I can do that!” I exclaimed, and went to researching.
It was like one of the old cartoons, where someone snaps on a light bulb. After two days of research, I suddenly realized, “Dad blame! I’ve got all these symptoms!” I got out of the computer as quickly as possible, jumped in the truck, and headed for the hospital. Bear in mind that this was in 1989. I walked up to a nurse and demanded, “Take some blood from me and test it for Lyme Disease!”
“What’s that?” was the response.
No one had really heard of it down here. It was supposed to be a Northeastern thing. The sickness was first misdiagnosed as an outbreak of juvenile arthritis in and around the city of Old Lyme, Connecticut, back in the early to mid seventies. Further testing revealed that the disease was being caused by a spirochete bacteria, which actually invades the human cell, making it extremely hard to knock out. While one of the main vectors for Lyme is the deer tick, the bacteria has been found in all types of ticks, and most blood-sucking insects, like mosquitoes, horseflies, fleas, and lice. These other hosts, however, can only transmit the organism by going almost directly from one victim to another host, whereas ticks can keep it in their systems for weeks. An outbreak of Lyme in Philadelphia was traced back to fleas from the highly Lyme-infected rat population in that city. Killing the rats cured the Lyme epidemic.
One can also contract Lyme from the blood of an infected animal, and research has shown that an animal is six times more likely to have Lyme than a human. The symptoms are the same: fatigue, depression, arthritis. Interestingly enough for a dog man, it’s hard to tell when a cat has Lyme, because “cats are so lethargic anyway,” as one vet put it.
I spent six weeks gathering information on Lyme Disease, but was unable to find a doctor who professed to know enough about it to treat it. In desperation, I finally called the Lyme Borreliosis Foundation in Connecticut and asked for the closest doctor to Brownspur that they knew would recognize, diagnose, and treat Lyme Disease. There was a Dr. George McCullars in Mobile, and I said, “Fine, that’s close enough,” and headed South. Indeed, I did have Lyme, one of the highest positives he’d ever seen, and he started me on long-term antibiotics. I took 200 mg a day of Doxycycline beginning in late June, and didn’t come completely off of it until April, but it knocked it out, though the organism will always be in my blood (and I’m not supposed to give blood any more). Almost a year later, he told me in wonder, “You’re the only tertiary Lyme patient I know who has apparently been cured.” I will always have the sleep disorder, and short-term memory loss (which they now believe is connected), but I haven’t had an aspirin for arthritis pain in years! Oh, I still have places that hurt, especially where the pins are, but not all over, all the time, like before!
Let me insert right here, that if you are placed on long-term antibiotics, you will probably experience intestinal difficulties. See, the antibiotics kill all the bacteria in your system, and there’s some good-guy bacteria in your intestines that belongs to stay there. If you will drink buttermilk or eat active-culture yogurt, it will reculture those good-guy bacteria, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable. Another tip, for victims with the sleep disorder: I take a couple of benedryl when I go to bed at night. Knocks the edge off just enough for me to get some decent rest. The memory loss can be helped, too. Once after an article on Lyme, I received calls from three ladies, one in Michigan, one in Oklahoma, and one in Florida. All three recommended something called Lecethin for the memory loss I had mentioned. The very next day I was walking into a store in Greenville, and a lady stopped me. “Aren’t you that Neill boy, that writes?” she asked. I admitted that. “Well, I read that article on Lyme Disease, and if you’ll take Lecethin, it’ll help that memory problem.” I told her she was the fourth lady in a week to tell me that, but I didn’t know how to even spell it. She got out a pencil and paper, then said, “Wait. I’ve enjoyed your books and articles for years. If you’ll let me, I’ll go back in here with you, and buy you your first bottle!” She did, and I highly recommend it, after fifteen years on it.
I wrote a syndicated weekly column for 25 years, and since 1990 worked in at least a couple of columns a year on Lyme Disease in papers, plus numerous magazine articles. I’ve gotten calls from as far away as Michigan and New York about Lyme. Several years ago, a pharmaceutical company offered to underwrite a book on Lyme, and I got about a third of the way through with it, when the company had some financial difficulties and dropped the project. I’ve given seminars to doctors in hospitals on Lyme, for as much as $1500. When I was president of the Southern outdoor writers, I arranged the testing of our members and wives by the Centers for Disease Control, as a control group of Southern outdoors men and women. They predicted we’d be only 5 to 7% positive, “and those will be the guys who have hunted and fished in the northeast,” but we were 28% positive by one test, and nearly 42% by another! Seven of the past eight presidents tested positive and were symptomatic for Lyme Disease! That’s really the first time they began to consider that Lyme was not just a yankee ailment.
Out here at Brownspur, where there are only five families, we’ve had five diagnosed and treated cases of Lyme. Two were caught early, and treated correctly with heavy antibiotics, and they got completely over it. The other three of us have lingering problems, mine being the least damaging. Only one of those cases apparently came from a Brownspur tick. Three of the victims knew they were bitten by ticks from other regions, like east Mississippi, north Arkansas, and north Tennessee.
In other words, I know what I’m talking about on the subject, though I’m not a doctor.
It is my considered opinion that some insurance companies, HMOs, and medical organizations have decided to cure modern Lyme Disease by changing the parameters. In their defense, it is hard to diagnose, even harder to cure, and requires long-term expensive treatment. Its symptoms mimic fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, even the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Medical experts warn against using long-term antibiotics, which are essential to successful treatment, because that may build up resistant strains of bacteria. I understand that.
But I also understand the disease. I know many victims who have gotten frustrated trying to get help for Lyme, and have just picked up and gone to Connecticut for treatment and advice, where the modern version of the disease was first diagnosed. And if the victim is a youngster, I have gotten to the point of recommending that myself. If caught early (when the tell-tale “bullseye” rash has shown up) it can usually be cured by a month’s worth of antibiotics, but if the patient has had it for several months, or even years, then it’s going to take months of antibiotic treatment to get remission. So what if that builds up resistant strains of bacteria? If the victim is in constant pain and cannot live a normal life, then should not one cure the pain, even at the risk of creating another possible problem?
Again, I am not a doctor! But I’m an educated victim, because I had to be to get mine under control. In one recent year, no fewer than six doctors from three states have called me for Lyme facts (two for their own symptoms, and one for his grandson’s!), and several have sent patients to me for the purpose of rash identification.
Obviously, the best advice is to take precautions against contracting Lyme. Avoid areas of tick infestations. Spray a good repellent on your britches legs and socks, around your belt, on your collar, and on your wrists and sleeves. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game. Watch your pets for signs of lethargy or arthritis. Check for ticks when you come in from the fields, and be sure your family does the same. Notice any unexplained rashes, especially rashes that appear to red and circular in nature. Only about a third of Lyme victims apparently have the telltale “bullseye” rash, but if antibiotic treatment is administered immediately after that rash is noticed, then complete recovery is very likely. Be alert for cold and flu symptoms that hang on longer than they ought to, for stiff neck (the unBiblical kind), arthritis, chronic headaches, extreme fatigue, blurred vision, memory loss, and sleeplessness.
And I highly recommend husband and wife showering together. Look closely for obvious ticks, but also for the smaller variety, described as “freckles that move.” Take your time. One can’t be too careful for Lyme Disease!