Flash back to Labor Day weekend in 2000. My family is dropping my brother off for his freshman year in college at a school in southern Connecticut. Afterward, the rest of us took a long weekend vacation to Mystic, CT, a few towns up the coastline. Nearby is Lyme, CT, the town after which the disease was named.
About two weeks later, I stayed at a friend's house and slept on a couch. I woke up a little bit sore, as was to be expected from sleeping on a couch. A few days went by and I was still sore. A few weeks later and the all-over soreness was starting to get worse, though not so much that it was affecting everyday life. I had no reason to suspect that I had Lyme disease. I never saw the fabled bull's-eye. I never saw a tick. I never saw a bite or experienced any itching. Everything seemed normal except for the soreness. I was 15 years old, growing and adjusting to the school year. Some aches and pains (and tiredness) were to be expected.
[SLIDESHOW: Identifying 8 Common Bug Bites]
But by the end of September, my neck had become the focal point of the soreness that had turned to outright pain. I distinctly remember the last week in September when, while attempting to talk on the phone, my neck hurt so badly that cocking my head even slightly to press my ear to the telephone was nearly unbearable.
So my mother took me to the doctor. The doctor observed swollen lymph nodes and prescribed an antibiotic. Keflex, I believe. That was a Friday afternoon.
On Sunday over dinner, my mother stopped me in mid-sentence. I remember the exact quote: "Your face isn't moving right. We're going to the ER." So, off to the ER we went. Bell's Palsy was the official diagnosis, a possible side effect of Lyme disease (facial paralysis could also mean a stroke, among other things). They conducted two blood tests, the Elisa for Lyme and the Western Blot for Lyme. The Elisa took five days for results but had a high propensity for false positives; the Western Blot took several weeks, as it had to be shipped to Atlanta at the time. I was given Zovirax (acyclovir) just in case the facial paralysis was caused by a virus instead of Lyme.
By October 12, I had not seen any improvement, and, in fact, the paralysis in my face had become significantly worse. Basically, the left side of my face was paralyzed. You know when you get Novocain at the dentist and you can't feel anything, but can still move your lips? Well, think the opposite – I could feel everything, just couldn't move it. I couldn't blink properly, couldn't smile right and had absolutely no sense of taste.
So that day my mother called the doctor and demanded some kind of action or more tests. On the assumption that it was Lyme, I was prescribed amoxicillin for three weeks, although I still with no official result from the Western Blot test. Eventually, the soreness and exhaustion lifted a bit, and my face started to return to normal. On October 30, around when I was taking my last antibiotic, the results became official – it was Lyme Disease. At this point, nobody was shocked.
Again, there had been no bull's-eye rash, no sign of a bite or tick, and I hadn’t taken any walks in the woods, and at that time, Lyme was not common in my area. The whole process took about 10 weeks, and I have to admit, it wasn't fun at all. But if Bell's Palsy had not kicked in, I may not have gone to the doctor right away and could have ended up with more serious long-term consequences of the disease, including arthritis, cardiovascular or neurological problems. Luckily, I avoided any ramifications – 12 years later, I still have not had anything related to Lyme revisit me – though a mere three weeks after finishing the medication, my weakened immune system contracted mononucleosis over Thanksgiving weekend, 2000. But that's another story…
Published On: August 07, 2012