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June 2006

Reality Bites: Lyme Disease

A park ranger's struggle with the tick-borne illness.

In year three, the specialist called for a small tube to be inserted through my chest into the large veins at the portal to my heart. It was a handy little thing; I could coil up the tube and tape it to my chest under my clothing. I had been a trained as a ranger medic and knew how to prepare and infuse intravenous drugs, so I didn’t need to stay close to a refrigerated drug supply or a nurse. On a couple of occasions I even stayed overnight in the forest-what joy there was in that!-hanging my bag of intravenous antibiotics from a tree branch as I infused myself, as we might have done on a backcountry rescue. But I was retired on disability now, and it was clear I would never rescue people again. The fatigue was beyond measure, yet I couldn’t sleep. I wanted, more than anything, to sleep. I thought about shooting myself.

After eight months of IV treatment, I had a week when I could think, reason, remember names and words. Although I would soon descend back into what my Lyme doctors refer to as “brain fog,” it was like that time in Alaska where I had climbed that little spruce and shot my azimuths. Now I had something to navigate by. It appeared that the equipment was largely intact; it was just that the capacity to use it had been confiscated for an indefinite period. Maybe I could win it back.

I am still on antibiotics. There are doctors in this country who do not believe in such treatment, a position most insurers and HMOs are more than happy to agree with, since prolonged treatment isn’t cheap.

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