The fall foliage has been particularly beautiful this year here in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the colors particularly vibrant, the weather warm and mostly dry, the sky a rich, deep blue almost every day. I have spent quite a bit of time outdoors—walking through the woods, snapping pictures, enjoying the last of the warm weather before the winter socks in and buries us in snow and ice. But this morning I woke up and was reminded of one of the downsides of spending so much time close to nature. I discovered a small tick embedded in the skin of my right thigh. While many people dismiss tick bites as just a nuisance, for me it’s a whole different story. Twice in my life, I have come down with tick borne diseases. The first was about fifteen years ago when I was infected with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Much like the flu, I was feverish, congested, and covered from head to toe in thousands of tiny red spots. After heading to the doctor and being placed on ten days of Doxycyline—the only antibiotic that cures tick borne diseases—I weathered the storm and was soon back on my feet. But the second time I got sick I learned the real dangers of being bitten by one of those nasty little creatures. In the spring of 2017, I contracted Anaplasmosis—a little known but sometimes deadly infection that almost cost me my life.
I remember waking up that first morning congested with unimaginable aches and pains, a high fever, and a blinding headache far worse than any I had ever experienced. My wife took me straight to the emergency room, where I spent six hours flat on my back in an exam room, before being sent home misdiagnosed with a virus after all the testing—a blood workup, chest x-ray, EKG, and countless others—came back negative. For the next three days, as I remained in close touch with my doctors, my symptoms continued to worsen. I became delirious. I could barely stand let alone walk. And my lungs filled up with fluid as my temperature skyrocketed to over 103 degrees. Then on the fourth day when I could no longer urinate, my wife packed me back into the car and drove me to the emergency room a second time, where I was admitted on the spot with pneumonia, bladder failure, kidney failure, and an irregular heartbeat. I spent the next five days in the hospital and was ultimately diagnosed and then treated for a tick borne disease after a second round of blood tests came back positive for Anaplasmosis. To say the least, the experience was worse than a nightmare. After being discharged, I spent a week in a rehab facility, a month at home in bed, and several more months before I could resume a normal lifestyle.
While I love this time of the year—being outdoors, hiking in the woods, watching the brilliant fall colors take hold all around me—I am acutely aware that life is fragile, that we all have to be diligent, that the dangers of a simple tick bite are real and potentially deadly. So, I’ll continue to live my life as I always have—taking in the sunshine, the change of seasons, and snapping dozens of pictures each and every day. But now that I know the risks and have found yet another tick feasting on my flesh, I can all but guarantee you that I won’t mess around. I’m off to the doctor for another round of Doxycyline. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Better to be proactive than to wait and see. It’s a lesson for all of us, a warning we all need to heed.