B.B. Boudreau

Novelist | Singer

Bitten by a tick? Take it seriously

On Friday, October 31 (Halloween, how prophetic) I was bitten by a deer tick in Maine. I discovered the tick on Saturday morning, embedded in my scalp on the top left side. My friend, Jane pulled it out, and threw it down the toilet. First big mistake. Since we had found it within the magic 24-hour period, I really didn’t think much more about it.

We came back to Mass on Saturday night. On Sunday, I felt a little tired, so I just rested and figured I had done too much. Typical for me, so it was no news. On Monday, I felt just too tired to go to work for no reason. That made me a little nervous, so I made a doctor’s appointment. The doctor’s assistant looked at the bite, which had scabbed up by then. I told her the timing of the tick bite and when we had removed it. She said there was only a slim chance that I had been infected, since we got the tick out within a 24-hour period. She recommended that I take a prophylactic antibiotic just to make sure. I asked her if it would be foolish to skip it. I hate to take antibiotics when they’re not necessary.

In the end, I ended up walking out without the antibiotic. Second big mistake.

Tuesday through Thursday, I felt fine and went to work as usual. Then, there was Friday. I felt great. I even went for a swim before work. About 11:00 a.m., I felt pain on the left side of my neck. There was a knot about the size of a ping pong ball, and it hurt—a lot. I dismissed it as a muscle pull from the swimming. By the afternoon, the pain had crawled up the left side of my scalp. Now I was starting to feel a little “funny.” Finally, by 3:30 p.m., I decided this was too much, told one of my bosses and headed home. It’s over an hour to home, and by the time I reached Danvers, about 4:30, I had started shaking badly.

I reached the front desk of Mass General and told them I needed care. I guess the look on my face was enough. The attendant called a wheelchair and they took me to urgent care. My hand was shaking so severely I could barely sign the registration paper. I told the doctor on call my tick story, and he prescribed Doxycycline for three weeks. My temperature was 99.7˚. They actually tried to get me to stay, but I insisted on going home. I made it fine, after a quick visit to the drive-through at the CVS. I always thought a drive-through pharmacy was silly until that night. I was exhausted and having a little trouble walking, still shaking like a hypothermia victim. My temperature was 102.9 ˚. I took the antibiotic and figured the worst was behind me.

Saturday morning, my face had begun to swell. I took my temperature, which was now down a bit to 101 ˚.  As the day advanced, the swelling worsened until I resembled the before photos on weight-loss ads. My glasses started making dents in my temples and above my ears. I had to take them off. The pain was becoming really intense. In the afternoon, my temperature spiked at 102.5 ˚.

I was starting to worry. I was alone. My husband was in NJ taking our boat south for the winter. He had had his own set of nightmares with the trip including a bent rudder post and damage to the keel from a miscalculation at an inlet, so running home to take care of me wasn’t an option. I was watching every movie of any value I could find on TV simply to avoid daytime drivel, but I sure wasn’t bored. Tolerating a smashing headache and scalp sensitivity was enough to keep me occupied. Thankfully, I was able to sleep at night. My head was so tender that it was difficult to lie down on the softest pillow.

Sunday, the temperature on my oral thermometer had dropped a bit to a mere 101 ˚. It was replaced by pain sharp enough to have been caused by a commercial vice. All in my head. Very, very pleasant. I dragged myself from the sofa to the kitchen, tried to appease my poor dog who was trying to keep me company, but kept begging to go outside and sneak away for her own walk.

I showered for the first time since the symptoms started and found it difficult to wash my hair, my scalp was so sensitive. Then the brush. Oh, boy. I left my hair uncombed. I had no need to look good for anyone, and no amount of grooming would have improved my appearance. About halfway from my eyebrows to my hair, a perfect hat line ringed my forehead. Above the hat line, my scalp was Pepto-Bismol pink. Nice color. I was ready for Mardi Gras. The swelling was starting to make me a monster. That day was filled with more movies. I finally turned to Xfinity for a little variety. Do you know they play the same movies again and again and again every couple of days? Aren’t there enough movies to switch ‘em out every once in a while?

Then the stabbing electric shocks began. In various places in my body and without warning, sharp pains hit my skin or muscles, but only for a second, thank goodness. I started to wonder how long this train ride was going to last.

Once again, to bed. It took me about five minutes to get my head down on the pillow.

Monday, I woke up on damp, sticky sheets, my mind full of wicked dreams that included weird relationships with people I haven’t seen in twenty years, leaden legs when I needed to escape whatever I was escaping from, ladders and corridors to empty rooms, etc. etc. Good Morning?

Finally, finally my temperature had dropped to almost normal, so I earned a bit of energy from the relief. Just enough energy to jump a bit when I looked in the mirror. My left eye was almost swollen shut. I had a lump on my cheekbone that made me think of all the boxing matches that used to show on Wide World of Sports. I called the doctor. I wanted to make sure that the swelling would stop at some point in time, and not take my brain with it.

The doctor assured me that if my brain was swelling, I would have a dreadful headache. Well, I was in pain, but I guess it was my scalp that was hurting, not the inside of my head. There was nothing else I could do but wait and take my antibiotics. Lucky me. Perhaps if I had taken those first prophylactic antibiotics, I wouldn’t now be on them for three weeks. Doc said that was okay, but she would be sure to tell future patients of my experience to get those first antibiotics in them. Wish I had known.

So tomorrow is Tuesday, eleven days after the tick bite, four days after the start of my symptoms, a week and one day after I could’ve taken those damn prophylactic antibiotics. Let’s hope the swelling will come down a bit, and I might just take a Benadryl before bed. I might get back to work on Wednesday, but if I still look like George Foreman after a loss, I might search for more good movies on Xfinity.

So, here’s the lesson(s), if you haven’t got it already.

  • If you have the occasion to provide a deer tick with lunch, remove it with very thin tweezers, not your fingers. If you do this, you might run the risk of pumping the tick saliva under your skin. Not sure if this happened in my case, but I won’t do that again. Also, save the tick. It can be tested for the Lyme bacteria.
  • Most importantly, after a tick bite, take the antibiotic your doctor prescribes. It’s a course of two pills. Two, instead of 42, which is what I’ve got now. Also, you can save yourself the worry, excruciating pain, searing temperatures, missed work, and ugly swollen face that I have been through.

These ticks are nothing to mess with. Yeah, humans are about a trillion times bigger than a deer tick, but they can bring you to your knees, and when you hit the dirt, it will hurt, because you’ve got joint pain like a rheumatoid arthritis victim. In fact, that’s how the doctors in Lyme, Connecticut first diagnosed this awful disease in the 70s. The name of the little devil is Borrelia burgdorferi. A bacteria that will knock you down. Untreated Lyme disease has terrible implications, including neurological disorders, paralysis, crippling joint and muscular pain, migraines, light or sound sensitivity, cognitive impairment, nausea, fatigue, and even heart or breathing issues.

So believe it, prevent it, and for heaven’s sake, take the damn prophylactic. I certainly would’ve skipped this rodeo ride for two pills.

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