My Borrelia Nightmare

My daughter Elaine came in from the car, “Ouch daddy, a bug is biting my arm, Ouch!” “John, help her, she wont shut up about some damn bug on her arm” said my wife. I took my daughters arm, looked closely, and saw a tick nymph, pulled it off, stuck it in a bag, and put it in the freezer. It was too small to identify. I had never actually seen a wild tick nymph before. I was stunned by the tiny size.

A couple days passed and my wife left on a work trip. During this time I changed my son’s diaper and I saw a speck of black on his groin. “Probably, just a tiny crusted piece of shit particle or a lint ball.” A day later I was changing his diaper again and saw in the same spot an engorged tick nymph. “WTF! There are ticks infesting my house!” I pulled off the nymph (again too small to identify by eye), put it in a bag, stuck it in the freezer with the other tick, and went to bed. I texted my wife and told her about the engorged nymph. “Haven’t you been giving them baths!” she responded… I guess that’s probably a good idea, but hindsight is 20/20… After this text conversation I instituted nightly baths and tick checks.

That night I woke up and felt something crawling on my back. I jolted up and grabbed the creature on my back. I instantly knew it was an adult tick. I turned on the light, identified it as a Dermacenter adult that had not engorged (Dermacenter ticks don’t spread lyme; but they can spread other evil things). As a medical entomologist, I am now starting to freak out, at the shear rate at which we are encountering ticks, literally inside my home. My daughter and I were in the clear; the more time ticks feed, the more likely they are to spread a disease; I had pulled off our ticks before they had even started. But I worried about my son. I put my tick in the freezer with the other two.

The next day I texted my tick friend at the CDC. “What would you do if you found an engorged nymph on your son in Connecticut?” He told me that he would personally want him tested if it was his kid. “As long as you catch it early you’re in the clear. If you let it go undiagnosed it will fuck you up.” I concurred, called the doctor, who said to just watch him closely for fevers or rash. A couple days pass, my wife comes home, and I’m starting to worry more and more about the possibility of an asymptomatic Borreliosis in my son. I resolved to PCR the ticks to check for an infection. I went to the freezer to get the specimens and discovered that my wife had cleaned the house and had thrown all the bags out. “Why did you throw away my ticks!” “You should have labeled them! That’s your fault!”

I call my mom, who is a pediatrician. “Can we just prescribe him some antibiotics. Let’s just prophylactically treat it.” My mom concurred because we lived in the Lyme epicenter and sent my son a prescription for amoxicillin. I picked it up at the pharmacy and we started the treatment.

A couple days pass. I rode my motorcycle to work. As I was walking into the lab I felt like I was going to feint. I made the decision to sit down for a couple minutes. “Damn what if that would have happened on the freeway…” After work I came home, ate dinner, and got into my evening routine. Suddenly, I felt a burning in my armpit. I raise my arm to see this:

NOW I AM FREAKING OUT! WTF! I have been checking everyone for ticks! EVEN MYSELF! How is that shit on my ARM?! I found no trace of any tick anywhere on my body, but I instantly knew I had contracted Lyme. I drove to the urgent care and saw the on-call physician.

“What brings you in?”

“I have Lyme’s disease”

“And why do you think that?” – Doctor says very skeptically

“Cause I have this shit on my arm and there are ticks infesting my house!”

“Oh damn, yea that is the stereotypical lyme bullseye right there.”

Doctor then leaves the room for 20 minutes and comes back with Doxycycline and a pamphlet about Lyme disease.

“Do you have any questions?”

“Actually I am an assistant professor of medical entomology.”

“Wow! As soon as I heard you give the species name I knew something wacky was going on. What a great story! I am so glad I was on call tonight! How did I do?”

“You did great! Thanks for the doxycycline!”

First night I have sweats and chills as the doxycycline is starting to kick in. The next day the sweats and chills are gone but the bite site burns like a bad hornet sting and I felt immense exhaustion at the end of the day. Third day into the disease/treatment I started to feel sensations in my knees and wrists (not pain, but tingling and stiffness). This lasted 7 days. After almost 2 weeks on Dox I am now at 100% health.

I must have been fed on by an unseen Ixodes nymph in my armpit for a long time.

The scariest thing about this entire experience was that I never even saw the tick!