Around here, there aren’t too many of us who haven’t been affected by Lyme disease to some degree. From afar, I witnessed my brother’s struggles with the illness in the 1990s. Dave first noticed the telltale bull’s-eye rash on his arm. A doctor caught it early enough and prescribed antibiotics, and my brother suffered few adverse symptoms.
Knowing that early detection was the key to a speedy and complete recovery, Dave didn’t waste any time after he discovered a second bite a year or so later. But when another tick found its way to the back of his leg, leaving a welt that grew to the size of a half dollar, my brother didn’t see the bull’s-eye, so he assumed it was a spider bite. Then, in the middle of summer, he came down with flu-like symptoms that left him bedridden. A test revealed his third case of Lyme.
An avid rock climber, Dave is a prime candidate for Lyme. As such, he now leads tours through the wilderness with long pants, checking himself thoroughly afterward for uninvited guests. That may explain why he hasn’t been infected in well over a decade. Fortunately, he has no lingering effects from his past Lyme run-ins.
Others haven’t been so lucky, as senior writer J.F. Pirro discovered in his exhaustive research for “Lyme Lives Here.” Radnor’s Jeanmarie Cryan spent six years in bed with debilitating symptoms, and all five of the Cryan children, ages 16-26, are infected.
The family’s focus has largely been on their two youngest, John and Kat (who missed two years of school). John suffered from severe muscle tics and couldn’t keep from thrashing in bed when trying to sleep. Another daughter, Mary—a former Division 1 lacrosse player at Rutgers University—occasionally relapses and requires treatment.
On a lighter note, Pirro also came across Kennett Square’s Mike Rudofker and Barbara Blake, Lyme patients who are working on a book that includes a list of misguided comments from doctors. A Philadelphia rheumatologist once told them: “You need to work on your presentation—and, by the way, if you mention chronic Lyme disease, you’ll get the door slammed in your face.”
“That tops their list,” says Pirro.
Such ignorance and arrogance used to be more common than it is today, thanks to a growing number of patients, doctors and politicians in Southeastern Pennsylvania and nationwide who’ve come to terms with Lyme disease’s insidious uncertainties and are fighting to ensure that its very real threat to public health is not marginalized.
When it comes to Lyme, the more you know, the better off you are. For a list of local, regional and national Lyme disease resources, click here.
Stay safe this summer.