Jeffrey L. Diamond: My tick bite nightmare: Part 1
Since 1999, the Center for Disease Control has tracked tens of thousands of cases fueling concern that it's snowballing into a nationwide epidemic. Anaplasmosis is caused by a bacterium called Anaplasma phagocytophilum that's carried by a
blacklegged tick. The onset of symptoms usually takes a little over a week. Some people weather the infection without ever being diagnosed only suffering cold or flu-like symptoms. Others are diagnosed from a blood test and are placed on a regimen of doxycyline and never think twice about it.
But five percent of us suffer far more dangerous symptoms requiring hospitalization. And about one percent die from Anaplasmosis within a month. I was one of those five percent who landed in the hospital and probably would have died from the disease without the quick thinking of my primary care physician.
My nightmare began sometime in late May — though I have no memory of being bitten and never found the tick. I live on a mountain in Richmond surrounded by dense forest and thick underbrush. I love taking long walks through the woods and often spend hours on my back porch with a cup of coffee engrossed in a good book.
It was Saturday, June 3, when my first symptoms appeared. My wife, Amy, and I were at my granddaughter's sixth birthday in Brooklyn, N.Y. I developed a mild headache and didn't think much about it nor the fact that my breathing was labored. I suffer from chronic asthma, so I used my emergency inhaler to control the wheezing.
After the party, I drove home in a fog, my chest growing tighter, my breathing getting worse. After a late dinner I sat down in our library to watch a baseball game, but I couldn't follow the action or understand the announcer.
Trip to the ER
So I made my way to our bedroom, the room spinning, the furniture appearing to move as I stripped off my clothes. I slept fitfully for a few hours before waking, my head pounding, my body shaking. I remember stumbling out of bed and walking directly into the wall.
Amy awoke and flipped on a lamp then asked me what was wrong. Blinded by the light, I told her I wasn't feeling well then headed to the bathroom where I took two Motrin, splashed water on my face, and staggered back to bed.
I slept fitfully until 9 a.m., when I got up in a pool of sweat, my headache worse. I remember grabbing onto the furniture so I wouldn't fall as I looked for a digital thermometer. That's when I discovered I had a fever of a 101, so I took two more Motrin and slept another four hours, before Amy came into the bedroom and handed me a cup of coffee. Feeling weaker,
I remember looking into her eyes and saying that I needed to go to the emergency room.
I don't remember the 20-minute drive to Berkshire Medical Center, but I do remember needing Amy's help to walk into the hospital. The next five hours were dreamlike as a parade of people examined me. A nurse drew blood and whisked it off to the lab. Another nurse took my blood pressure, checked my pulse and oxygen levels and my temperature which was just over 100. Then an ER doctor listened to my labored breathing through a stethoscope. I couldn't focus on her questions, so Amy took over and explained my symptoms and that I suffered from asthma, the doctor ordering a chest x-ray to see if I had pneumonia and a nasal swab to check if I had the flu.
Hours passed as I lay on a gurney in a deathlike sleep wondering what was wrong, before the doctor told us there was no bacterial infection. But she said my blood test showed a low platelet count and an elevated D-Dimer, so she ordered a CAT SCAN to check for blood clots in my lungs. But the CAT SCAN, like the chest X-ray, was negative, and after five hours of waiting, we were told I probably had a virus that would run its course in a couple of days, and that she was sending me home without an antibiotic.
I was too sick to argue, but Amy protested that I needed to be hospitalized for more testing, that I was sicker than she'd ever seen me. But the doctor just repeated there was no reason to keep me overnight. Did she make a mistake? In my view, the answer is yes. But even more confounding, I was never tested for a tick-borne disease even though my symptoms were classic and the problem is epidemic in the Berkshires.
I asked a BMC spokesperson why this isn't a standard test, but to date I've received no answer. If my emergency room doctor had only acted on these basic warning signs, I might have avoided the medical crisis that was soon to follow.
An author, producer and director, Jeffrey L. Diamond, is an award-winning producer with 40 years of experience in
television news. He is working on his fourth novel, "All Cameras Live," the next installments in his Ethan Benson series of murder mysteries.
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