Lyme Time

December 3, 2011
When I was nine-years-old I spent two weeks at a summer camp up the coast. The camp was the most amazing refuge an ill-traveled little girl could imagine. I was up in the mountains, overlooking the ocean, surrounded by horses, but the most beautiful thing about camp was that there were no parents. There were college-age counselors that made sure all their campers were in bed by eleven, but beyond that their supervision was minimal. For two weeks, I would have the run of the forest and do, basically, whatever I wanted.

I spent entire days vaulting and riding horses, and always made sure to visit the archery range and ropes courses in the mornings. Sometimes I would break away from my fellow campers and would go hiking on my own. I was old enough to understand the dangers of my actions, but I was also old enough not to care.

During one of my private hikes, my left leg began to throb and itch horribly. I cut my hike short and sprinted as best I could to the infirmary. Being as sensitive as I was, I was used to having allergic reactions cause my entire body to itch and burn, but this was a different case. My leg was not burning or tired, but all of my skin was agitated and I could feel my blood pound under my flesh.

The camp nurse was no older than twenty-five, and seemed at a loss as how to diagnose me. “Umm… how would you describe it?” she asked in a dazed monotone.

“Really, really itchy,” I told her for the third time.

“Did you touch any plants with your leg?” she asked and I shook my head. I had been wearing jeans and industrial hiking boots all week long, and found the question to be a waste of time. The nurse continued on, “Did you eat something you’re allergic to?”

“No, but even if I did it wouldn’t be just my leg having a reaction,” I said impatiently. I could feel my leg progressively getting more uncomfortable. My pounding blood felt to intimate beneath skin. It was as though my flesh and veins were trying to hug, but couldn’t quite reach other.

“Well let’s put some ice on it.” The nurse proceeded to ice my leg, to no avail, and then prescribed me to rest. The next day my leg felt itchier, but pulsated less, and I did my best to ignore the issue. It was not until I came home the next week, and my mom saw how swollen my leg was, that I was reminded of my mysterious problem.

“Oh my God!” she said alarmingly loud when she saw my bare skin in shorts. “Sit down right now.” In times of crisis my mom has no sweet or calm tone in her voice, and though she may mean well, she will always sound as though she is ready to rip your head off with her teeth when put in a stressful situation. “Your leg. What happened to your leg?” She dropped to her knees and examined my leg more closely.

“Ew, does Jackie have rabies?” my thirteen-year-old sister said upon seeing my swollen limb. I watched my mom closely, praying I hadn’t contracted rabies, and froze as she craned my leg to examine my inner thigh.

Mom didn’t look at either of us when she answered, “No Tori, she has Lyme disease.” On the dangerously personal area of my inner thigh was a deep berry-red rash that was shaped like a three ring bull’s-eye, and in the center was a blood engorged tick. I began to cry hysterically, my sister laughed so hard she cackled, and my mom was immediately on the phone with the hospital.

Two hours later I was on a hospital bed, having my blood drawn by a doctor who wouldn’t stop talking about himself.

“When I was four, I wrote my first full length piano ballad.” He droned on and on about how he was a certified genius and that he was a child prodigy. He even gave my mom a math problem and told her that less than one percent of the world could solve it, and that he was in the intellectual elite of society.

I wanted to tell the doctor that I didn’t care how smart he was, and that I was dying and he should be paying more attention to me than my mother’s wrong math answer. Being an overly dramatic nine-year-old girl who genuinely believed she was dying, I couldn’t help but cry.

I was prescribed a potent antibiotic and special medicine that came in pills too big for me to swallow whole. My parents doted on me as though I had six weeks to live, while my sister avoided any interaction with me. The one time she spoke to me was to give me a bottle of lice shampoo and told me to wash myself with it.

“I would have gotten you medicated dog shampoo, but I thought that it probably wouldn’t be strong enough.” she teased and scurried away, and I was left feeling filthy and infected.

The antibiotics and medicine were killing everything inside of me, and I spent the entire summer in hiding. I had fevers and could no longer go out into the sun without burning. Foods I had been able to eat before made me sick, and I subsisted mostly on pureed meals and soup. I saw nobody but family, and kept my sickness a secret. I didn’t tell my school friends that I had Lyme disease in fear that they would treat me the way my sister had. For the rest of the summer, I was stuck inside rereading my favorite Nancy Drew novels and ignoring phone calls.
Six weeks later I was in the doctor’s office with my final test results in, and was relieved to hear that I was alright. I could go into the sun and live again, and I rejoiced over the simple luxury of being outside. That next summer, I went to Skylark Ranch again, returned tick free, and looked at my previous summer with a heavy sense of gratitude for everything in my life. Feeling the sun on my cheeks has never ceased to remind me how beautiful life’s subtleties are.

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