A brush with Lyme disease
Our patient shares what it’s really like to have the tick-borne illness
He didn’t know it at the time, but avid outdoorsman Bill Johnson now believes it all started on a canoeing trip just 12 miles from where he works every day in Stillwater.
A couple of weeks after spending time at William O’Brien State Park, Bill began to feel terrible. Off-and-on fevers started to plague him around the clock. There were red patches on his head and torso. And he had awful pain in his back and mid-section. Some nights, the pain was so intense he would get up and walk around his neighborhood. That provided some relief, but mostly it was a distraction.
Then, Bill hit rock bottom during a camping trip to New Ulm.
“We were down there for a festival, but I wasn’t feeling very festive,” he recalls. “I spent most of the time just lying down. But I couldn’t lie in one position very long because of the pain. And I had night sweats, too.”
“Lyme disease is very regional. And ticks are widespread here in the St. Croix River Valley,” Dr. Manzel says. “It is rare for doctors in some parts of the country to see a case. But here in central and northern Minnesota, it’s very common. It can be a complicated diagnosis because it can mirror other conditions.”
Bill was surprised – he did not have the classic bulls-eye rash. And he didn’t even realize he had been bitten on that canoe trip. But two blood tests confirmed the diagnosis.
“In the early stages, Lyme disease is often curable,” says Dr. Manzel. He put Bill on a three-week course of antibiotics, which successfully prevented any lasting side-effects.
“After I finished the antibiotics, I was way better than I had been,” Bill reflects. “And then I would say by sometime in the fall, I was back to pretty much my normal self.”
Though his brush with Lyme disease has made him more cautious, Bill says he’ll still be heading outside to the woods this summer.
“I love the outdoors,” he says. “I canoe, hike, bird watch and camp. And I don’t want to give any of that up. But I will be more careful of my immediate surroundings. If I’m on a trail, I won’t go off the trail. And I’ll for sure be more diligent about checking for ticks.”
Bill’s thankful for Dr. Manzel’s quick intervention, as untreated Lyme disease has serious complications. These can include chronic joint inflammation (especially of knees) and irregular heart rhythm. And the brain can also be affected with neurological symptoms and cognitive defects.
“Who knows what might have happened to me if [Dr. Manzel] hadn’t intervened so promptly,” he posted on Stillwater Medical Group’s Facebook page a couple of months after his treatment. “I’m feeling great now.”
Does Bill’s story give you the heebie-jeebies?
Don’t stress! A tick must be attached for more than 36 hours to transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. And even if a tick’s attached for more than 36 hours, there’s still only a 3 percent chance of developing Lyme disease. Plus, even if you’re not showing symptoms, you can start antibiotics as a preventative. That will cut your chances of developing the condition in half again.
But it’s important to try to keep ticks from latching on to you to begin with. Check out our tips for how to avoid and remove them.
If you have symptoms of Lyme disease or have been recently bitten by a tick, you can get care at:
- Park Nicollet
- St. Croix Valley Locations
- HealthPartners Central Minnesota Clinic