It started innocently enough. A small red patch of skin buried among clusters of bruises on my right leg after weeks of work in the garden was the first sign. As I went to bed that night I noticed that the bruise seemed warm and somewhat tender but I gave it no more thought.
My house in the north of Germany backed onto a forest and we regularly had deer in the garden. We had found the occasional tick on us but none for a while and after spending much of November cutting down trees and digging up the stumps I assumed it was too late in the year for ticks.
The next morning wasn’t that much different, except the bruise was now a little hotter. I had to visit the local town that day, and as the weather was good I decided not to take the bus to the railway station. It was an hour’s walk away, a pleasant and easy walk on a good track through the woods, but by the time I arrived I was noticing some pain in my leg. It wasn’t much but by the time I’d walked through the town for an hour and a half the pain was starting to get very uncomfortable and when I returned on the train I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk back.
It was a ten minute wait for the bus home, and the pain and heat from the leg seemed to be getting worse by the minute. When I got off the bus I was struggling to walk and hobbled the last few hundred metres to the house where I collapsed into the chair. I needed to have a look at my leg to see what was causing the pain and when I did, this was the sight that greeted me:
“Bollocks” I said as my heart sunk. I recognised the classic bulls-eye rash of Lyme Disease and knew it was serious. By the time I went to bed that night, my leg burnt and I felt absolutely exhausted.
I crawled out of bed the next morning feeling weak and nauseous, but I needed to get to the doctor. The walk there took me down the hill through a forest path and by the time I reached it I was shivering and sweating profusely. I dread to think how I looked with my arms wrapped tightly around me as sweat poured from my face. When I was called I found I could barely walk and staggered across the waiting room before falling into the chair in front of the doctor.
My German wasn’t great, but it didn’t need to be. As soon as I rolled my trouser leg up and showed her my rash, which by now looked like this:
She said exactly what I expected her to say, “Es ist Zeckenkrankheit Lyme-Borreliose”.
A broad spectrum antibiotic was prescribed and a nurse called to clean & dress the site of the rash. All pretensions of masculinity and courage went out the window as the spatula dripping with antiseptic approached my leg and the pathetic attempt I made at a scream was worthy of a small child that had just dropped its ice cream.
And so I set off back home with the full strength of the “flu-like” symptoms hitting me as I headed back home up the hill. With each step my strength weakened and my leg grew more painful until it got to the point where my leg was almost useless. I was almost dragging it behind me while hopping with the good leg and my house felt as far away as the top of the toughest Munro.
This bizarre hoppy drag shuffle was a slow and painful way to get home. I had to rest every few steps, stopping and putting just a little weight on my bad leg until my other leg didn’t feel like jelly. What should only have taken a few minutes took almost half an hour until I eventually got to my front door and collapsed into the house.
This was, of course, the perfect time for the vomiting to start. Fortunately it wasn’t the instant and projectile style of vomit, so I had enough time to do the hoppy drag shuffle up the stairs to the toilet.
At this point I feel the need to digress a little. As many of our readers won’t have spent much time in Germany, it’s very possible they’re not familiar with the truly evil and horrific alteration that Germans have made to the otherwise simple design of the toilet:
It’s a shelf. In the toilet. Anything you do in the toilet falls onto a shelf that’s only a few inches below the rim. I say “falls” but that’s only if you’re lucky. If you do something that’s any reasonable length you have to actually lift yourself off from it and hope it falls over on its side. And then there’s the fact that it doesn’t fall into deep water but into an incredibly shallow puddle that does nothing to contain the smell which sits, gathering its strength until you flush, sending the noxious gas pouring out of the toilet in every direction.
You can’t even do a courtesy flush as if you’ve been pebble-dashing the force of the water has enough strength to send something flying forwards out of the toilet to land in your trousers. And if you’ve done something large enough to require the afore mentioned raising, you then have to suffer the deeply unpleasant sight of it doing an impression of the Titanic as the water slowly forces it to the edge of the shelf before slowly tipping upright before sinking to the depths below.
So what has this to do with my Lyme Disease? Well, this was the first time I’d vomited into a German toilet and it’s a testament to German engineering just how well it seems to be designed to send any vomit splashing in every direction out of the pan! It turns out that aiming is essential, and if you hit the shelf, it goes bloody everywhere. Fortunately I had Karla to clean up after me and after she saw the fairly pathetic state I was now in she dispatched me straight to bed with orders to sleep for a very long time.
For about a week the leg was absolutely crippling. Burning hot, badly swollen and exceptionally painful, I could barely move or sleep because of it. Putting weight on it was painful and walking was utter agony for about a dozen steps until the pain seemed to ease to something resembling very painful. But as the rash began to fade, so did the pain and within a couple of weeks I could walk short distances without limping too badly.
Likewise the other symptoms started to fade. The fever, the cold sweats and the aches in every joint began to fade along with the rash. The fatigue lingered for a long time, outlasting all the other symptoms and still left me exhausted for a couple of months.
But the biggest long term health issue was from the antibiotics. They absolutely destroyed my gut bacteria as well as the Lyme Disease and my body suddenly struggled to digest my food. I suffered severe diarrhea for several months as a result of the antibiotics, ultimately needing medication to slow down my digestive system before I returned to normal.
It’s been almost ten months since I first contracted Lyme Disease. I still have a dark stain on my leg where the rash was and it’s been a tough year physically because of it. But I’m lucky, because it was recognised immediately, both my myself and my doctor and the prompt treatment with the antibiotics meant that when my blood was checked several months later there was no trace of it in my system.
If I hadn’t had the rash, as happens in a substantial minority of Lyme Disease cases, I’d have dismissed it as the flu. I wouldn’t have sought medical treatment and I wouldn’t have been treated early. And with Lyme Disease, if you don’t catch it early it’s virtually untreatable, lingering in your system and causing you endless years of life-altering problems, including Encephalomyelitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and symptoms that resemble Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I caught Lyme Disease because I got lazy. I didn’t check myself for ticks for a few days and one got me. It was preventable and I only have myself to blame for contracting it. So I encourage everyone who reads this to check yourself for ticks every time you’ve been in an area that could have them. This includes anywhere with deer or sheep and any forested areas. I had several months of hell with this disease, don’t let it happen to you.