January 19, 2012
when we moved to this town a year and a half ago, i pulled a tick from behind the dog’s ear. there was a giant red welt that wasn’t getting better or smaller. in a moment of concerned desperation, i took the dog, mars, to the closest veterinary clinic i could find. the staff were the exact opposite of the staff at our brooklyn neighborhood clinic. they came out from behind the desk, sat on the floor with a fistful of dehydrated, raw dog treats and squealed “aren’t you the cutest dog ever?”
back in an exam room, i instantly wanted to be friends with the veterinarian. she also sat on the floor while my dog licked every inch of her face, and she laughed with every ounce of her being. i told her about how my dog didn’t know what to do in our wooded yard and had resorted to peeing on the deck, the closest thing to concrete within an acre of the door. i showed her the tick i’d pulled off of mars. apparently, it was a brown dog tick, which can cause canine ehrlichiosis, but does not carry lyme. she asked me what we were using for tick prevention and had we vaccinated her for lyme? “no,” i said. “the odds of her getting a tick in the mccarren dog park weren’t really so high.” she asked me if we had tried anything natural, like clove oil, to help deter fleas and ticks. “no,” i told her. “but i would love to.” she gave me a bottle of ectopamine, a blend of essential oils, to spray on the dog’s fur to kill and repel ticks and fleas. she also recommended that we vaccinate the dog for lyme. i agreed. my first dog, the one who has grown old at my parent’s house, suffered a devastating bout of lyme disease, and i didn’t want a repeat of that. i confessed that i was surprised that she had offered me a natural solution to the problem, to which she responded cheerily “we’re a integrative, holistic clinic.” it was kismet. i had unwittingly taken my beloved dog to get the same kind of medical care i seek for myself. of course, at this point, i had not yet been diagnosed with lyme co-infections. lyme is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can be transmitted from an animal to a human. except for the fact that lyme caused joint swelling, particularly in the knees, i didn’t know shit about shit.
yesterday, i took the cat and the other dog, minion, who loves to torment the cat, to the vet. i told her that over christmas, while chasing canadian geese, minion had broken through the frozen ice of my parent’s pond, been rescued by my brother, who threw a canoe onto the ice, tipped the canoe, swam to the dog, threw the dog in the canoe and swam back to shore- all while i was in the shower. “impulse control,” i said. “he has none.”
“oh,” she said, kissing the top of his head, “all he needs is a little obedience school.”
“believe me, i know,” i told her, “but i can’t find a six week window to actually commit to. i’m getting treatment for chronic lyme, babesiosis, and bartonella, in addition to my autoimmune stuff, and i just can’t get it together to get him into the same training his sister had.”
then my vet, my future friend, told me that she had lyme disease. she said that her daughter had suffered from bell’s palsy, facial paralysis, and had been hit really hard by lyme. her two-year-old had also tested positive for lyme. i asked if she contracted it gestaionally. she wasn’t sure. they had all been treated by an integrative lyme specialist and had recovered. then we talked about all the other people we knew who had it. a receptionist at the clinic had to quit because of her lyme disease. i told her about the research showing that songbirds had been transporting lyme to previously unaffected regions. “it seems so obvious,” i said, “but it totally blew my mind when i heard that.” our conversation went on for awhile, and i, for once, won’t go into the details. i left with a feeling that has become too familiar; lyme disease is everywhere, affecting more people than we can imagine and we have a system that, despite overwhelming evidence, pretends it doesn’t exist. we’re sick. we’re losing our jobs and our livelihoods. we’re literally dying from this disease and we can’t get adequate treatment.
you know how much an eight month course of iv antibiotics costs? it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 (this is a reliable estimate, and not an individualized bill). my insurance won’t touch that. i’m not in a financial position to buy myself a luxury car (that would cost about the same, right?) or even fix our broken chimney, but my partner, my family, and i will figure out a way to pay for my treatments. even though it’s going to be a struggle, i’m lucky and blessed to be able to navigate a price tag like that. what can the rest of the chronically ill, lyme patients, who can’t find that kind of cash, do? i don’t have a solution yet, but i’m going to fight like hell to find one. i don’t want to live in a world where only the rich and the middle class can cure their diseases.