Ticks and Dog Training: My Life with Lyme Disease, Part 2

Being diagnosed with Lyme Disease this past August certainly explained the mysterious range of physical and neurological problems that plagued me for months: the unrelenting fatigue, why I kept forgetting my client’s names, why my hands started to become arthritic, and why I started to lose interest in my business and everything else in my life.  

My treatment began immediately, with heavy doses of antibiotics.  The antibiotics would bring down the bacterial load in my system so that my immune system could do the rest.  But as the bacteria die, they release a toxin causing what is called a Herxheimer reaction.  This means that before you feel better, you feel a whole lot worse.  

The added complications were that I had just started a set of dog training classes at a new facility and I had been invited to give two presentations at the APDT conference in October.  Both were tremendous personal and professional opportunities that I was not about to give up due to extremely bad timing.  So, I became determined to do both and continue to work as much as I could during my treatment.

First, I backed off on taking on new private clients so I could channel my energy into the dog training classes that were already underway.  I contacted several other local trainers, who were also good friends and asked them to take on my clients.  Their support became vital.  Next, I enlisted the help of my husband and another friend/trainer to supervise and assist me during classes to make sure I was mentally and physically on the ball.  With great effort, I could pass for my normal self for around two hours before collapsing in a heap.  

Next, I had much preparation to do for the APDT conference, as my presentations needed more content, video editing, polishing and practicing.  My ability to concentrate was greatly hindered by both Lyme and the antibiotics.  I soldiered on, getting in as much as I could on the days that I was not teaching.

During the first month of my treatment, I ached in different places in my body everyday.  Some days my knees would swell, some days my back ached, some days my I would have a headache as the Herxheimer reactions progressed.  I continued to have arthritis and swelling in my hands and feet which made even holding a leash challenging.  But the constant buzzing, the feelings of an electrical current running through my hands and feet started to go away after about two weeks.

During the second month of treatment, my memory improved, as did my ability to concentrate and multitask.  I could pick up a book again and read pages one after the other.  For many months, I could not read more than a page at a time, having to re-read the same passage in order to comprehend adequately.  I didn’t get lost in my thoughts as I had.  The mental fog was beginning to clear and just in time.

As the APDT conference approached, my dog training classes graduated and I was able to put more time into polishing and practicing my presentations.  My energy really started to come back in small increments the week before I flew to Oakland, California.  Luckily, I convinced a trainer/friend to attend the conference with me at the last minute.  She made sure that I got on the right plane and was my chaperone.  

As I stood for the first time on the APDT stage, I was exhilarated and humbled, but also thinking how close I came to not being there because of Lyme Disease.  I thought about how many other people might be walking around with Lyme or other tick related illnesses and have no idea as the bacteria spread with no warning signs.

I came back from APDT simply exhausted on a personal and professional high.  I’m taking an extended sabbatical the rest of the year, as I finish up antibiotic treatment and want to take the opportunity to make other people aware of their risks working and living in Lyme endemic areas.

Unfortunately, there is no test that tells you that Lyme Disease is really gone from your body.  Many times, the bacteria can return in force and symptoms need to be monitored if the infection does come back.  Additionally, tremendous care must be taken to avoid re-infection.   There is no immunity again a new Lyme infection and many times additional exposures cause more intense symptoms.  For me, this means giving up my outdoor teaching location next to a field frequented by deer and always wearing long pants and tick protection outside with my clients and my own dogs.

As trainers, as dog guardians, and as folks that just enjoy the great outdoors with our dogs, tick borne diseases are a threat to us all.  Protecting and educating ourselves about Lyme and other tick borne illnesses needs to be part of our lives.  Recognizing the symptoms of Lyme can ensure early treatment, so the disease doesn’t have to progress beyond an acute infection.  

There are many great resources for learning about Lyme including the Lyme Disease Fountation and the recent documentary “Under Our Skin”.  

http://www.lyme.org/otherdis/ld.html

http://www.underourskin.com/watch.html