The Lyme Light
So you’ve finished 2,185 miles. It’s taken you many months and hard climbs and beautiful views to make it to that final ascent. I’m proud to say I did that. I celebrated my accomplishment on the top of Mt. Katahdin on August 21st next to many other amazing hikers. We all sat for hours, enjoying the view and each other’s company, before climbing back to the bottom to meet a few hikers’ family members.
We continued to celebrate, eating and drinking and talking. I was fortunate enough to have my grandparents meet my father and I there in Baxter State Park to congratulate us on our final day. After a while I felt a headache coming on and knew it was time to leave the AT. We packed four smelly hikers and their gear, as well as two other non-smelly adults, into a small car and began our final hitch out of the woods.
My headache worsened and I had to jump out of the car 4 times to vomit on the way home. Car sickness? Too much food? Too much excitement? I don’t know what it was, only that I spent an evening I should have been celebrating sleeping on the bathroom floor next to the toilet.
Within 24 hours I had recovered, but my father fell sick shortly after followed by my grandmother. We all tried to enjoy Maine despite the illnesses before heading home to Atlanta. When I arrived home, I found myself extremely tired. But that was to be expected, right? My body was surely trying to recover from that 24 hour bug and 2,185 mile hike. I made plans to reunite with friends throughout the week, but each day I began to feel worse.
Everything in my body hurt. My muscles felt as though I’d just completed a two hour personal training session. I slept constantly. I wasn’t hungry and when I did try to eat I felt nauseous. I would climb one flight of stairs and have to sit down at the top. Considering just a week before I’d been hiking 20 miles per day, this was mentally incredibly frustrating. Why wasn’t my body cooperating? Why was I getting worse?
It didn’t help to suddenly be the most famous person in the room, thrown into the limelight. Everyone had “followed my journey online” and wanted to ask me about my hike. I loved being able to finally share stories about the incredible trip with my friends in person, but I found that if I spoke continuously for more than 30 seconds I would become winded and begin to black-out. Twice I almost dropped the glass cup I was holding and had to grab a chair to keep myself from falling.
As if these weren’t low points, the worst moment came when I laid down in bed and couldn’t sit back up. My abs were too sore and my body was too weak. I had to call for my mom to come help me sit back up I hurt so badly. This was not what I expected from my post-trail body or for my post trail life. I’d imagined running marathons. And yet this is where I was. Not stronger than ever, but the opposite.
I went to the minute clinic down the street. When the doctor walked into the room and asked what was wrong, I knew exactly what to blame. “I’m pretty sure I have Lyme Disease” I told her. She brushed this off in her “I’m a doctor and know better” way and went through my symptoms before suggesting I might be dehydrated. She checked my blood pressure sitting, standing, and lying down. When this was inconclusive, she listened to my chest. She did this twice before saying, “Now I don’t want you to be worried, but I think you have a heart murmur and I’m considering sending you to the ER immediately. But before I do that, I want to run an EKG.”
She left the room to allow me to change out of my clothes, and it crossed my mind that just possibly this amazing AT trip of a lifetime might have caused me some problems of a lifetime. My mind was so groggy at that point and it took so much focus to change into my patient gown that I had no energy to think further into the doc’s worried tone. A nurse entered the room to run the EKG and (thankfully) informed me it was negative. No heart murmur! He also (finally) drew blood to check me for Lyme.
The doctor returned, relieved but still insistent if I got any worse I needed to go to the ER. She provided me 21 days worth of antibiotics (63 pills) which would knock out my Lyme. And it worked. I began to improve two weeks into the pills and by the time I finished them I was that strong person I’d expected post-trail. I began training for races again, and I’m proud to say I ran 16 miles yesterday. It’s not the marathon I wanted, but with more training it will be soon.
I never saw a ring from a tick and I don’t know when I first became sick. The fact my health declined only after summating Katahdin was lucky. I like to think my body knew how close I was and held out. But really, it could have been anything. Lyme doesn’t show up the first 4-6 weeks on tests, so I did test negative. Lyme may not have been my downfall, but the antibiotics certainly seemed to turn things around for me. Really it doesn’t matter what caused me to be sick. All I know is I’m grateful I got better. And I’m much more careful to check for ticks every single time I hike.
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