Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
A reader wrote recently to say she does much of her birding in her yard, from her deck, because she has Lyme's disease, and now prefers to avoid habitat that might harbor deer ticks. Lyme's is transmitted by the deer tick, as you probably know. Those tiny ticks also carry a couple of other disease agents. One of them will give you what is now called human anaplasmosis, formerly known as ehrlichiosis. I was infected with that disease.
My symptoms arrived suddenly while I was driving back to our Wisconsin home from a visit with my elderly mother. Mom was a sweetheart, but often a difficult sweetheart, her pure Norwegian stubbornness too visible. In the car, hearing north on I-35, one minute I was fine. The next I had a terrible headache and chills and sweating. I told myself that visits to Mom could be stressful, but my goodness, the day hadn't seemed that bad.
I felt no better when I got home, so drove to Shell Lake where my doctor had her office. I found her at the hospital there. She drew blood from me, and took it off to the lab. When she returned she said I was to stay and be treated for ehrlichiosis. She explained what that was. Fine, I said. I'll drive home for my toothbrush and a book and be back in an hour. No way. I was put to bed five minutes later, an IV hooked to my arm, anti-biotics going to work. Unlike Lyme's, ehrlichiosis has no lingering symptoms. You cure it or it kills you in about two weeks. It will destroy your kidneys among other things. I went home two days later, a weak but well man.
I think about ticks when I bird. I don't often restrict myself from going where I please, but I'm careful about checking my body for ticks. I remember too well the headache, the chills, and the heavy sweating. And I feel bad about blaming that on my sweet old mom.
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