Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How I Was Infected

"I've never been healthy." I've heard myself say that both aloud and as a fleeting internal thought, and while it often feels that way, the truth is, it's not entirely accurate.

Born weighing 9 lbs at completion of a full-term pregnancy, breast-fed as a baby and a typically cheerful, excitable toddler, I was the picture of health. Saudi Arabia was home from birth until age five, when we returned to the United States. Unusually enough, I do recall many wonderful things about those early years in Saudi, most memories taking place between ages three and five. Memories like running giddily along the seashore in the hot sun, sliding down the slide at the playground, nursery school lessons, my dolls, puzzles, favorite movies, neighboring cats, my bedroom, and other fun things. Nothing from Saudi stands out as particularly negative or scarring. (Ok, that's not true, either. I remember freaking out when my mom took my pacifier away for the last time).

Assimilating into kindergarten in Dallas, Texas, in 1987 wasn't easy. The bad memories start almost right after--but more like a year after--we got to the U.S. In first or second grade, I remember a lot of things changing for the worse, and blaming most of it on the traumatic effects of tearing a young child away from her home. Sure, I missed Saudi Arabia, but was the psychological burden responsible for a torrent of new physical ailments? Around age 6 or 7 (pinning down the exact age isn't easy), I went from a healthy weight--and a voracious appetite for food--to a suddenly scrawny, bony child who picked at grains of rice and desired little of what she was fed. Not only did I wither into a skeletal frame, that's when the weakness first set in. The frail, easily exhausted child, who desired mostly sugary snacks but scoffed at healthy meals.

What had happened?

Let's back up and try to get the timeline pinned down. (It's something I've been trying to do ever since my Lyme diagnosis.) Okay. We arrived in Dallas New Years Eve 1986/87. I started kindergarten in January 1987. The first year, I did alright, maintaining my body frame, making new friends, and flourishing at all the excitement of newness.

Sometime in the summer of 1988, my grandfather took me, my sister and my brother camping in rural, southern Missouri, on a now-infamous camping trip that I see as the incident that changed my and my sister's lives. We returned to Grandma and Grandpa's house the next day with moderate-sized ticks literally covering our appendages. A short but striking image still plays in my head: my sister, Maha, and I pulling the ticks out, some of their legs staying stuck in our skin. Their gross, wiggly, legs. The way they creepily latched onto us. The number of them that had found me. The matches we eventually lit and stuck onto their heads to burn them off.

And that's the only time I've ever had a tick (and not just one) in my whole life. The same goes for Maha, who was diagnosed with chronic Lyme in 2010, and who's the reason I decided to get tested.

I don't remember having a rash, but as I've read on many Lyme sites, only half of Lyme sufferers ever actually display a rash. I also don't remember any drastic onset of illness or high fever, but that's not to say I didn't have it--I just don't remember. I don't really remember much after that isolated incident; surely we came back to Texas, finished the summer, and started school again as usual. There was no trip to the doctor or hospital after the tick bites. It was almost insignificant to the family--we removed the ticks, they were gone, everything was normal again.

But something was lurking deep inside me, multiplying in my blood and spreading to my organs, while no one had a clue. And I would spend the next 23 years of my life knowing--call it a hunch, an intuition, or a heightened sense of self-awareness--that there was something deeply, intrinsically wrong with me. This sense would stay with me, haunt me, and cloak the very essence of me throughout every attempt for a solution, for an answer nobody could give me until now.

My next blog entry will detail my symptoms and the crazy decline into debilitation that has ruled most--not all--of my life. I was a healthy baby. Too bad the memories of wellness are so distant.

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