It all started when I was stranded in Maryland with my mom during Hurricane Sandy. I was sitting in the shower, rejoicing in the fact that the shower was big enough to sit in, and I noticed a weird mark on my leg: a red, raised circle about the diameter of an M&M. It didn’t hurt or itch, and I couldn’t remember where I got it. So I resolved to keep an eye on it and kept on soaping.
Flash forward a week and a half: the mark now looks a little like a bullseye, but not enough like a bullseye that I could unequivocally declare, “Oh my! A bullseye rash!” My resolution to just keep an eye on it continued…until I woke up the next day with a raging headache, aching joints, swollen lymph nodes and a fever. I called a friend who is also a vet and described my symptoms, and he said, “Hmm. You sound an awful lot like a dog with Lyme disease.” A speculative diagnosis over the phone from a veterinarian was enough to convince me: I totally had Lyme disease.
I will be the first to confess that I do not handle illness well. I descend a dizzying spiral of self-pity, until I am mentally and physically immobilized with an overwhelming sadness for my miserable lack of vim, vinegar, or vitality. My sorrow is palpable, and forces existentialist lines of thought into being: surely this state of helpless suffering is proof that we are alone in the universe. The fact that I am a seminarian only makes the tragedy of this realization and the pointlessness of life that much more tangible. This state of mind is only encouraged by Internet searches on Lyme disease, which inevitably turn up horrible diseases that share some of the same symptoms but which are only really possible to catch if you’ve been walking through African cesspools without shoes on. Before I know it I’m watching Youtube videos of botflies (never ever do this) and am considering writing a living will.
Long story short, I started an antibiotic called doxycycline that should cure whate’er ails me physically, although the emotional damage of watching those botfly videos may never be redeemed.
I thought this was the end of the trauma, but in truth, it was only beginning. At first the doxy was great. Within two days of beginning a course, I felt a whole lot better. But the antibiotic quickly lost its appeal. It has all these dietary limitations you have to follow in order to take it: take it with lots of water, but on an empty stomach, so you can’t eat for an hour after you take it, and you shouldn’t eat for 2-3 hours before, and you can’t have calcium, magnesium, iron, or zinc within two hours on either side of taking it (once every 12 hours). 1) This is a serious drag for someone who grazes throughout the day. 2) Do you know what foods contain calcium, magnesium, iron, and/or zinc? Dairy products, red meat, eggs, dark leafy greens, grains, seafood, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate. This leaves literally disqualifies the contents of my entire apartment from being eaten within two hours of taking this high-maintenance antibiotic. Bwah.
As if this were not bad enough, on about day four of the course, doxycycline started dropping in some of its many charming side effects (which, incidentally, include at least one case where a woman went crazy for about four hours after taking it. Thanks, Internet!). Namely: nausea.
Now, in the evening it wasn’t bad: I’d feel a bit queasy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. But in the morning? When my defenses are low and all I really, really want is coffee (but I can’t have it because the milk I put in it contains calcium)? The doxy hits my innards like they are whack-a-moles at the county fair. And to maximize the mental torture, it will usually let me get all the way to the 45-minute mark (15 minutes to CRACKERS AND RICE!) until the gut-twisting heaving begins. TMI? Too bad. I want you all to suffer with me.
Now, keep in mind that there’s nothing in my tummy except water and whatever mangled remains of that stupid turquoise pill are left, but this does not prevent the doxycycline from trying to turn it inside out for a few moments. Like the forgetful woman who is convinced that she put her glasses down on this table, here, just a moment ago, and will keep checking that spot even though she’s checked it five times already, my stomach turns over again and again, convinced that something will turn up if it just goes through the motions long enough.
I’ve started to anthropomorphize the doxycycline in my mind. I picture it as a turquoise cross between a buffalo and Gossamer, that cartoon character from Looney Tunes.
Today I decided that I just don’t care enough to follow medical instructions exactly, when the medical instructions seem this stupid. So if I start feeling nauseous, I will eat a cracker to calm my stomach down. And if I need my morning coffee (and I REALLY need my morning coffee), I will drink it, and rejoice in its flavored goodness, and gloat over the fact that the calcium in my creamer is maybe mitigating the evil powers of the turquoise buffalo-Gossamer.
Or at least, I did, until I checked the nutrition label on my cream and saw that there was no calcium in it.
I know I should be grateful that I can both have coffee AND follow medical instructions…but really, I’m just sad that the turquoise buffalo-Gossamer is winning the battle against my tummy as thoroughly as it’s won the battle against Lyme.
Fortunately, I have the memories of those botfly videos to put this all in perspective. Thanks again, Internet.