So you read the title of this post, yes?
K. Let’s back up.
About 6 weeks ago, I hopped out of the shower and started drying off with a towel when I noticed this tiny, thin, red circle on my rib cage. It was more spherical than circular, really, and I’d never noticed it there before.
Did I burn myself? I wondered, reflecting on recent events. The answer was no.
Has someone or something.. bitten me there? I thought about it carefully: negative.
The mark definitely looked strange, but my mind quickly abandoned the idea of worrying about it as I began moving onward with my day, handling duties and having fun and – in the process of doing so – forgetting all about mythical burns and nonexistent bites.
Again, that was approximately six weeks ago. Returning to the present..
LAST night, I got in from Huntsville around 7:30 PM. My roommate and best friend, Charlie, picked me up at my company’s corporate office (where I returned a rental car), drove us both home, and then he started preparing a delicious supper in the kitchen: mashed potatoes, sauteed carrots, buttered peas and “mock” chicken strips sauteed in olive oil.
As he began filling a pot with water and retrieving items from the refrigerator, I ran upstairs with the luggage, plopped it down onto the floor in my bedroom, and started removing clothes. After showering, I began to slide a band t-shirt on over my head when my eyes spotted the angry, red, eye-shaped rash flashing with rage on my rib cage.
The fuck? I murmured out loud. I’d been casually keeping tabs on the phenomena over the course of the past couple of weeks, but I don’t gaze into mirrors often and I don’t look down at my bare skin often either, so looking at it now, I realized that it had grown a good bit in size and that it was still pretty freaking red. These developments troubled me, but when Charlie announced that dinner was ready, the potentially deadly red insignia on my body lost all significance.
I fell fast asleep after finishing dinner and watching a stressful and emotional episode of Doctor Who, but the matter of the mysterious mark resurfaced in my mind when I woke up at 6:30 this morning. I rolled over in bed, listening to the heavy breathing and unembarrassed snoring of the chubby German Shepherd lying at the other end of the bed, and snagged my phone from off of my writing desk.
I spent about ten minutes googling things like “eye-shaped rash on rib cage” and “red spherical rash on skin,” and the comments and explanations that I came across all directed me, in unison, to investigate the terrifying possibility of Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease! I mourned. My best friend had contracted Lyme Disease when she was a kid, and I vividly remembered her relating how her dad had to pick her up and carry her around for a period of months when her joints were so aching so badly that she couldn’t walk. My cousin had also experienced a rough and extended bout with the disease, so I was pretty well acquainted with how unpleasant it could be.
Here’s a quick overview of Lyme Disease.
The presence of a bull’s eye-shaped rash on the body and flu-like symptoms, including:
- muscle aches,
- and joint pain.
Shit! I exhaled. I was just dizzy yesterday afternoon, I had TWO uncharacteristic headaches LAST week, and I slept in ’til 12:09 PM on Sunday and I’ve NEVER, EVER done that before. And now, because of all of these unpleasant correlations, I am ALSO experiencing sweats and chills and, vaguely, muscle aches. Yep. I definitely have it.
If a tick bites an animal carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), the tick can also become infected. The tick can then transfer the bacteria to a human by biting them. Ticks can be found in any areas with deep or overgrown vegetation where they have access to animals to feed on.
I peered at Sheppy over the top of my phone. “Damn it, Bruce. I feel like this is your fault somehow. What are you going to do when your human dies, huh?” Shep stirred lightly in his sleep and then exhaled dramatically, sounding very exasperated. Adorable.
It was around 6:45 AM now and I decided that, with the chances of my survival probably still relatively high at just six weeks out, I’d get my diseased body to a doctor as soon as possible in an effort to prevent the disease from overtaking my body and prematurely ending my life. So today, I went to (2) places that I absolutely DO NOT like going to:
- The doctor’s office
First up: What’s up, doc?
My mission began with a necessary shower. I washed the afflicted area gingerly and with great disdain (I’ll note here that the rash DOESN’T EVEN LOOK GROSS AT ALL! It doesn’t itch, it doesn’t hurt, and if it wasn’t red and oddly, magically spherical, I wouldn’t even know that it was there). I got dressed, returned to my bedroom, and gazed longingly at my backpack, which was slumped up against the bed (it contained my laptop, headphones, and journal). “Would it really be appropriate for me to go drink coffee and write in a cafe when something so sober and grave and serious is happening in my life?”
I thought about it for a second.
“Yes.. I think it would be,” I answered myself, “because who knows how many more chances I’ll get to write and drink coffee in this lifetime.”
I happily swept the backpack up from off of the floor, fed and watered the dog, withdrew a slightly under-ripe banana and a bottle of grapefruit juice from the kitchen and then prepared to head out for the day.
But I hesitated in the hallway.
“Hang on a minute. Doctors. They examine things.. take your blood pressure, check your pulse.. take your blood..” I shivered. “Hopefully they WON’T do that. But I’m pretty sure that some of them MAKE you take your clothes off.”
I stood there in the hallway for another minute, feeling mortified.
“Are they going to make me take my clothes off?! Damn it.” The mere thought of it made me entirely miserable.
To prepare for the event of possibly having to remove an article of (or all of) my clothing, I ditched the pair of blue boxers that I had put on earlier that morning and, in their place, I put on my robot underpants, deciding that it would be far less embarrassing to be seen in my robot underpants than a boring pair of blue boxers. Want to see what they look like?
Freaking cool, huh? I love these boxers SO MUCH that I bought ANOTHER PAIR that’s just like them at Target last week. I now own TWO pairs of robot underpants.
Returning to more pressing and grave matters..
I finally left the house at 8:30 and settled into the driver’s seat of my Plymouth Neon, noticing, as I turned it on, how heavy the steering wheel felt and listening as the engine seemed to cough itself back into life. “I sure hope this thing doesn’t break down on my way back to Huntsville,” I thought worriedly. “But that’s if I’m still even alive at that point.”
I arrived at the doctor’s office within 15 minutes and then deliberated in the parking lot. “Will this place even be able to check for Lyme Disease? Can any doctor do that, or would I specifically need to see a dermatologist?”
“You should have thought about that sooner, dummy.”
I briefly considered calling the doctor from the safety of the parking lot (so that I wouldn’t unnecessarily expose myself to a room full of germs), but I concluded – very optimistically – that they’d probably be qualified to diagnose and – hopefully – treat Lyme Disease. “What do I have to lose, anyways?” I sighed defeatedly, closing the car door and making quick strides towards the front office.
Just before entering the building, I could see, through the glass doors, that there was only one person in the waiting room; a guy who appeared to be in his 40s. He wasn’t coughing and didn’t seem to have a runny nose or any other evident, outward signs of illness. “Good — there won’t be too many germs in this room.. yet,” I breathed, tugging the door open and feeling slightly relieved.
I approached the front counter where the only attendant – a young, brunette receptionist – was on the phone. She saw me and then looked away quickly. I shuffled my feet awkwardly and gazed down at my own phone, pretending to not listen in on her conversation while I waited for her to finish.
“Yeah,” she whispered into the phone, “she called out sick, saying she can’t come in tomorrow, and it’s just screwed EVERYTHING up.”
I lifted my eyebrows and pulled Facebook up, mindlessly scanning through my news feed.
“Mhmmmm,” she continued, “one of her friends had a shindig last night, and I’m gonna find out if she was there, and if she was, I SWEAR. I’m going to be SO mad.”
I almost choked, trying to stifle my laughter. She hurriedly wrapped up the conversation and then beckoned me over, acting as if I’d just now appeared in her peripheral vision and the room.
“Hey there! How are you feeling today?” she smiled.
“Oh, I’m feeling good! Thanks.. I’m not sick or anything,” I explained quietly. “I feel fine — I just think that I might have Lyme Disease. Before I sign in, though, will the doctor be able to test me for Lyme Disease?”
She looked puzzled, briefly, but quickly recovered. “Yes — oh yes, he sure will! Have you been here before?”
Awwwww. I had been missing this awkwardness.
“Yes — a long time ago,” I answered her. “I don’t really go to the doctor often. I’m likely listed under ‘Amber Rose,’ but my name is Jace now.”
The computer monitor obscured her face.
“Ummmmmmm yeah. It does say Amber on here. So you changed your name?”
“Okay, cool! Can I see your license so we can update your stuff?”
I handed her my license so she could update my stuff and then she requested to see an updated copy of my health insurance card.
“Also,” I paused before placing the card into her hand, “does me coming here qualify as an ’emergency visit,’ or is this just.. a regular doctor visit?”
Does that question make ANY sense? I asked myself. You should just ask her, in plain english, if your co-pay will be, like, $35 dollars or like $300?
“Oh, it’s a regular visit,” her look registered immediate understanding. “Don’t worry,” she smiled at me.
“Okay, awesome,” I smiled back. I watched her fingers as she typed, keying my information into the system, and then I remembered the juice and the banana.
In the event that they do draw blood today, I reasoned with myself, already feeling my stomach convulsing in dreadful anticipation of the procedure, I need to make sure my body’s prepared to handle the trauma. Aka, I want to NOT pass out.
“I’m going out to my car to get some grapefruit juice,” I whispered across the counter, “but I’ll be right back,” I assured her as I hurried away.
“Ohhhhkay,” I heard her voice trailing behind me.
I retrieved the grapefruit juice, signed a bunch of forms, and then sat down, waiting to be seen. The other guy had already disappeared into the back, so I was alone in the room. Knowing that I would be seen soon should have been a relief to me (because who likes waiting around in creepily sterile rooms that smell like Clorox and hand sanitizer?), but I was absolutely terrified at the idea of ever going back there.. to that unpleasant room containing enormous needles and razor-sharp scalpels, and where doctors poked and prodded you until, as a parting, final blow, they delivered devastating, life-altering news. Less than a minute passed before I heard the back door open and saw a young woman stepping out into the lobby.
“That’s me!” I stood up quickly, grabbing my phone, wallet, and grapefruit juice from off of the floor and following her into the back.
“How are you?” I asked nervously.
“Step onto the scale,” she answered.
“Allllllllrighty,” I whispered to myself.
I obeyed, resisting the urge to remove my skate shoes first. The number registered and I grimaced at it as I stepped off of the scale and answered her question of how tall I was: “5 foot 4.”
We sat down together in a tiny side room where she took my pulse, temperature, and blood pressure (I asked if it was good or not, and she said that it was very good).
“So why are you here today,” she queried/recited in a flat voice, the tip of her pen resting, at the ready, on the edge of her clipboard.
“Well, I’m afraid that I might have Lyme Disease,” I explained soberly. “I have this interesting rash on my rib cage and, after doing some online research, it’s looking pretty bad.”
She shook her head and I saw her smile for the first time. “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, honey. It usually says you’re half-dead.”
I laughed. “True..” I was already considering making living arrangements for my dog, Bruster, I admitted to myself only.
She escorted me into a back room and closed the door, mumbling that the doctor would be in shortly.
I avoided the patient’s chair and sat down onto what you’d refer to as the “guest’s chair” instead, imagining myself as existing in the room solely as a supportive companion to the poor victim of Lyme Disease. “Don’t worry,” I consoled the patient. “If they do take your blood, it’ll happen really quickly and you won’t pass out, because you have this.” I shook the grapefruit juice in demonstration. My feet tapped on their own. My breaths were coming up short. I felt like I was going to pass out or flee or pass out in the process of fleeing.
I heard sounds coming from the hallway, on the other side of the door, and – as I acclimated to the room – I was able to make the words out more clearly.
“Yeah, good morning.. I just wanted to check on my balance,” a voice said.
I tuned into this particular voice for a while. It sounded like they were on the phone with a merchant or a bill pay company of sorts. The conversation carried on for a few minutes and then the voice — which suddenly seemed to register something — said “Oh! Hang on just a minute.”
Instantly, the door opened, and the “doctor” walked in.
“Well hello, how are you today?” she greeted me. I recognized the voice; it sounded just like the one I’d heard speaking into a phone seconds prior.
“Oh, I’m good!” I replied, smiling with amusement. “I’m just here because I believe that I have Lyme Disease.”
It’s becoming easier to talk about, I noticed. The more people I share the news with, the less terrible and awful my fate sounds.
She furrowed her eyebrows in response to what I’d said and advanced a little closer towards me. I stood up, understanding that she wanted to see what the hell I was talking about. I raised my Fender t-shirt up half-way (exposing my mid-riff and the affected rib) and she crouched down to look at it.
Then she stood up quickly and smiled smugly.
“What is the ONE thing that has to happen in order for you to have Lyme Disease?” she quizzed me.
I was taken back for a second. This felt like a surprise, closed-book test in middle school. “Hmm.. you have to be bitten by a tick?” I guessed.
“Yes.” She nodded her head up and down, teacher-like. “And have you been bitten by a tick?”
“I.. don’t clearly recall being bitten by one, but it’s certainly poss–”
“No ma’am,” she shook her head expressively, raising her voice. “If you’d been bitten by a tick, you’d know it. I can easily diagnose this,” she stated confidently, gesturing towards my still-exposed rib. “It’s a superficial fungus infection: tinea versicolor,” she enunciated proudly.
“Oh..” I paused. “Okay — well cool; that’s awesome! I mean, the FUNGUS is not awesome, but you know.. what a relief. Is it dangerous? This.. fungal infection?”
“No ma’am,” she closed her eyes and shook her head from left to right, continuing to smile and taking a few steps backwards (towards the door). “Not at all. I’m going to give you a prescription that should make it go away quickly.”
“Okay.. sounds great!” We’d been in the room for about 90 seconds. It didn’t feel right for the consultation to be ending so abruptly. “So, no blood work, no tests.. just..”
“Yep! No blood work, no tests. You can leave now,” she confirmed happily.
I walked out of the patient’s room, heading back towards the lobby and feeling a little confused. I didn’t like feeling so unsettled, and I didn’t want to leave the office without feeling good about her diagnosis, so I turned back around and located her at a computer kiosk that was just outside of where my room had been.
“I have a quick question,” I started. “Now — let’s say I HAD been bitten by a tick,” I shrugged my shoulders. “If I had, would this rash flare up in the same area that I’d been bitten in, or –”
“No ma’am,” she shook her head, not answering my question so much as indicating that she wasn’t even going to entertain my question, “you did NOT get bitten by a tick because you would remember it. You would remember PEELING the tick FROM your body. And you don’t. Therefore, this is NOT Lyme Disease.”
I felt panicky. But what if I HAD been bitten? I felt sure that it would be a pretty memorable event, but.. possibly, it wouldn’t be. My OCD – fostering and feeding an insane fear; irrationally questioning obvious reality – was flaring up, and I had – unfortunately – been paired with a very impatient and intolerant doctor. Bad mix. “Okay.. I understand that.. but just for the heck of it, let’s say that I HAD been..”
“No ma’am. This is a fungus infection.”
Her colleagues giggled at the exchange.
“Okay. Cool. Thank you for your time; have a great weekend!”
I left so peaceably that she probably had no idea that I was offended.
And this is why I don’t like going to the doctor’s office. In addition to abhorring medicine, I’d just rather die in my own home than go somewhere where I’m TERRIFIED to be ANYWAYS, and to then be treated with impatience and indifference on TOP of that. Not all doctors are like her, of course (to be fair).. but I’ve personally encountered many who are.
I proceeded to visit the in-house pharmacist who greeted me with a gentle smile and requested my name.
“So did the doctor test you for a yeast infection also?” she asked casually, clicking away on the computer.
“No,” I responded, still puzzled over it all. “She just looked at it and knew what it was.”
“Huh! Okaaaaay,” she drew the word out slowly, sounding surprised. Yeah, I know, I thought to myself. I watched as she retrieved two bottles of medicine from a shelf and I bristled at the sight of it.
“Are those antibiotics?” I asked nicely, feigning interest.
“Oh, no ma’am.. they’re just anti-fungal treatments,” she answered.
“Okay,” I nodded, “honestly, I really don’t like taking medicine — if this isn’t a super critical matter, is there some kind of cream I could use instead?”
We talked it over and she agreed with my idea to hold off on the medicine, suggesting that I obtain something called Clotrimazole.
“Any grocery store will carry it,” she offered, smiling sweetly.
“Thank you — I really appreciate your help!”
“No problem! We’ll hold the prescription here for you, just in case. It’s good for a year.”
Pt 2: So off I went to Walmart. Ugh.
Once inside, I located the pharmacy, asked an employee where something called Clot-tri-maze-ole might be found, and they directed me two aisles down and one aisle over with a few quick points of their finger.
I followed their directions andddddd I found it.
“Athlete’s foot? What the hell?!” Apparently, clotrimazole was advertised, on the shelf, as being a good treatment for — in addition to my special little rash — athlete’s foot. “That’s so gross,” I sighed, feeling disappointed but grabbing a tube of ointment anyways.
So I bought the cream, and I’ll be applying it to the skin that’s directly above the right-side of my rib cage twice daily for the next (2) weeks with the express purpose of making the rash go away. If it doesn’t, I really don’t care, because A. it isn’t bothering me at all and B. it actually looks kind of cool. Maybe it will go from being a temporary rash to a permanent scar; that’d be great. I do not care. I’m just relieved to report — from the official weekend headquarters here at Saturn — that I am not dying. I’m, very much, still here, and the fact that I cared enough about staying alive to go to the doctor for what I believed would be a certain diagnosis (and probable treatment) impresses even me.
See, Jace? You must like being here.
Yeah. I guess I do.
FYI: While conventional treatment methods aren’t in line with my holistic ways, I’ll plainly acknowledge that there are times when it’s necessary to go the “conventional medicine route.” Sometimes, that’s the only viable solution.
Now.. I grew up in a family where you’d pop an excedrin in the morning, with breakfast, if you felt – prophetically – like you might be getting a headache LATER ON in the day, and that’s obviously an incredibly unhealthy way to live. But I’ve also seen the extremist standing at the other end of the spectrum; it was when a parent of one of my home-schooled friends refused to take their son to the ER when his temperature was at 105 and rising. They insisted on treating the child at home with hydrotherapy instead of allowing medical professionals to get involved, and he could have suffered insanely severe brain damage because of their gross neglect. So — to cap this thing off: Use your best judgment. Let your immune system fend for itself when you can stand to do so — it’ll strengthen itself that way — but don’t hesitate to solicit and accept conventional help when necessary.
But a rash? Come on, you guys. That’s obviously not a life or death matter.