Those were some of the first words I uttered when I learned that I had picked up Lyme disease from my small hometown in Kentucky. I was not an outdoorsy person what so ever, so I knew that if I could get bit by a tick and get the disease then there was no telling how many other people were floating around out there misdiagnosed or undiagnosed much like myself. My hometown is a small town. It's the kind of place where everyone pretty much knows everyone else either directly or through a friend. It is not a large city. It is not a northeastern city. But since ticks don't understand state lines, they found their way into Kentucky (and all 50 states); a concept which many Doctors blatantly ignore. The city I live in has a lot of deer due to all the woodsy areas nearby. I can look out my window on any given fall day and see a deer just casually strolling through the yard, and I live in a fully developed quaint neighborhood; not out on a farm.
Prior to being diagnosed with Lyme disease I had never heard of it before in my life. Yes, you read that correctly, I did not even know something called Lyme disease existed; that's how uninformed I was. In September of 2011 when my Doctor delivered the news that I, Christina, avid disliker of grass and general outdoors had Lyme Disease I stared at him with confusion. Upon processing the information I realized if I could get it, then I can't be the only one in my small hometown. I hoped that by a freak coincidence I was bit by the only Lyme carrying tick in the area, but alas I knew that was incredibly unlikely.
My first order of business in May of 2012 was speaking to our local newspaper who so kindly ran an interview with me on the front page where I spoke about Lyme disease existing in the area. I felt like I HAD to get the word out, because it terrified me that everyone was living their lives uninformed, not taking tick checks seriously. The following year a local news station with an even greater reach came to do a TV interview warning people that Lyme disease exists in the tri-state, and more so that it can become a chronic condition. If I could have stood on a mountaintop and yelled "LYME IS HERE" I certainly would have.
After the TV interview I started to meet a lot of others who also were ill with Lyme disease and lived very close by. My worst fear was coming true as I read email after email that said things like, "I have a cousin who has Lyme disease," or "I know a friend who is sick with the same symptoms as you and I think it might be Lyme," and the worst of all, "I too live locally and after many years of sickness and misdiagnosis I was diagnosed with Lyme disease." This wasn't even counting the number of people my parents encountered when they went out in town and someone stopped them to say they saw me on the news and personally were touched by Lyme themselves (either a friend, family member, acquaintance etc). If the reach of this disease could be THAT large in such a small town then I knew the global reach must be astronomical. What an eye opening experience that week was.
I recently learned of another local woman my age who after many years of misdiagnosis had learned she was fighting Lyme disease. Although she moved away from home in recent years to pursue her dreams (much like myself), it was just another 'tick' on the growing number of locals who picked up Lyme disease in this sleepy little town.
Lyme is here. But my town and my story can be switched out with just about any town name in America and the story would fit just the same. A town where no one knew to be careful, where no one thought to pursue their flu like symptoms and demand their Doctor screen for Lyme disease.
It has been 4 years since I was diagnosed, and I take pause to look around at how much the conversation has grown about Lyme disease since 2011. I used to be a taboo; I used to feel like that strange girl everyone looked at with the random disease. But the voices are growing as more people get ill and demand that something be done to stop it. This epidemic can go on no longer, because it has invaded every quiet quaint town from high up north to way down south. Enough is enough.
My greatest prayer is that in the next year the conversation will continue to evolve even more. I hope that I can sit here 1 year from now writing about news that testing has improved, or that the CDC and IDSA came to their senses and acknowledge the scope of what this disease has become. But in the same breath I know a year from now my heart will be that much heavier with the burden of knowing how many more people both locally & globally are receiving a diagnosis that will change their lives.
The time to speak out about Lyme disease is the present, and as larger news stations and websites begin to share I hope that the message gets conveyed sooner and sooner, BEFORE someone gets bit by tick because they aren't wearing a repellant, BEFORE someone ignores the tell tale symptoms, and most importantly BEFORE it becomes a chronic condition.