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The Throne

I loathe vomiting.

When a stomach bug attacks, I will remain in the fetal position for days with agonizing nausea rather than just getting it over with and throwing up.  I’ve always been this way.  Had I been one of those pregnant women with constant morning sickness, there would likely be three less children in the world.

Nearly all of September, I endured constant nausea, vertigo, and vomiting.  My entire world became the twelve steps from my bed to my toilet, and the return trip often required a pause midway.  We aren’t sure if these symptoms were a result of my horrid headache —I have a history of vomiting when pain heightens –or if it was just another side effect of my aggressive antibiotic treatment.  Either way, I was miserable.

One of those beautiful fall mornings, I woke feeling usual queasiness and significant pain.  I messaged a friend to cancel plans yet again and asked her to remember me in her prayers.  She asked what she should specifically pray for, and I quickly responded.  I need God to ease the nausea.  I can handle mind-numbing pain over continuous sea sickness any day.

Around 2:00 that afternoon, I pulled my hair back in a ponytail, grabbed a receptacle, and forced my aching body to drive the 35 minutes into town to pick up my daughters.  I’d already vomited once, so I rationalized that I could probably make it there and back before requiring my bathroom again.

Boy, was I wrong.  The more I drove, the sicker I became.  The more I moved, the more the world spun.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it, so I frantically pulled into a BFS gas station and dashed to the restroom.

Let me tell you. As awful as it is to be sick in your own home, it is infinitely worse to vomit into a public toilet.  I had no choice.  My body seized and heaved until I was beyond exhausted, sitting on the cold, sticky tile, knees up and head bent.  Tears rolled down my cheeks, another automatic effect of vomiting.  I couldn’t move.  I was too tired, and I wasn’t sure if my body was finished betraying me.

I pulled my cell phone from my sweatshirt pocket and attempted to distract myself until the symptoms were tolerable.  No texts.  No messages.  Just one email.  I began reading.

Just a short note to let you know how very special you are. I am so thankful that you are in my life and that I am getting to share in your life with your sweet children. My prayer is that God will touch you right now and give you strength and a reprieve from the pain AND an overwhelming sense of peace in knowing that you are being used to share His glory with all those that know you.

My mouth filled with a familiar wetness as my stomach churned. I thrust the phone back into my pocket, moved from my bottom onto my knees, and once again retched into the public toilet.

Too spent to move, I rested my head on my arm and concentrated on breathing.  I longed for the overwhelming sense of peace my friend had prayed for.  But what were her exact words?  Still caressing the toilet, I retrieved my phone and reread the email.  An overwhelming sense of peace in knowing that you are being used to share His glory….

As I lifted my head, I thought there is NOTHING glorious about THIS.  Poop splatters were visible on the back ring on the toilet.  Splatters, mind you, that were not mine.  The stickiness of the floor, again, not a result of me.  The hundreds of germs I pictured under a black light were in no way glorious.  This part of my story cannot possibly share God’s glory with all those who know me.  I managed to chuckle a bit at the horrible timing of this sweet prayer from such a well-meaning friend.

It took about twenty minutes to pull myself together and get to my daughters’ school.  I pulled into the parking lot, reclined my seat to ease my headache, and called my husband.  Tears of frustration, pain, and exhaustion poured.  We contacted my doctor and he called in several different nausea medications with the hope that something would work.

(As a side note, often Lyme sufferers lose the ability to feel any relief from medication.  I have potent prescriptions for pain, nausea, sleeping aids, etc.; yet, nothing affects me.  The strongest sleeping aid doesn’t even make me drowsy.  Morphine might as well be an M&M.  This is why I rarely take medication.  It’s pointless.)

My husband retrieved my daughters from their school.  We decided to divide and conquer.  The girls and I would head home slowly while he went to the pharmacy to pick up the new medications, which I hoped beyond hope would somehow help this time.  If the nausea or pain became too intense, I agreed to pull over and wait for him.

I encouraged the girls to tell me all about their day as we made our way back to the safety of my bed.  Gracie realized that if she kept talking, it distracted me from the nausea and pain.  So she chattered and chattered.  When she’d exhausted all the actual academic topics, I learned which girls like which boys in her class.  She speculated on whether or not her teacher dyes her hair because “it’s beautiful and never has a single grey strand, Momma, and you have lots.” We discussed a book I was currently listening to, which led to an important discussion about refugees and our responsibility as children of God to help them.  This reminded me of the email I’d received that day.  So I told Gracie all about my rough drive in, my time in the gas station bathroom, and the kind albeit ill-timed email.

“Isn’t that funny?” I said.  “There is nothing glorious about puking, especially in a public restroom.”

Without missing a beat, Gracie said, “Well, they do call it The Throne.”

Have I mentioned how much I love that girl?

We pulled into our driveway, and as I walked up the sidewalk, I suddenly became aware that my body felt different.  I was still tired and achy, but the nausea was gone.  Completely absent.  My husband arrived home 15 minutes later.  I was already tucked safely in bed when he entered the room, ready to dispense whichever nausea medication I wanted to try first.

I smiled.  I didn’t need any medication because the relentless nausea that had plagued me for three weeks had disappeared.  That beautiful prayer had been heard and answered in God’s time.  It was only 6:00 in the evening, but I was so tired I couldn’t help drifting off into the deepest sleep I’d had in months.  I slept for almost three days, waking only long enough to use the restroom and kiss my children good morning and good night.  Peace had found me.

It trickled into my life on the sticky bathroom floor.  It took hold when my daughter and I giggled over the glorious throne.  And it filled and sustained me for three days while I slept and my body recovered.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body…” –Proverbs 14:30

What a gift I received in that powerful prayer.

 

 

 

 

 


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All, Momma, Not Just Some. ALL.

By the sound of crickets here on the blog, you’ve probably speculated that my life is either full and busy or it has collapsed once again.

It’s actually been a mix of both.

I kept intending to write, filling the Moleskin journal in my purse with idea after idea, but I was “too busy” to pour my heart out in a post.  Every mom in America can relate to my simplest excuse; it was the beginning of a new school year.  The back-to-school list, especially for five kids –three moving into new places in three different college towns –would have overwhelmed a healthy mom, let alone me.

On top of this, I was offered the volunteer position of Learning Support Specialist at my daughters’ school.  My giddiness was uncontainable.  I miss my high school English students, the content, and my colleagues terribly, so I viewed this opportunity as an olive branch from God.  I am not, and probably never will be, able to work full-time.  I just don’t have the stamina, but this, this idea, felt doable.  In fact, it felt perfect.  All the best aspects of my old job wrapped into this one, tied with a glistening green and gold St. Pat’s bow:  the writing process, literature circles, newspaper class, grant writing, web administrator, public relations.  This particular olive branch was custom-cut for me.

Volunteering at my daughters’ school proved refreshing in so many ways.  Transitioning from high school students who are sooooo over this whole learning thing to bright-eyed children hanging on your every word is restorative in itself.  But add to that, the women I get to work with??  Oh my, sent from God himself to lift me up and remind me that I still have purpose, even if it isn’t in the life I’d imagined.  This team of teachers is unlike any I’ve ever encountered.  They take genuine pride in one another’s successes; there is no jealousy when one receives special recognition.  They talk about their kids as if they truly are their kids, and whether they had the student three years ago or today, they are just as proud or worried or humored by him.  These beautiful women welcomed me with open arms, and poured their love and prayers and light into me from Day One.

To put their goodness in perspective, above the school copier is a little sign that says something like “Have a minute while waiting for copies?  Say a prayer for our students.”

Yeah, it’s just a good place to be.

By the end of the first week though, my husband feared I was doing too much.  Instead of volunteering seven hours like we’d intended, I found myself spending 20-25 hours a week at school simply because I enjoyed it so much.  Surrounded by intense love and hugged each time one of my daughters saw me in the hallway, St. Patrick School felt like a place of healing.  How could that be wrong?  Still, I promised to slow down and observe my body’s signals.

I had three beautiful weeks. But, momma, you know how that goes, too. We are on top of it all that first week, right? Clothes laid out and lunches packed the night before, hair in the latest Pinterest braid with just the right bow, healthy family dinners and no-rush homework time, lots of conversation before our nightly bedtime story.  We got this.

Until we don’t.  We fall off the wagon.  Did I sign her planner yesterday?  I haven’t had the energy to go to the grocery story, you’ll have to eat hot lunch.  You need your library book today?? Seriously, you have to recreate a 3D saint this weekend, and you are just telling me about it?? Yep, those first few weeks of school lull us into a false sense of security.

Then my body crashed.  I knew I was failing at the whole balance thing, so I desperately tried to rest, but it was too late.  The Lyme spirochetes woke once again, and since my brain was the most active part of my body, they plunged right in and started having a party.  One weekend I’d spent an entire afternoon with my three-month-old granddaughter and the next evening having dinner with my in-laws who live four hours away.  On Monday, while talking to my mom on the phone, I lamented how long it had been since I’d seen my sweet grandbaby.  She said, “Jen, you just saw her Saturday!”  I argued with her.  I thought she’d lost her mind.  I hadn’t seen Hensley in two weeks.  Then I looked at the photos on my phone.  Hen.  Hen.  Me and Hen.  Hen and the girls.  Hen.  John’s parents.  Puppies.  People picking out their puppy.  Me and the puppy.

I had absolutely no memory of the entire weekend.  This shook me to my core.  I know my body is unreliable, but now my mind?  What if I lose my memories, too?  How could I just completely lose a full block of my life??  A wonderful block of time at that?  I called my doctor immediately, explained the situation, and began a six-week round of IV and oral antibiotic treatment that very day.  Neurological Lyme symptoms are serious and terrifying.

So my life hit pause yet again.  A tremendous headache settled in, and I spent about 22 hours a day lying flat to ease the pain.  I actually had so much pain that after three straight weeks of it, I willingly allowed my doctor to schedule a lumbar puncture to drain some of the excess spinal fluid.  I had double the normal pressure, and within a couple hours, my headache was gone.  A few days later, it started to return, so I once again returned to lying flat to ease the pressure.

With everyone at school and work, the days became long again.  I struggled with vision and facial palsy on my right side, which compromised reading or blogging.  Television was just hurtful noise.  I would lie in bed and in the quiet wonder, “God, what do you want from me??”  I thought I was doing His will.  I had shed my old life and was learning to embrace this new one He had shaped for me, so why was I still being punished?  Why wouldn’t He just let me live this new life?  “Lord,” I cried, “what do you want from me?”

The highlight of every day is when my daughters would come running into my bedroom after school.  Full of life and light, they tell me all about their day.  They snuggle in beside me, and I laugh at their stories.  One evening 11-year-old Gracie said, “I learned a new Bible verse today, Momma, and it’s so perfect for us.”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13

I smiled at her fresh, hopeful face.  I could tell she believed I was hearing this scripture for the first time.  What she said next though took my breath away.  “It says ALL things, Mom, not SOME.  ALL. We can get through Lyme disease because God will give us the strength to do it.  We just have to ask.”

Sometimes I forget that God might be using my situation to change someone else.  As my girls and I held hands and bowed our heads, my purpose became clear.  Gracie prayed for God to give us strength and to get us through this, and I cried and cried because God had already listened.  My little beauty has strength and wisdom and empathy beyond her years because of my journey with Lyme disease.  Her faith in her God is unwavering.

Could anything more important, more beautiful come from this disease?  A parent’s job is to raise a good citizen, someone who will contribute positively to our society and who will put God first in her life.  Every part of my physical body still hurt, but my heart was full of a joy no pain could touch.  How narcissistic was I to assume my purpose is always about me?

Sometimes as we are doing this whole parenting thing, we wonder if our children are getting it, you know?  Are they seeing what we’re trying to model?  Are they hearing our words?  Are they paying attention?

I would cherish the ability to play soccer in the yard with my kids or to be well enough to travel to my son’s away football games, but it’s okay that I can’t because my purpose is so much more important than my physical presence.  Gracie is paying attention.

Now I am, too.

XO!
Jena

P.S. I painted this sign for her room to remind her she can do ALL things, not just some.

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Get Ticked Off –Part 4: Be Strong

This is the final article in a four-part series on tick safety and Lyme disease. Read the first article “Be Aware” here, the second “Be Proactive” here, and the third “Be Reactive” here.

It’s been over a month since I posted, which is just embarrassing, especially considering I was in the middle of writing this important series.  However, the hiatus actually illustrates one of my key points better than I could have with words.

You see, over the last 36 days, I have been snuggling my now 38-day-old granddaughter.  There is no coincidence in those similar numbers.  She and her parents resided with us until just a week ago, and I was blessed to capture an intimacy few grandparents experience.  Unlike the exhausted new mommy and daddy, I was able to relish those late night cries.

There’s something about a newborn’s cry, isn’t there?  Knowing a diaper change or a little breastmilk is all that wailing child needs allows you to smile at her end-of-the-world, woe’s-me sobbing.  Our Hensley’s little tantrums are particularly unique.  She cries out like every newborn, but when she inhales, if she’s really letting the world know she’s dissatisfied, she makes this squeak, just like a puppy chew toy.  Truly, she’s a little squeaker.

IMG_6444Maybe this is just the way all new grandmothers are –so completely in love that even the grandchild’s crying feels cute, her neck smells delicious, and those blue eyes….oh my, I can’t find the words.

But I’ve done more than snuggle our little squeaker.

My girls and I initiated a 100-Book Reading Challenge, convincing about twenty other local families to commit to each reading 100 books as a family by the end of summer.  We meet every couple weeks at the park to exchange books and chat about our favorites.  Currently, the girls and I are on book number 64.

I repainted one of the bedrooms, preparing it for the return of my son and his then pregnant girlfriend.  When his little family moved out, I repainted the excessively large living room in their new apartment.  Now I’m working on redecorating their bedroom for my Pinterest-loving eleven-year-old.  Can you picture the gallery wall and DIY projects??

Every Wednesday we attend KinderGym, where Izzi flips and ta-da’s and gets my undivided attention.

My husband and I traveled to Virginia to celebrate a good friend’s 50th birthday by floating down the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, which we were told would be pleasant two-hour adventure.  Eight hours later, just as the sun dipped over the horizon, we finally arrived at our vehicles, ready for hot showers and pain medicine.

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There have been cook-outs and swimming, birthday parties and late night campfires, a crazy cat story and a litter of twelve puppies.  (More on that in a future post!)

The first weeks of July we spent five days and our wedding anniversary on our annual camping trip in Smoke Hole, WV.  This was the scene of the crime, the place where I was bitten by a deer tick and originally infected with Lyme disease two years ago, though I wouldn’t know it for months.  My family and about forty other campers set up our tents and canopies, then beat the heat by kayaking and floating down the South Branch of the Potomac River.  We ate deep fried everything, from fish to Twinkies, and sat around the campfire, laughing and telling stories.

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This has been my last few weeks.  I have been living life, something I could not have dreamed of two years ago.  After rounds and rounds of IV and oral medication, homeopathic treatments, dietary changes, acupuncture, massage therapy, blood oxygenation injections, and so much more, I am finally an active participant in my life again.

It can happen.

If you are a Lyme warrior, it can happen for you, too.

There were times along this journey I wasn’t sure if I would make it.  There were moments I was ready to give up.  The chronic pain affected every aspect of my life, including my cognitive processing.  I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life in that condition.  Though my family never complained, I felt like an incredible burden, requiring so much time and money just to survive.  Often I wondered if they’d be better off without me. The guilt was as heavy as the symptoms.

Thank God I hung on.

This illustrates my final advice in this series.  Be strong.  Keep fighting.  There is always hope.

Like me, you CAN get better.  

With Lyme disease, especially chronic or post-treatment Lyme, there is a tremendous lack of research and knowledge.  There are oodles of treatment options out there, but not one tried-and-true cure.  Because Lyme attacks our immune system, each person responds to the illness and, therefore, the treatments differently.  What worked for me may not work for you.  Lyme warriors, while typically fighting heavy brain fog and cognitive deficiencies, are forced to research the options and try treatment after treatment until something starts working.  Often the medical community is unequipped to properly advise us, so healing requires our own brain power, physical might, and, for me, spiritual strength.

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A strong support system is essential, especially if the Lyme warrior is straining to think, to comprehend what she is reading, to remember appointments.  I have been lucky in this department.  My husband was my everything, supporting every decision I made, every treatment I chose to chase.

So much support allowed me to be strong.

To keep fighting.

To believe there was hope.

You must trust that eventually something will start working and you will slowly return to life.  For me, there was a lot of trial and error, reading and researching, pain and tears.  But now I know what to do when I feel like I’m relapsing.  I wear a pain patch constantly, and it has been an absolute game-changer.  I know how to handle a seizure so as not to get hurt, but even more importantly, I know to get enough rest and to remove as much stress as possible to ward off seizures completely.  I listen to my body, and I try not to feel guilty when I have to lie down in the middle of the day.  I know I am not being lazy; I am recovering.

I remind myself to be strong.

To keep fighting.

To believe there is hope.

I know not to to overplan my week, to leave a couple days open for rest.  I know to avoid sugar, gluten and dairy because I will regret it later if I don’t.  I know nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.  There are activities I did before Lyme, like jogging and teaching full-time, that I’ve surrendered.  But even if this is as good as it gets, I am okay with it.  Life is full and wonderful, and in some ways, even better than my pre-Lyme life.

I am strong.

I keep fighting.

Because there is always hope.

There is life after Lyme.  It’s a different life.  That’s for sure.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lesser one.  My experiences allow me to see everything differently.  I am more grateful, more aware, more empathic.  I am now able to see the good that came from this ugly disease, and I subsequently know it’s worth it.

For the first time in my life, I wouldn’t change my wedding day, tick and all.

Unfortunately, I’m sure there are readers who are thinking I’m lying or I’ve completely lost it.  Or you’re thinking I must not have been as sick as you are.  I promise.  I’m sane, truthful and chronically ill, but I am also active, content and managing my symptoms.

You may be in trenches, unable to see beyond the ugliness.  I’ve been there to.  I watched interviews with people who had Lyme disease and scoffed when they professed to appreciate their disease.  I read books and articles, hoping to find the answer, only to finish them disappointed.  I spoke with individuals who had beaten Lyme, but I couldn’t see myself getting to that point.  As long as I saw myself as sick, I stayed that way.  Once I was able to begin seeing some hope, I fought even harder and eventually attained wellness.

Be strong.

Keep fighting.

There is hope.

You can get life back.  It may not be your old life; however, believe it or not, it might be an even better life than you could imagine.  It’s critical that you have faith in this.

I know where I am right now is temporary.  I have a chronic illness, and by sheer definition, it’s not something from which I will ever be completely free. There will be relapses and flares.  There will be more pain and sickness.  But I’ve learned to live in the now, and right now, I am in remission.  I am not perfectly healthy.  There’s still pain and stiffness, but it’s tolerable.  I have been able to enjoy our summer, checking off our summer bucket list, making memories with my family.

These memories will help me get through the next relapse.

I will be strong.

I will keep fighting.

After all, when I hold my newborn granddaughter in my arms, I know there is hope.

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Get Ticked Off – Part 3: Be Reactive

This is the third article in a four part series on tick safety and Lyme disease.  Read the first article here and the second here.  This post is similar to a previous post, but with several critical updates added.  Please read, share, and DO THIS; it could save your life. 

Read this now. Don’t bookmark it to read later. Do not wait until you are in the midst of a crisis. Keep reading.

I want you to create a Tick Kit.

Yes, that’s right. A Tick Kit.

You’re probably questioning my sanity. She’s paranoid. She’s obsessed with Lyme disease.  Thinking something along those lines?

I’m not paranoid. I may be a tad obsessed, but I prefer the word aware. I’m aware because it’s real. It happens to anyone. Anywhere. Any age. And it is hell. A daily, living hell. If you are close to someone who has had battled Lyme, you get it. You’ve seen that crazy world, and you don’t want any part of it. You aren’t the person I need to persuade. You may skip the pleading in the next couple paragraphs.

I’m talking to the person whose little voice inside her head is whispering… We don’t live in an endemic area. We aren’t outdoorsy people. I am a healthy person; I eat right and exercise regularly. I’ve never found a deer tick on me or my child.

All of these excuses are invalid. Healthy people who don’t partake in outdoor activities, like camping or kayaking, and who live right here where you live HAVE been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Or maybe you are thinking… I use a tick repellent. I check my kids regularly. We wear light-colored pants when in the woods. We shower as soon as we get home.

That’s great! I’m so thankful that you are taking precautions.

But keep reading.

Let’s imagine you notice a piece of black fuzz on your child. No big deal, right? Upon closer examination, you realize that the speck is actually a tick. It’s tiny. A fraction of the size of a wood tick. Time is critical.

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Every second that tick feeds on your child’s blood, it is potentially injecting her with Lyme or Babesia or Bartonella or other co-infections. Ticks usually don’t just have one infection. Tick-borne infections are zoonotic—meaning they are passed from animals to humans. “Vectors” like ticks, mosquitos and fleas transmit the diseases from animals like mice, rats, and squirrels to humans when they bite. Ticks can carry many bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoans all at the same time and transmit them in a single bite.  They carry the infections passed on to them from their parents and those of every animal they’ve ever fed on.  There are so many co-infections, in fact, that scientists still don’t even know them all!

What do you do??

There’s no need to panic. You’ve read about tick removal before. While you take a minute or so to find this blog post or to google instructions, the tick continues to feed. While you look for tweezers, the tick continues to feed. The clock is ticking. No pun intended. What do you do?

You need a Tick Kit. The contents are simple: a pair of tweezers, alcohol swabs, a couple index cards or Post-it notes, a sharpie, and some clear tape tossed together in a Ziploc bag. That’s it. You probably already have these items in your home, right?
But do you know exactly where to find them? If your house is like mine, tweezers seem to disappear periodically only to return two or three at once a few weeks later. Would you have to race to multiple rooms in your house to locate these essentials? While you are searching, guess what the tick is doing. That’s right. Feeding on your child.

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I discovered these handy dandy tweezers designed specifically for tick removal.  I’ve used them twice this year to remove ticks, and they are ideal.  Any tweezers will work, of course, but the thin tip makes this the perfect tool for removing ticks, especially from the scalp, without leaving any part of the tick in the your child’s body.

Oh, and speaking of that child, what do you think she’ll be doing while you’re off looking for alcohol swabs? Yep, she’ll be freaking out because the tick is still in her leg. Even if she’s too young to understand the ramifications, she inherently knows ticks are universally gross and do not belong in her skin.

Please make a Tick Kit. Heck, make two. Prepare one kit for your home and one for your vehicle, especially if you’re traveling this summer. Seriously. Go. Come back and read the rest of this once your kit is together.

Ugh. You’re still here, reading away. Still doubting the need to do this immediately.

Alright, so what DO you do with that tick? (By the way, please don’t skim over this section. Don’t wait until you need it because, just like a scavenger hunt for Tick Kit items, you’ll be wasting precious time.)

1) Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

2) Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.

Avoid folklore remedies, such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not to wait for it to detach.

3) Tape the tick to an index card or Post-it note. Write the date, time and location. If symptoms would later arise, this quick document will help doctors determine the type of tick, number of days since initial bite, etc. (I do this for all ticks, not just deer ticks.)

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4) Clean the bite area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol.  I also put Neosporin on the bite, but this is pretty much just to soothe my neurotic five-year-old.  It isn’t required, it doesn’t keep you from getting Lyme, but it mentally makes her feel better.

Okay, so we’ve removed the tick, cleaned the site and logged the event on an index card. Now what?

Monitor the site and the patient closely. Symptoms are generally not immediate and can present 3-30 days from the initial bite. Symptoms are often flu-like –fever, muscle aches, headache –and/or a bull’s eye rash. You do NOT have to have the rash to have Lyme disease, nor do you have to have every symptom. These are dangerous misconceptions.

You also have the ability now to send the tick off to be tested. Sending the Midcoast Lyme Disease Support and Education your tick(s) allows scientific researchers to gather data about ticks from all over the United States. Scientists can broaden their investigations into tick populations and glean information on the current distribution of the major tick vectors and the prevalence of tick-borne pathogens that people encounter in different locations. By sending them your tick(s), you are participating in a citizen science project and national tick-collection/testing effort which will enable these scientists to compare past and potential future distributions of ticks and tick-borne disease. Our hope is that by collecting this data, we may be able to predict where risk of disease is most common.

The tick can be dead or alive, but ideally collected less than 72 hours ago. Put your tick in a small Ziploc baggie with a moist cotton ball or piece of wet paper towel. If you have access to a small vial and alcohol, you can use that instead. Click here for more information.

Someone asked me once what I would do if I found a deer tick embedded in my daughter’s skin. I answered without hesitation. I would take her to the nearest urgent care and request treatment for Lyme disease. Does that sound paranoid? Probably. But after the years of pain I’ve been through, I would rather be overly cautious, giving my child one round of potentially unnecessary antibiotics, than to be hesitant, providing Lyme spirochetes more time to infiltrate her cells, tissues, joints, heart, and brain. Research has shown early antibiotics are consistently effective in treating Lyme, particularly when treatment begins within the first thirty days of infection. To me, a round of Doxycycline is worth the minimal risk, comparatively speaking.

Of course, this would be after I’d used my Tick Kit to remove the deer tick, clean the area and document the incident.

Think about it this way. We actively prepare for most negative events in our lives –life insurance, car insurance, flood insurance, home insurance, health insurance. Planning does not mean we want our house to flood or our teenage son to get into a fender-bender or our husband to spend an evening in the ER. We hope we never need to use our insurance, but we pay our premiums — just in case.

Talking about it and preparing for it makes us responsible. Not paranoid.

So, do me a favor. Go grab a Ziploc bag and throw together a little tick insurance.  Once you get it put together, snap a picture and share it at #tickinsurance.  Show me you’re listening and protecting your family by putting together a Tick Kit.

Just in case.

P.S. I’m hoping this is an insurance for which you and your family never, ever have to file a claim. XO!

In the next article, we’ll discuss what happens if you discover your symptoms too late.  What treatment options are available for those with Lyme disease?  Learn more in the final article in this series — “Be strong.”

 


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Get Ticked Off –Part 2: Be Proactive.

This is the second article in a four-part series on tick safety and Lyme disease. To read the first article, click here.  Please read, share, and DO THIS; it could save your life.

In the classic movie Jurassic Park, after watching a newborn velociraptor hatch and learning that the dinosaurs in the park are kept from breeding by denying them the chromosome required to create a male, the character Dr. Ian Malcolm, full of skepticism and awe, asserts, “Life will find a way.”

Lately, here in the real world, it feels a little like nature is finding a way…..to annihilate the human race.  Mosquitos have ascended on and condemned Brazil, making athletes and fans apprehensive about attending the 2016 Summer Olympics.  After all, is it worth possibly contracting the terrifying Zika virus?

Another new disease, called Powassan virus, found in New England, is like Lyme disease, but more extreme. Doctors believe it’s transmitted from ticks faster and most people cannot recover from it.  For example, Lyn Snow was bitten by a tick two years ago. She had symptoms similar to Lyme disease. But quickly, her headaches turned into hallucinations. Her brain was swelling. Within one week, she was in a vegetative state.

Bailee Wennihan, born in Kansas City, Missouri, struggled for five years to find a diagnosis while diseases and treatments caused damage to her body.  Wennihan first started to exhibit symptoms, including headaches, body aches and fever, after returning from a church camp in Tarkio, Missouri, in 2009 at age 13.  By the time she was officially diagnosed with West Nile and Lyme disease, Wennihan had damage to her hips and knees and had two strokes.  In April 2014, Wennihan was en route to St. Joseph to address kidney issues when her heart stopped. She was revived and put on life support, where she stayed for three months.  Following a seven-year battle, beautiful, vivacious Bailee Wennihan passed away at the age of twenty.

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“It’s not a crime not to know everything and not have all the answers,” her grandmother Teena Marks said. “It’s a crime not to try to get them. … Keep pressing for more education or someone else like Bailee will slip through the cracks.”

The bottom line is nature is finding a way, and we are not fighting back hard enough or smart enough.

It starts with me and it starts with you.

Do you know what steps to take to protect yourself and your family from ticks and other disease-carrying insects??  Do you use insect repellent?  If so, does it contain harmful chemicals, like DEET?  Did you know there are natural ways to protect your yard?

Please keep reading.

How to Protect Your Body

There are two main repellents that are recommended and are the only chemicals approved for use –Deet and Permethrin. When used together, they provide nearly 100% protection from ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas and other marauding insects.

Deet:  Deet repellents work by evaporation, creating a shield a few inches above the area of application. The presence of the repellent vapor confuses insects so they can’t locate a target host. In most cases it usually requires less than 1% of the repellent to form this protective barrier. It is the combination of this “evaporation delivery system,” and the base repellent you choose that determines how much repellent you must apply.

Permethrin: Although known as a repellent, permethrin is actually a contact insecticide. That is, it kills ticks or other insects that come in contact with it. Permethrin is considered ideal because it is applied to clothing, gear, mosquito nets and bedding and is not applied directly on the body. When applied to clothing and equipment, permethrin is very effective at reducing the mosquito population in your campsite or sleeping quarters by killing mosquitoes that “hang around” camp and land on things. Where ticks are a concern, permethrin on clothing or gear will kill ticks that travel across as little as 10″ of treated fabric. Spray applications of permethrin remain effective up several weeks and through weekly washings. Dip applications can remain effective even longer. Permethrin is harmless to skin and is used extensively in other formulas for treatment of head lice.

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Essential Oils: Natural alternatives for pest relief are in great demand. Essential oils are a popular choice, and some can repel ticks even if they don’t them. In 2004, Swedish researchers Gardulf, Wohlfart and Gustafson found that the mosquito repellent Citriodiol lessened tick attacks on people by 34 percent. The essential oils most commonly promoted as tick repellents include clove, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, and sweet myrrh. The CDC recently admitted that the essential oil lemon eucalyptus has been proven as effective as DEET, without the harmful chemical side effects.  Rose geranium is another oil with remarkable effectiveness, particularly with ticks.

In fact, I make my own tick repellant now.  (Obviously, I didn’t make it BEFORE I got Lyme or I certainly wouldn’t have this blog!)   It’s super easy to prepare.  Purchase a four oz. glass spray bottle available here at Amazon.  Combine 20 drops each of lemon eucalyptus, rose geranium, and DoTerra TerraShield, which contains a mix of powerful essential oils and other plant oils known to provide outdoor protection.  Top off with water.  Shake before each use.  This stuff really works!  The only downside to natural repellents is that they must be reapplied more often and are not waterproof.  Still, for us, playing in the yard, walking to the mailbox, hiking in the woods, it works!  If you’d like to order bottles of this pre-made tick and insect repellent, Attack-a-Tick, email me at jena.whiston@gmail.com.  Or if you have any questions about the recipe, shoot me an email.

It’s also important to apply your insect repellent the correct way.  Check out this video at PestWorld for step by step instructions.

If you’re going to be spending time in wooded areas or tall grasses, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes. Wearing light-colored clothing will make it easier to spot ticks. When hiking, do your best to stay in the center of trails, away from vegetation where ticks may be hiding and waiting to hitch a ride.

How to Protect Your Yard

Identify tick habitats around your home.  Deer ticks require a damp, humid environment to survive. Ticks are usually found:

  • In wooded areas and forest edges. These areas are the most common deer tick habitat.
  • Leaf litter.  Humid conditions found under leaf litter provide an ideal living environment for ticks.
  • Overgrown fields. These areas provide an ideal habitat for both ticks and their hosts.
  • Watch out for mulch…new mulch can introduce ticks onto your property!
  • Modify your environment by cutting lawns and removing leaf litter.
  • Keep children’s play areas away from wooded edges and tall grass. Deer ticks will not thrive in sunlit areas.

Make your yard less tick friendly by doing the following:

  • Clean up your yard and keep the lawn mowed.
  • Let the sunshine in. Sunny areas are less apt to harbor ticks.
  • Keep children’s play areas away from the wooded edge.
  • Remove leaf litter and brush from your property and perimeter.
  • Move bird feeders and wood piles away from your home.
  • Don’t forget about your pets. Consider a fenced-in area, run or invisible fence to keep pets away from tick habitat.  Be sure to use tick repellent for pets. (Also, there is a Lyme vaccination available for dogs. Talk with your vet to see if it’s right for you.)
  • Keep wood chips in your outside dogs bedding area.  Ticks hate cedar.  Lining your yard with cedar chips will serve as an outstanding boundary.

An unusual, new option to research and look into is Tick Tubes. Damminix Tick Tubes® reduce the risk of Lyme Disease by using mice as “couriers” to kill disease carrying deer ticks. This interesting solution consists of small tubes filled with cotton balls. The cotton is treated the mild insecticide Permethrin. To use it, simply place Damminix Tick Tubes® in areas around your yard where mice frolic. That’s it. Mice will do the rest for you by gathering the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you, your family and your pets.  Each mouse nesting with Damminix Tick Tubes® can kill hundreds of ticks each season. Studies have shown that Damminix Tick Tubes® actually reduces the risk of exposure to an infected tick by up to 97% on a treated property.

Certain animals naturally eat deer ticks. Deer ticks used to be found primarily in wooded areas of the northern United States, but the tiny bugs and the diseases they transmit are now in every state in the country. If you want to protect your yard from deer ticks, there are animals that can help you win the fight against them.  Read this article and see if this might be a viable option for you. In addition, wild animals are also helping us fight back.  Did you know the opossum eats 5,000 ticks per season?

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Finally, there are specific plants that serve as deterrents.  Strategically growing rosemary, chrysanthemums, fleabane daisy, mint, lemongrass, sage, and/or lavender are great plants to have in the garden, around the patio, or along the porch.  Read more at One Green Planet.  Plant any of these pest repelling plants (or a combination of) in pots to enjoy an insect-free patio or take indoors. Another useful way to keep plant leaves and flowers is to dry them, then crush them into small tabletop containers, or hang them intact around the house for pest protection with a pleasant scent all day long.

As you can see, there are numerous ways to keep you and your family safe.

You do not have to be a victim.

But what if, even after all these precautions, you find a deer tick embedded in your daughter’s skin?  What do you do?

Learn more in the next article in this series — “Be Reactive.