When we moved to Virginia in 1988 we moved into a house in the woods. I loved it. My then-hubby loved it. Our two children loved it. We had a lot to learn about living in the woods, as both my hubby and I had been raised in the average subdivision neighborhoods of our day.
The second spring in VA, about the end of May, 1990, my son complained of his ear hurting. Upon inspection, I found a tick and removed it from the outside of his ear. Twelve days later, on a Sunday, my son had a headache all day. Naturally prone to headaches since three years old, he simply spent a quiet day…never once complaining of the headache.
I noticed he did not eat much at lunch, but again, he was never a hearty eater, so I was not alarmed. However, when suppertime rolled around and he said he really did not want to eat, I asked him if he was feeling OK. “I just have a headache, Mom.”
Like every mom from the beginning of time, I was equipped with a thermometer hand and as a precautionary measure, I placed it on my son’s forehead. He was burning up! The mechanical thermometer supported my hand, reporting the temperature at 103 degrees. So, out came the children’s Tylenol and the cool cloths to help bring down the fever.
By the morning, the fever was approaching 105 and my son was sporting a rash on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. I can tell you, this was one weird looking thing and, not having the Internet at my disposal in those days, I turned to the Encyclopedia Britannica. There it was in black and white….it looked to me as though my son had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
We were at the doctor’s, first thing that morning. The doctor looked at my son, looked down his throat and asked me questions. I told him of the tick bite 12 days prior. However, the doctor declared my son had strep throat and prescribes an antibiotic. OK, so much for “at home diagnosis.”
Well, Monday went by, as did Tuesday, with no improvement. In fact, my son’s headache was so bad and his fever so high that he was hallucinating. I was pretty scared for him, as he thought the ceiling fan was going to get him and that there were three men standing in the room with me, when I came in to check on him. I called the doctor back and reported no improvement. The doctor, in a rather condescending tone, informed me that it took a while for amoxicillin to work. I told him that he had not prescribed amoxicillin.
So, the doctor called in the amoxicillin and I began treating my son with it. By Thursday night, there was still no improvement. By now, he was also covered with the rash. Again I called the doctor. My tiny son had lost a lot of weight in the process and he was not getting better. This time he told me that if my son was not doing better by the morning, I should bring him back into the office.
Friday morning, I was back in the office with my son. The doctor took one look at me and in a rather accusatory tone demanded, “Was he bitten by a tick recently?” DOH! What did I tell him in the first place???? “Yes, twelve days prior to the onset of the headache and fever….as noted when I brought him in on Monday, why?” “Well, it looks like he has tick fever.”
Well, stumped by this disease about which I had never heard, I asked for clarification. “Tick fever?” “Yes, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.”
A couple of blood tests later, the diagnosis was confirmed as was the fact that he was responding, albeit slowly, to the amoxicillin. The decision was made not to change the meds again, though it was not the preferred medication to treat this illness. However, during that visit, the doctor told me that though most people are afraid of getting Lyme Disease, in Virginia at that time, there were 100 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to every 1 of Lyme Disease. And, RMSF can caused death much faster than LD! (So good that he took nearly a week to take the situation seriously.)
Sunday morning, one full week after his fever started, the fever broke, the headache eased and my son was on his way back to good health. Today, as I sat in the woods with my dog and cat, enjoying some quality time with them, I plucked a tick off my leg. He had not attached himself, like the one last week, but it made me think of that day 17 years ago, when I learned how serious a tick bite could be, and how paying attention to when one is removed and when symptoms first being, can make a huge difference in accurate diagnosis and treatment.