My childhood with a splash of Lyme

Flailing limbs and ear-piercing shrieks were restrained and repressed by my mother. There she was, sitting on top of eight-year-old me as I shrank away from the huge needle in the nurse’s hand. I was deathly afraid of shots as a child, or sharp objects really, after having a terrible encounter with scissors in my right eye when I was four and a camera tripod leg through my right ear when I was seven. Any trip to the medical clinic was always met with tears and screams, the discomfort radiating from my body. My arms were stretched out and the needle jammed into the pulsing blue vein. The pain faded away as my mother very slowly stood and held my free hand. I watched the blood, that sea of dark crimson in a small vial, be pulled from my body in twenty-seven doses. It was only twelve.

I couldn’t understand why they needed to poke and prod me, why I needed to see the scrawny nurse with the eyebags and heavy sighs, when it was only my knee that hurt. I had been on crutches for almost a week, but other than that, I felt fine! More tired than usual, but fine! I could still climb up the playground, the crutches squished under my armpits as I made my way up the ladder with my good right foot. Mom told me not to go on the playground, to not to hurt my knee any more than it was, but I didn’t listen when I was at school. If she wasn’t there to see me, how would she know what happened?

My left knee was a swollen mess, unable to bend or feel pain even when struck with a hammer—which my dad did after I was awakened, quite rudely, from a nap by my sister—but I was not scared in the slightest. Whatever, I thought; it meant that I could get dropped off at school instead of walking, that I didn’t need to do martial arts classes until it was healed, and hey, what a blessing, no pain! What I had was not a blessing, however, and getting the answers involved digging deeper into why I had what it was.

“We think it might be rheumatoid arthritis,” a nurse said.

“She’s too young for that,” my mom replied.

She held up the paper in her hands, crinkling the edges in her shaking grasp.

“What about this one?” Her finger jabbed the paper. “Is it that?”

My mother’s eyes welled up and she pushed her long, bony fingers into the page. The nurse sat beside her, speaking soft as a whisper as I sat across the room in the puffy orange cushions of the seats. I kicked my right leg impatiently, bouncing my small body up with each swing, lost in a world of imaginary friends and day-dreams.

My bike tires flew over the dirt path through Misty Hollows as the tree branches swayed in the mid-summer breeze. I peddled tirelessly until my bike halted abruptly on half-buried roots and fallen branches, sending me flying over my handle-bars and into the base of a tree covered in a sea of pointy-edged leaves in bunches of three. I got up, dusted myself off, and continued all the way home like nothing happened. 

I pushed my bike beside me up the dangerously steep hill with one hand while I scratched at my throat and chest with the other. As soon as I opened the front door, my mother took one look at me and plunked me down in the bath. Even after all the soapy water and ointments, I scratched at my chin and throat for a few hours until the itchiness had subsided into an ache that I could ignore just long enough to go to sleep. I couldn’t skip school because of some poison ivy, but I did promise not to bike through Misty Hollow again until the fall.

A pill container was placed in my hands as I sat beside my mother, reading over the results of the blood test. With the amount of blood they’d taken, surely the answer was there in the sea of black text printed across the page in tiny, tiny font. I tried to read the words, but most of them were long and complicated—a jumbled mess that, for all I knew, was another language. My mother took the container from me and read over the instructions with the doctor of the Fort Dix Medical Clinic.

‘She’ll need to take them at least half an hour before every meal. It’s vital that she finishes the entire container, even if she says she feels fine. Once the antibiotics are finished, we can re-evaluate her condition,’ he said.

My mother replied with a broken voice. “Is it going to take more than one dose?”

The doctor held his breath. “It can take several doses of Doxycycline to completely combat Lyme Disease. Time will tell, ma’am.”

My mom put her hand on my back as I crutched myself out of the room and to the car, idling with my dad in the driver’s seat.

Once we got home, I had to take the pills. They were bigger than any vitamins I had ever taken, so I would gag and spit them out constantly. My sister, who had watched from the dining room table the whole time, shouted at me to break the pill in half to get it over with. Any mistake in when I took them would result in nausea and clawing at my abdomen to rip the churning pain out of my body. That only happened one time before school, and I recovered just quickly enough to be driven to school. I don’t remember eating anything else for the rest of that day until dinner.

On a family trip out in rural Delaware, my dad stopped the car so we could stretch our legs and walk around. I pulled my jacket around me as the chilly autumn temperature sank into my skin, as if it were covered in ice. I followed after my sister, but my ankle wobbled and I stumbled. My sister turned to watch me and called my dad over. I insisted I was fine; I didn’t want them to worry. But my dad sat me back in the car, my sister held my leg out while he rolled my pants up to my knee. My left ankle was swollen—not as extreme as the knee had been, but it was a concern nonetheless. My mother and sister stayed with me, talking about mundane things—the musical we had been listening to in the car, where we would go for lunch—while my dad talked on the phone.

I knew that whatever was wrong with me hadn’t gone away. I saw the fear in my mother’s eyes, and I just wanted to hug her better. She gave me a small smile and told my sister to stay with me in the car to keep me distracted.

My mom asked him if that was the doctor. He nodded slowly, his gaze focused on the car the whole time. We all knew the signs of the disease at this point; all of the symptoms, and the risks of ignoring it. One more bottle of antibiotics, and I could be better. It would be a life with minor side-effects—including, but not limited to knee mal-tracking, weakened ankles, and soft-tissue damage—but surely it would be worth it to get rid of the disease. And who knows? Maybe it’d make a great story one day: my childhood with a splash of Lyme.

Taralyn is a graduating BFA student that doesn’t know exactly where she wants to go in life, but writing fiction and poetry makes everything a little bit easier. Find her work through issues #4 to #7 of ScratchThat Magazine and her socials.