By Vivian Viloria-Fisher
I thought I had taken all the right steps to protect myself against tick borne diseases; avoided going onto tall grassy areas without gloves, long white pants and white socks, and I sprayed legs — and shoes — and arms with repellents. All that notwithstanding, I did find more than one tick on me this summer. Again, I followed the prescribed steps and collected the vermin, saved it and saw my doctor, who prescribed a prophylactic dose of doxycycline. After the requisite weeks, I had blood work done which showed no sign of disease.
So, when I was flying home from a visit with our two sons in California and was not able to eat my salad at my layover stop, I was surprised but not concerned. I’d had a very busy week enjoying time with my kids and grandson. I felt very achy but chalked that up to the long drive from Marc’s home in Sebastopol to Dan and Megan’s home in Thousand Oaks. That’s more than 400 miles.
I was very tired the next morning but pushed myself to get up and get ready for the funeral that caused me to shorten my trip. During the Mass, I swung from hot to shivering cold and began to feel lightheaded. I turned to my husband, Stu, and told him that I felt as if my head was exploding in a white flash before my eyes. He helped me to my feet, and we made our way out of the church, quickly hugging my cousins as we passed. We bought a thermometer at a drugstore across the street from the church. It read 103 degrees.
This was Friday, the beginning of a week of fevers rising and falling, no ability to eat, muscle aches, headaches, earache and fatigue. My search for answers included three visits to doctors’ offices and finally, on Thursday, Mather Hospital Emergency Department in Port Jefferson where Dr. Hirsch did not dismiss it as just a virus. I told him I thought I had meningitis. He shook his head and said, “I suspect Lyme.”
My father had meningitis when I was 5 years old. He had continued to work although he was sick with mumps, and the infection spread. I remember the grown ups’ conversations about the tube driven into his head to relieve pressure. That left me with a very vivid but equally inaccurate image of what he endured. I wished something could relieve what I knew was going on in my head.
Stu and I had just watched “Jeopardy!” on Friday evening, and my right eye hurt so much that I decided to go to bed, since I couldn’t read or watch TV. I looked in the mirror as I brought the toothbrush to my mouth and saw that only half my mouth was opening. Off we went to Mather ED.
Within a day it was determined from the spinal fluid that the Lyme disease did cause the meningitis — and the palsy that froze the right side of my face.
I refer to tick borne diseases as the Black Plague of our county. These diseases are not to be taken lightly either by the public who don’t believe it will happen to them or by health providers who don’t consider the possibility of Lyme as often as they should. One can be bitten and walk away free of any infection or one can be bitten, feel safe because blood work shows no infection and find oneself close to death. I was very lucky to have had excellent medical care, both in the hospital and at home. I was discharged with a midline for a 28-day course of intravenous antibiotics and a service that provided a nurse who came to our home once a week and instructed my devoted husband on how to administer the medication when she wasn’t there.
Nobody drilled a hole in my head. Instead, my family, my friends and my community surrounded me with love, care and prayers. I am so grateful.
Vivian Viloria-Fisher and her husband live in East Setauket. She is a former county legislator in the 5th District, and is now chair of the Jefferson’s Ferry board of directors.