Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ticks, antibiotics and a German doctor

Ticks had first appeared on the Eifelsteig - before it had been too cold. But now they have come out with vengeance! One night I took 15 ticks off me, still found another 10 that had bitten me next morning and another 5 in the evening that had survived a long shower and intense body search. Ticks seemed to be everywhere. I shook out my tent in the evening to set it up and 3 ticks landed on my hands. When I lay in my tent at night I could see several ticks crawling up the mesh of my tent. When I put my hand outside my tent first thing in the morning to get my granola there was a tick on it when I took it back. They bit me everywhere and no matter how intense I looked for them I always overlooked some. I became a tick phobic...

After 30 tick bites I had discovered and an unknown number I could not detect I started feeling feverish and had a slight cold - which are the usual symptoms for Lyme Disease. It could have been a cold as well - not surprising if you have to camp in sub-freezing temperatures all the time - but I did not know. But there was no sure way to find out and I did not want to take any risk: I started to take Doxicyclin, antibiotics my doctor had prescribed me for such a case. Treatment with Doxicyclin takes at least 14 days and I felt rather weak already at the start of it. But with each tablet I started to feel worse. I lost almost all appetite (which is a very strange thing for a hiker) and had to force myself to eat. Every spoonful of Granola tasted like concrete.

Diarrhea is a common side effect of this treatment but it got worse and worse every day. First my stomach started to rumble and winds to develop. But on my last hiking day I cooked dinner and could not force myself to eat the pasta. I had to throw away half of the dish. The same happened with my morning granola. With an empty and very fuzzy stomach I arrived in Offenburg, my next resupply stop. I was already hiking in France, but from Saverne in France there is a direct train connection to Offenburg in Germany, where Roland, another internet outdoor friend lives. I had sent a package there with new shoes and maps and of course I wanted to get to know Roland.

Ursula in her lovely apartment
Things seemed to improve, especially when Roland fed me with fresh asparagus that was absolutely delicious. I had a nice, but short stay with Roland, because I wanted to use the opportunity and visit my friend Ursula as well who lives close by. Ursula treated me with a visit to a nice Italian restaurant and I was really hungry. Food was good and I ate with great appetite. But at night things turned into a nightmare: Diarrhea got so bad that it was pure liquid. I just could not hold it any longer - and did not make it to the toilet in time. When I tried to clean myself up I was so disgusted that I started to puke and could not stop that either. This nightmare went on and on until I was completely empty and exhausted. Shakily I cleaned myself and the surroundings up and realised that I could not go on like that. I was pretty sure that the antibiotic treatment was the cause of all this nightmare. Something had to be done.

I woke Ursula up at 2 am and she was as worried about my condition as I. We decided that it would be best to take Immodium now and see a doctor first thing in the morning. I went back to bed and even pondered wearing my rain pants to prevent further "mishaps", but the rest of the night was calm. Probably no big surprise as I was sort of "empty". At 7 am in the morning I called a doctor and luckily the first one agreed to see me almost at once. He came to the same diagnosis: The antibiotic treatment had caused the diarrhea, but if I stopped taking it now I would risk the efficiency of Lyme Disease treatment. He prescribed an alternative antibiotics and Immodium to stop diarrhea.

Ursuala and I
Having entered France by then I had not health insured myself for Germany. Therefore I asked the receptionist if I could pay for the consultation straight away. If they sent me an invoice I would only be able to pay after my return to Germany in September. She said she would ask the doctor about it and returned within 2 minutes saying: "It is ok." First I did not understand and asked what she meant - and could not believe when she said that the consulation was free for me. The doctor did not want money for me in my special "thruhiking" condition. I could not believe my luck and asked whether I could at least leave a tip for the staff. She said that of course I could, but that I should by no means feel obligated. Of course I left a generous tip - and left very positively surprised. I had never expected such a generous behaviour.

The new antibiotics and Immodium seemed to do the trick. Ursula invited me to stay as long as I had recovered and now, after two full rest days with her life looks bright again. No more diarrhea and even some appetite! Tomorrow I will go hiking again.

Still, the whole event has changed a lot. This is already the second time I have serious tick problems while hiking in Germany. Ticks have become of a real problem here and statistically, every 10th tick is infected with Lyme Disease. I wonder whether hiking in Germany (or most of the surrounding Central European countries) is worth the risk. I do not want to take antibiotic treatment every year. This has put a huge damper on my plans to hike through Eastern Europe in the near future where there is the same tick problem.

3 comments:

Remi said...

Have you tried using tick repellant? There are negative sides to using these chemicals but probably not as bad as the anti-biotics. Other than that you could always walk during the winter. Cold but no ticks. :)

womacht said...

oh you poor thing! that nightmare sounds just awful and I am so glad you are up again. wish you all the best my darling *Wolfgang

Anonymous said...

Do the ticks burrow their whole body below your skin?
D