Thursday, 24 May 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.


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?