the best thing that ever happened to me.

i was 18, a senior in high school. ready to get out and go to college, more than ready for a change. loafing, still in school just to keep me off the streets until june. fueled by volumes of Jack Kerouac and cheap gasoline, my chronic wanderlust wanted me to get out and do interesting things, meet new human beings, see new sights. i felt like i was stuck in a rut.

then i got rocky mountain spotted fever.

it started on a thursday afternoon. i was outside, playing with the cats, throwing the frisbee (excuse me, flying disc) about. the next day, i felt like a had pulled a muscle in my leg, near my hip. i also felt kinda hot and a bit sore. not a big deal, i'm a pretty active guy. i just used some muscles i hadn't used it a while. i went to a ska show that night. i still felt hot and even more sore. i went home early, which never happens with a ska show and me.

the next day, i woke up at 11ish, ate some breakfast, and went to work. i worked a 7 hour shift at the radio station (where i was a DJ - that's a story in itself). i felt like shit - feverish, sore (even worse), tired. my palms and soles of my feet looked a bit irritated, but this didn't faze me much. i went home and ate supper. a nap would do my body good, i thought, so i laid down for one at 8 p.m.

i woke up the next morning. i felt so sore and achy, it hurt to stand up. my head felt like it was on fire. i now had tiny purple spots on my palms and soles of my feet and dime-sized spots starting to show up on my arms and legs. my dad took my temperature - 103.2 (F). i went back to bed. i ate half a biscuit when i woke up at 6, but other than that, i slept until 10 a.m. on monday.

i didn't know what was happening to me at this point. one day i'm having fun, tolerating school, ready to go. 3 days later i can barely stand up. it hurt to eat. i felt like i was slowly burning from the inside out.

my dad took me to the doctor monday morning. it took a lot of effort to walk up the steps to the second floor. the symptoms weren't good - some blood and protien in my urine, fever of 103 (going on 3 days now), purple spotty rash. a healthy, strapping young man reduced to a weak shell of what he was a few days previous. he didn't know what was causing it, but he had a hunch it was rocky mountain spotted fever. i was admitted to the hospital "for a few days, just to run some tests."

i was in the hospital for a week. i got better, but only after the IV, hardcore antibiotics, steroids, blood samples taken every 6 hours, etc, etc. etc... my blood had to be sent to California to be tested for the proper antibodies (which is a looong way from Georgia). some friends came to visit me. i read a lot of books. once i started getting better, my doctor brought some information about rocky mountain spotted fever by for me to read. it's some nasty shit. i got well enough to go home. i found out later that i was the second person in the western Georgia area to be diagnosed with rocky mountain spotted fever since the mid `70s. and the first one to live through it.

the next 2 weeks were spent at home, recovering. i figured out a lot of stuff in that 2 weeks and i continue to do so to this day. i very nearly died. i was given another chance. this was my 9 a.m. wakeup call.

i rearranged my priorities greatly. i watched the sunset nearly every evening. when i went into the hospital, everthing was still dead and brown and leafless from winter. when i came out of the hospital (on Easter Sunday), everything had bloomed. that spring was beautiful. i was truly living again for the first time

i still get small doses of this on a regular basis. this is a Good Thing - kind of cosmic post-it notes about keeping my life in perspective.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an extremely nasty infectious disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, and generally spread by ticks. Rickettsia is named after Howard T. Ricketts, discoverer of the disease's bacterial origin, and its apparent nomenclatural similarity to the vitamin deficiency disease rickets is entirely coincidental.

The disease was first recognized in Idaho in 1895. Originally known as "black measles," it received its current name from Ricketts' Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana. Before the widespread adoption of tetracycline antibiotics to treat it, Rocky Mountain spotted fever was a veritable plague, with mortality rates as high as 30 percent and many survivors crippled for life. Even with antibiotic treatment, it remains so virulent that about 5 percent of cases are still fatal.

It is in no way confined to the Rocky Mountains. Cases have been reported in every U.S. state except Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont, as well as southern Canada, Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Fortunately, you can't catch it from another person, so there is no danger in contact with someone afflicted by this disease. You might, however, get it indirectly from a dog if an infected tick jumps off of it and bites you. If you notice and remove it immediately, you'll probably be all right, as the tick usually has to spend several hours draining your succulent flesh before transmission occurs. Be careful when grooming your pet, too - you can catch RMSF from the blood or feces (ewww!) of a dead tick. The best way to avoid contracting RMSF is just to stay away from tick-infested areas, and use a repellent if you must traverse them. Types of tick known to carry the disease in North America include the wood tick, the dog tick, and the Lone Star tick. (that last one would be an excellent name for a comic book character!)

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is most common in children under 15 years of age, and is more common in males than in females. It's unlikely there's a physiological basis for this trend; boys playing in the dirt simply have a greater opportunity to get bitten by ticks. Its incubation period can range from a few days to approximately two weeks after the bite. Initial symptoms are high fever, severe headache, sharp muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are common to many illnesses, however, which makes diagnosis of RMSF difficult at times. A few days after the onset of fever, the disease's characteristic rash appears, starting on the limbs and spreading rapidly. Those who wait until this later stage of the disease's development to begin treatment are far more likely to die from it.

To complicate matters, the rash doesn't always appear. The only certain way to diagnose Rocky Mountain spotted fever is through a blood test, which can take several days to produce results, particularly in the rural areas where the disease is most common. Therefore, the most prudent plan is to treat any suspected case as if it were RMSF, rather than take the further risk of delaying treatment while awaiting test results. When it occurs, death is usually caused by kidney failure.

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