TREGO– “Do we dare let this monster out of the cage? Do we reveal the fact that this is a much bigger problem?”

That is the question Buck Pettingill of Trego asks as he talks about his experiences with what he believes is a long-term case of Lyme disease that has crippled him enough that he no longer can ride his bike and go on runs, forcing him to deal not only with the physical limitations but with attendant depression.

“Prior to May last year, I was healthiest 58-year-old you’ve ever known. I could mark timber all day,” the county forester said.

Now an hour can be a struggle.

Pettingill calls Lyme a hideous, crippling disease.

He along with Rebecca Keith, a nurse practitioner and owner of Keith Family Wellness in Minong, have formed a support group that meets from 6 to 8 p.m. every third Thursday, at the Spooner Civic Center in the even months and Jack Link’s Aquatic & Activity Center in the odd months.

Pettingill wishes doctors had a broader knowledge of Lyme disease and that more research would be done on it.

“Because I think this is a problem that’s not going to go away,” he said. “It’s serious to the level that it can it can take someone’s life. I mean, not directly, but indirectly. So, when a disease becomes life threatening, I think then certainly, there should be more medical attention given that problem. People are committing suicide.”

Pettingill has a friend who tested positive on the Western blot and had a month of antibiotic infusions.

“I had talked with him on a couple occasions when I was really sick,” Pettingill said. “And just being able to talk to someone who’s been there and going through it, or has gone through what you’ve been through, you couldn’t put a price on that. It was priceless. It really, really helped.”

He and others had talked a couple of years ago about starting a support group, and his experience with his friend cemented it.

He said the support group’s goal is to educate and to provide some help and support.

Pettingill grew up in the area, and between that and his work as a forester, word got around to people who knew him that he has been sick with Lyme disease, and some have told him relatives of theirs are having similar problems.

“They’re coming out of the woodwork – so many people, I think, have got this problem. And there’s no support out there,” he said.

Pettingill has worked in the forestry industry for 31 years, and he first got the Lyme infection back in the 1980s. He said he had it so long that the oral antibiotics did not work and he had an allergic reaction to the intravenous.

He said the doctor told him they could not keep giving him antibiotics so the disease would just have to “run its course.” They thought it eventually would just go away.

“So you’re miserable for a year. Or two,” Pettingill said. He said he never did feel the same after that. Still in his 20s, he felt he was not quite as vigorous and was more easily fatigued, more susceptible to colds and flu, more prone to joint pain, mainly in his hips, knees, and shoulders.

He said it was enormously frustrating to go from doctor to doctor and to have the symptoms treated – for pain relief, for anxiety and depression, for example – but to not have the core cause(s) healed.

Pettingill’s Lyme disease has been treated by Keith on and off for several years. She had treated him three or four years ago when he had Lyme, which manifested then as joint pain and headaches, and at the time he felt he had been healed, but it seems to flare up as a chronic disease.

Though he calls it Lyme, he said, it is possible he could have a co-infection, one of the other tick-born diseases such as Borrelia or Bartonella in addition to the Lyme.

Another incidence of Lyme disease flared up in May, heralded by chills and fevers. He went to the emergency room late one Friday afternoon. They gave him a prescription for 30 days of Doxycycline, and in three or four days he was ready to go back to work. The blood work came back positive for the infection, which he expected.

“I assumed that, like all of us that work in the business, yeah, you get the infection, you take to Doxycycline, you move on, no harm done,” he said. “However, this time it didn’t go away. It lingered. I felt better, but not quite. And then just slowly, end of July, that’s when I started to begin to change. I was very irritable, insomniac, headaches were starting in. And then by the last week in July, I was just like somebody just hit me on the head with a hammer. Complete brain fog, loss of energy, terrible headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety.”

He went to seven or eight doctors, including a neurologist and an infectious disease specialist, trying to pinpoint what was happening. For a long time they thought it might be an autoimmune disorder such as Addison’s disease.

“Turned out it was negative,” he said.

In November he was put on an IV antibiotic for 17 days. He started to feel better, but a week afterwards the symptoms started creeping back in.

“By the week before Christmas, I was pretty much unable to work at that point. Just really sick.”

Through January he had a series of antibiotic infusions, and in the meantime, the Western Blot test showed he tested positive for Lyme.

“But after the infusions, I feel a little better. I don’t feel great. I don’t even feel good. I feel kind of OK. So we still have work to do,” he said.

“I believe it’s known that Lyme infections can spin off other disorders,” he said, and his doctors are looking into whether he might have sarcoidosis, a disease that results in the growth of masses of inflamed cells in various parts of the body.

Pettingill feels that based on his experience and other people he has talked to, doctors and the Centers for Disease Control may not have a handle on how to treat Lyme and any long-term manifestation of it.

He said it is a “real roller coaster ride” of hoping the doctors can find out what is causing his symptoms.

More information

For more information on the support group: Pettingill, 715.520.3560.

NOTE: More information on Lyme disease and its treatment is in the article “Lyme treatment: Sometimes a controversial topic” at spooneradvocate.com and in the August 1, 2019, issue of the Spooner Advocate.

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