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Lyme Disease: My story on diagnosing and managing this disease

Lyme Disease Justin Klement story on diagnosing and managing with this disease

Medication that I needed to take three times a day for Lyme disease while hunting this fall. All photo credits: Justin Klement

By now, many have either heard of Lyme disease or, perhaps, have a friend or relative who's cousin has it, has had it, or something to that effect. As hunters, we willingly put ourselves at risk. To avoid Lyme disease, many doctors advise staying out of the woods. Well, to nearly anyone reading this: for hunters, that just isn't an option.

Fall of 2018 marked my 10th season hunting. Completely self-taught, never guided, just pure grit and worn-out boot leather is what I have to account for the majority of my success over the years. Having no real history with the outdoors and hunting (my father hunted a couple of times when I was very young), I have made all of the mistakes, but I’ve learned from them, too.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned from...

About three and a half years ago I had one of the best seasons I’ve ever experienced. I had killed a cougar and a bobcat from the same tree on consecutive days, then made a last-day, last-ditch effort to kill a late season elk and I successfully notched a tag there, too. And, I accomplished all of that with my bow. I can’t recall which pack out it was, but I do remember extracting a tick from the front of my shoulder. It was in that spot under your backpack strap that is bound to be irritated anyways, so it was easy to miss. Once I pulled that tick out, I discarded it and didn't think anything of it. That was my detrimental mistake. Not that I threw it away, which was also a mistake, but, mainly, because I didn’t think anything of it.

Fast forward about a month later and I was extremely ill. Fevers came and went at random similar to that of the flu only worse without any stomach or gut issues. My blood pressure was also spiking, causing me to feel faint or lightheaded at times. I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like my chest was going to explode in pain, heart racing and pounding so hard I thought I was experiencing cardiac arrest. This went on for about three months with no rhyme or reason to it at all. I saw doctors who just thought I was “aging” and needed medication to control my blood pressure, which just “masked” the symptoms. Meanwhile, I was 28 at the time and in probably the best shape I've ever been. I ate healthy, led an active lifestyle, etc. I had a hunch that Lyme Disease was the culprit, so I asked my doctor to order the test. After the end of that summer, the fevers had subsided, I was on three medications to control my blood pressure (which we later learned I didn’t need) and I was left with just an odd sense that something was wrong even though I was assured nothing was.

For the next year and a half, I experienced some on and off mild depression and anxiety that I really couldn't explain. Some days I would just sit and not do anything at all in an odd trance-like state that is still hard to explain. Then in February 2018 the state of mind I once knew as normal was gone, long gone.

Out of the blue one day while working, all of a sudden, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to cry. And not just a couple tears, but it felt as if someone had just called me and told me that something terrible had happened to a loved one even though nothing of the sort had. I couldn't control the feeling. Nothing gave me any relief. I tried every at-home remedy, did everything the doctors asked of me, still nothing. At that point, I knew something was wrong. Chemically, something had to be messed up. If I couldn't get myself out of this weird depressive mood, what would? I haven't been the same since.

Justin Klement talking with the doctor

It took about another four to five weeks of research, struggle and anguish, seeking out doctors to no avail, finding doctors with six-month to year-long waiting lists and, then, finally finding a doctor that would listen.

Doctor who would listen to Justin Klement health concerns

She successfully diagnosed me with Lyme disease via blood test and I finally had some relief. I didn't know much about Lyme disease, but I was happy to have an answer.

Doctor notes after diagnosing lyme disease

Doctor notes after diagnosing me with Lyme disease.

Throughout the next few months, my disease progressed rather rapidly. I developed a startling reflex in which sudden noises and movements—even light flickers—would startle me. I was having seizures and panic attacks simultaneously and uncontrollably. Sometimes, while driving, I would have to pull off the road to endure a 30 to 90-minute convulsive seizure, then continue on my way. The depression is unspeakably dark and has been so deep and just overall nasty that I had to ask my wife to hide our guns. Most people will not want to hear this, but it's the truth. I’ve gone through it; I'm glad I'm here. I wouldn't want it any other way, but I get it. Recently, one of our own in the hunting community took his own life and, although tragic, I can honestly say I understood. The state of mind a person goes through while suffering from the sort depression that puts you in that mind frame is not easy. I haven't been able to do it alone.

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Along with the depression, anxiety, seizures and all that other fun stuff, I also started to lose the nervous system function on my left side. I started to drop things with my left hand way too often. I would trip over my own left foot constantly. My gait was off. One of the doctors who eventually helped get me back to semi-normal said that a lot of the infection was in my brain, which also explained the insomnia. On most days, I have a buzzing like sensation in the left hemisphere of my head, down my neck and into my upper back. The best way I’ve been able to explain it is the sound of neon lights buzzing. That keeps me from sleeping.

Oddly enough, the moon has also been a factor. You might think I'm crazy, but I've patterned it out over the past year and, when the moon is full, the week surrounding it is hell for me. I typically will get two to four hours of sleep a night, I will burst into tears at random, the startling reflex will be on red-alert and, then, the depression will creep in. Usually, about three to four days after the full moon things, I start to feel okay again.

Daily medication battling lyme disease

Honestly, I could probably write a novel on the various symptoms and how they have affected my life, but what I really want to accomplish is just some general awareness. Something I wish I would have taken more seriously a few years ago, could have saved me tens of thousands of dollars and years of a consistent struggle to feel decent on the day-to-day.

So, what should you do if you get bit by a tick?

Well, there are about a million old wive’s tales and theories on what to do. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have done about 200 hours of research and I can tell you a couple of things to look out for in case you have a run-in sometime in the future.

Out of all the research I've done, the best and most uniformly recommended way to extract a tick from your skin is simply to use tweezers, grab the tick from the top and bottom of its head and slowly pull it out. Theoretically, it should dislodge and be able to be placed in a sealed container. This is what I did not know before, but you can actually mail that tick to a testing center and they can tell you whether or not it carries Lyme and/or its co-infectors. However, the tests are not always accurate, I would also caution that you be mindful of your well-being. If you feel flu-like at all—body aches, headaches, muscle aches and cramps, which are otherwise inexplicable—get to your doctor. The doctors used to say just look out for the “bullseye” rash; however, that has been proven to only be true for less than 40% of people who contract the disease.

Another idea is straight prevention. Picardin and Permethrin seem to work the best as repellents. I’ve also found an essential oil mixture called “Bug Bouncer” that works pretty well. Yet, you can only spray your clothes and wipe your skin so much. The best thing to do is just check yourself, especially in the spring when they are the densest.

Now, I’m truly not writing all of this so people will feel sorry for me or give me attention. I want the attention to be brought to the hunting community. I want people to know just how bad it can get.

Justin Klement dealing with lyme disease on a hunt

The struggle of dealing with Lyme disease on a hunt.

I never imagined a bite from a tick could change my life in such a dramatic fashion, but it did. I want my fellow hunters to be aware of the dangers and not take it for granted. For another look at the impact that ticks can have on hunters, you can check out this article, Tick awareness and prevention for hunters written by Kristen Schmitt.

A podcast about my Lyme disease experience

Below you can check out a podcast that I recently recorded with Hunt Harvest Health.

In the end, be your own advocate.

goHUNT's INSIDER Research Tools


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Chris H. - posted 4 months ago on 09-26-2019 05:49:08 am

So I grew up hunting around the St. Croix between MN, and WI, which you could come out of the woods with over 100 ticks in the spring. I counted over 300 ticks on my dog after a day setting up stands/cameras (and he had tick med's on). One thing that I did not see here was the need to pull ticks off ASAP. My understanding is that it takes the tick 12-24 hours to get through your skin to your blood, and at that point Lyme's transfer can happen, but not before. So we always check for ticks after being in the field. At least for me, I have never gotten Lyme's and I have pulled hundreds, maybe thousands of ticks off over the years. Once the ticks are off, you can put them in tape so that they don't just jump back on you. Also, we have different ticks here; wood tick, and deer tick. Deer ticks are known for caring Lyme's, not wood ticks.

That being said, my old man had undiagnosed Lyme's for years with symptoms and had to send blood samples to Europe before he was diagnosed. Another thing not mentioned here (and I am speculating) is that the sooner you go to the doctor the better your changes of recovery. I believe if you go right (1-2 weeks) away you can be treated with antibiotics.

Lastly, I would recommend that you chat with your doc before hand to see of they know about Lyme's treatment, testing for diagnosis, etc. Such a big thing for a doc to miss.

Bonnie S. - posted 6 months ago on 07-18-2019 07:39:19 am

Thanks for sharing your story with such honesty. I am a nurse and was an avid outdoorsman and in the best shape of my life like you at age 37 when I developed horrific symptoms. Ticks were just a part of my life in the deep fields of PA taking care of horses and other critters. I would just brush the ticks off of my bed that my labs brought in. It literally changed my life overnight going to a bedridden corpse with horrific sweats and shakes/chills. My body would jerk uncontrollably. Sweats were gallons. No doctors knowledgeable in my area and first tests were false negative. Had to quit
my dream job that I worked so hard to attain.
Drove 2 hrs to have detailed blood breakdown which showed positive for Lyme and 2 coinfections. Dr.Daniel Cameron in mount kisco ny is the best Lyme specialist and helped me get back to working and sort of living life. I will never be "ME" again, but better than I was post lyme. Memory is almost non existent and depression daily, body jerks uncontrollably, severe light sensitivity and sleep is minimal. Sweats and flu symptoms incapacitate me for days. I don't know how every hunter is not sick from Lyme. Please be careful out there while you are loving what you do- a simple tick bite can end life as you know it. Sincerely, Bonnie

Matt S. - posted 8 months ago on 05-01-2019 05:23:37 pm

Thanks for sharing. Hope you continue to find more relief and healing. How deep was the tick you pulled out? Way buried or just kind of on your skin? We've had some deep ones in the past.....

justin k. - posted 9 months ago on 04-26-2019 01:03:59 pm

Thanks everyone for your comments. I’ve been continuing to get better. It’s very slow but it is progress in a positive way.

I picked up this nasty disease in Washington, and was misdiagnosed at the beginning, I think a lot of the misdiagnosis and period of time I went untreated is due to where I live and the lack of prevalence of Lyme on the west coast in general.

I do know that doxycycline is effective for the treatment of Lyme, IF it is caught in a good amount of time from the bite. In my case, I was misdiagnosed and untreated for nearly 3 years, which is what caused it to progress the way it did.

Thanks for the support!

Eddie K. - posted 9 months ago on 04-22-2019 07:56:39 am
goHUNT INSIDER clarify, you said you picked out a tick, but what part of the country?

Eddie K. - posted 9 months ago on 04-22-2019 07:54:35 am

Wow, brutal, thanks for sharing your story Justin. Keep your head up man! Do you have any idea of where you may have picked up the disease?

Bendrix B. - posted 9 months ago on 04-21-2019 07:32:15 pm
Rochester, MA

Interesting, terrifying story. Also very contrary to my own experience both with Lyme and Doctors. I have been dealing with ticks here in Massachusetts since I started bowhunting in 1993. I’ve picked a fair number our of my skin. They are not hard to remove and the head will not get stuck in you. Of all those ticks, most of which I got within a few hours of attachment, only one passed Lyme to me. It attached on my back and I missed it.

The symptoms were raging, short term fevers, fatigue, back ache and some stuffiness. I felt like I’d aged 20 years. My wife made me go to the hospital after a week of this and they immediately tested me for Lyme, Ehrychliosis etc. While waiting for the test I was put on Doxicycline, which is the antibiotic for these diseases. When the test came back positive for Lyme the prescription was extended to a total of 4 weeks.

The Doxi was effective within just a few days and apparently fully effective in eradicating the Lyme after the 4 week dosage. It was gone, and no lingering problems and its been 6 years.

My Dr gave me a prescription of 8 Doxi pills with instructions to take two immediately upon finding a tick attached to my body. Taken as a prophylactic the Doxi should prevent Lyme from infecting you if present in the tick. It is also important to remove the tick as soon as possible, so check yourself frequently when out, and thoroughly at least once a day. Ive removed two ticks from my skin since having Lyme, used the Doxi and not had any Lyme since.

My experience with Lyme is that there is effective medication, Doctors understand what Lyme is and how to diagnose it, and that Doxi is an effective ‘morning after” drug. I’d encourage every hunter or outdoorsperson to ask there Doctor for a prophylactic prescription of Doxicycline and use it.

David B. - posted 9 months ago on 04-17-2019 05:23:53 am

Woah, thanks for sharing and I hope you continue to recover.

Sean B. - posted 9 months ago on 04-15-2019 12:43:38 pm

Thanks for sharing. I just bought some permethrin spray to treat all the gear I'll be wearing in May for turkey. It's stories like these that will keep my sense of awareness extremely heightened. I also actually just downloaded that podcast last week to listen to on my next trip and looking forward to it. Good luck getting through it and let us know how things turn out in the future.

Gary H. - posted 9 months ago on 04-15-2019 08:33:15 am

The real struggle is the amount of medical bills and the mess of being passed around between doctors for referrals.

I really feel bad you this guy dealing with the medical system that is completely FUBAR in this country.

SETH D. - posted 9 months ago on 04-13-2019 06:48:02 am
Sunny New Mexico

I have lived with the European variant of Lyme Disease since 2006. We treated it immediately after I was bit. That was all the world of difference. I never got sick like most of the friends of mine did, and you did. I still test positive for the disease, I don't know what the future will be like, and honestly it isn't something I think about much. I know many people who live with the disease, and in Europe it is just considered to be part of being an outdoorsman.

Hope you are able to keep on top of it.
Casey D. - posted 9 months ago on 04-12-2019 08:40:48 pm

Thank you for sharing your story Justin. Very moving story, my wife has MS and while being diagnosed the docs thought she may have lymes. I read her your story and she understands how hard the struggle can be. Stay strong and take care!