Sharing the Trail

It was a pleasant morning, as winter mornings go in this part of Oregon. A good day for a solo trek.  The air was cool, damp, and fresh and there was only the slightest breeze. Given it was mid-week I expected to see few other people, and though I’m usually an afternoon hiker, rain was forecast for later in the day.

Forest Peak was a new destination for me and the southeast side seemed like a decent route. The round trip should be doable in about two hours or so. The path up would be mostly single track and the return would be on forest service roads. Nearly the entire distance would be through typical northwest evergreen forest, with moss clinging to and lichen dripping from nearly every tree.

The first acquaintance I made, barely a quarter mile in, was a very sluggish rough-skinned newt who refused to budge, even with the nudge of my boot.  Too chilly, I guessed.  Still pondering the newt, I nearly stepped on a five-inch-long banana slug, lengthening my stride just in time to miss it. Gotta keep my eyes open, I mused.

I love hiking single-track. Even when it’s drizzling there’s so much to take in as the path curves, dips, and climbs through the underbrush and across creeks.  It doesn’t even feel like exercise.  Only another rare hiker or the occasional mountain biker might break the solitude.  I passed under a large tree that had fallen against its neighbors, picking up my pace just a little.  It was still propped up at a 45 degree angle and I wondered how long it had been like that, or how long it would stay.

The path got just a bit steeper and muddier and I put more attention to where my feet were going. Glancing a couple yards ahead my eyes caught something that caused an immediate chill to run up my spine. It’s funny, I’ve heard about that happening but can’t ever recall it happening to me before.  Until that moment, when my eyes scanned a very large, very distinct, and very fresh set of tracks that had passed in the opposite direction, most likely earlier that morning.

I know they live in this part of Oregon and I’ve probably even been watched by one a time or two, but seeing those tracks and realizing I had shared the trail that morning with a Cougar took that awareness to the next level of ‘Yikes!’, if you know what I mean. Picture a 150-200 pound house cat with an attitude. I took some photos for confirmation, including the one above, using the toe of my boot as reference. The prints were about 3.5 to 4 inches across.

Mustering the remainder of my manhood I did manage to finish the hike, but I admit it was not the relaxed trip intended. Way more time than usual was spent scanning the forest in all directions – and making scary noises.  Yeah, that would help.

Later in the afternoon I confirmed my suspicions with a savvy local resident regarding the maker of the tracks. I also did some online research.  There was no doubt.  It was not a very large dog, which would have been the only reasonable second guess. So there it was, my first sighting of cougar tracks in the wild.  It was certainly exciting, but it gave me a bit more perspective on how brave I actually am.  Yup.



My Lyme

Upon seeing this blog entry my wife is likely to sigh and roll her eyes, not that I blame her.  As both she and our son have also had Lyme disease, it has hijacked a significant portion of our lives.  We just want it to go away, but it won’t.  I’m not looking for sympathy, though it is a bit cathartic getting this out there.  I am writing because similar stories by others have helped me cope.  They confirm that others are dealing with the same symptoms and frustrations and I’m not just the complaining nut case I sometimes feel like. Those stories also help me better understand the disease so I can best manage my own treatment.  Maybe my story will help others.


It was a sunny and brisk Sunday afternoon in mid-September about eight years ago. I was out with my camera at our community’s sports fields when I first noticed feeling a bit off. “Oh great”, I thought, “I’m getting sick”.  Sure enough, Monday morning I woke up with aches and chills. The dreaded swine flu had arrived in the U.S. and I figured it had found me. News reports said healthy adults had little to worry about and just needed to ride it out.

The following Thursday around 2:00 AM I woke my wife and asked her to drive me to the hospital. Something was seriously wrong.  After two nights of drenching sweats I felt like someone was driving a giant screw through my head.  It couldn’t be just the flu. Forty five minutes later we were at the emergency room and a doctor saw me quickly.  He drew some blood and disappeared.  Upon returning he simply looked at me and said, “You’re not going home.  Your liver enzymes are off the chart.”

So began my fight with Lyme disease.  You won’t hear this from many Lyme patients, but I consider myself somewhat fortunate.  During the three days I spent in the hospital that week I was under the care of an infectious disease doctor who had seen this before.  That next morning she told me she didn’t know what I had but was almost sure it was tick borne. She immediately started me on intravenous Rocephen, a powerful antibiotic that has been effective against Lyme and many of its co-infections.  After a battery of tests, they sent me home with a thirty day supply of oral doxycycline as a follow-up to the Rocephen. I was already feeling much better and assumed that was the end of it.

Of all the tests, only one came back positive.  It showed slightly positive for Borreliosis (Lyme disease), but with low confidence.  Years later, based on a comparison of my symptoms with the continuously-growing body of clinical data, I realized I’d probably contracted both Lyme and Babesiosis. It wasn’t a surprise I’d been bitten by a tick, as we lived in southeastern Pennsylvania (or ‘Lyme Central’ as I now sometimes call it) in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by fields and hedgerows. Deer ticks were everywhere and I’d pulled more than a few off myself over the years.

What was a surprise was getting sick again eight months later while on a business trip, this time complete with a red rash over one-third of my body. My primary care physician listened to my new symptoms and thought I probably had Lyme again. Whether or not I had gotten another bite (likely, given where we lived) or it was a resurgence of my initial infection (also likely) doesn’t really matter. This news marked the beginning of my never-ending roller coaster ride that is chronic Lyme, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), or whatever else they might be calling it.

There’s no denying that Lyme sucks.  It’s an insidious disease that is reaching epidemic levels around the world, and we have just barely scratched the surface in its understanding.  Hard to diagnose in time to treat it effectively, its symptoms can mimic so many other diseases that victims feel like full-blown hypochondriacs.  These thoughts also pass through the minds of family and friends.

Since existing tests for Lyme are woefully inaccurate and inconclusive, and may not show positive until months after contracting the disease, the diagnosis is largely a clinical one.  It is very much a diagnosis of omission – if you’ve checked everything else that might be causing a symptom, it might be Lyme.  Do this for enough of the myriad of odd symptoms, and the probability increases. I’ve personally consulted neurologists, rheumatologists, orthopedists, audiologists, and optometrists for symptoms that ultimately came down to Lyme.  People have been diagnosed with MS, ALS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Alzheimer’s to find out – sometimes years later – that it was Lyme. Sometimes they never know for sure, and that may be its worst aspect. Even when you know you have Lyme, you’re always wondering if any given symptom might be caused by something worse you don’t yet know about.

Though there are many similarities, Lyme affects everyone differently.  It depends on their overall health, genetics, how long it has gone undiagnosed, and what co-infections they might have also contracted.   My personal list of symptoms attributable to or exacerbated by Lyme over the years includes:

  • Flu-like fever, chills and aches (Yup, just like that).
  • General feeling of malaise (Didn’t want to do anything).
  • Fatigue (So bad I could barely get out of bed).
  • Red rash covering one-third of my torso (That was pretty).
  • Tendinopathy in both shoulders.
  • Finger joint pain (To the point I could barely hold my camera).
  • Joint crepitus, mostly in the neck and shoulders (Everything creaked and cracked).
  • Brain fog (Also called Lyme brain – cognitively ‘slow’ with difficulty concentrating).
  • Tripping over words (Not being able to find the right words or get them out).
  • Tinnitus and hyperacusis (Painful sensitivity to sound).
  • ‘Odd’ body odor (Yeah, this is a strange one, but real).
  • Jitteriness and decreased fine motor coordination.
  • Vertigo and dizziness (What it sounds like).

These symptoms have continuously waxed and waned depending on my treatment and who knows why else.

I regularly research what’s new in Lyme knowledge and treatment, hoping for that ‘ah ha!’ moment, but based on the current understanding of the disease I don’t expect to be ‘cured’ anytime soon.  It is still an ongoing battle.  I am, with the help of a good doctor, doing a pretty good job of managing it, though.  I feel about 85-90% most days, am able to function, am very active, and am not spending a fortune on my treatment.  Thus I do consider myself one of the luckier ones.  I basically knew what I had when I first got sick and have been able to control it.  There are many, many people out there who are not as fortunate.  In the worst shape are people who have traveled from doctor to doctor with their long list of seemingly unrelated symptoms, and yet go undiagnosed for years.  Some of these doctors are simply not familiar with Lyme, and some still hold the outdated belief that there’s no such thing as a chronic form of the disease.

My own treatment includes oral antibiotics (and try to keep those to a minimum), supplements to support my immune system and overall nutrition, eating as healthy a diet as possible (which includes severely limiting – if not eliminating – sugar and all other simple carbohydrates), and exercising daily (especially aerobic exercise).  Note that the last two on this list are good advice for everyone, not just sick people.  The research indicates that the borrelia bacteria loves sugar and hates oxygen.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that the increase in reported cases and the associated publicity is resulting in an increase in research for better tests and improved treatments.  We all hope these will be found sooner than later.  In the meantime, in the words of Kathleen Spreen, DO, we should “Never give up.”


A Hole Left by a Cat

To be honest, I never really wanted a cat. I was a dog person. Cats were too independent and just convinced you to feed and pamper them without giving much back. But our daughter had recently left for her first year at college and my wife was suffering a bit from empty nest syndrome. Even our old retriever, Jessie, wasn’t scratching that itch. So I relented, and Tina and our son, Steve, headed off to the animal shelter. They returned with a handsome, buff-colored male that was a ‘teenager’ in cat years, maybe about nine months old. Ironically, Andrea had always wanted a cat, and never lets us forget that we got one as soon as she left for school.

We don’t completely agree on who named him. Tina says it was the name of a character in a book she was reading, and I contend I thought of it, as it rhymed with another word that was fitting if he didn’t work out well. Either way, neither of us wanted another pet name that ended in ‘-ie’. So we named him Tucker, and it seemed perfect. We kept him inside for a few weeks, where he quickly took to curling up in our bathroom sink, but we eventually let him become an inside/outside cat and he allowed us to open the doors for him as he chose.

We lived in cat heaven – a Pennsylvania neighborhood of 3/4 acre lots surrounded by fields and hedge rows, with no shortage of mice, snakes, hiding spots, and other cats to make Tucker’s life quite the adventure. And it didn’t take him too long to settle into the role of ‘property guard’ and would walk the grounds frequently, keeping us safe from all things. The only down side to this was taking our little soldier to the vet four to five times a year to get him patched up from his most recent scrap with whatever dared cross our perimeter, including a fox.

Tucker never became the cuddly cat Tina wanted but would make five-to-ten minute visits to our laps before getting antsy and jumping down. He would also consent to being held for a bit, so long as we didn’t overdo it. A minute was long enough. He preferred to curl up near us on the couch, on a night stand when we slept, or under the tree at Christmas, his all-time favorite place.

Twice over the years he just disappeared. Once for three agonizing days when we had resigned ourselves we’d never see him again, and once for twenty four hours shortly after we’d moved to Oregon. We’re pretty convinced he’d gotten himself locked in someone’s garage or shed during the three-day stint, and maybe gotten lost in the new neighborhood the other time. Both times he returned home famished, had a meal, and curled up on the couch to sleep like nothing happened. We took days to recover.

A couple years after getting Tucker, a small, sickly, and recently pregnant young female wandered onto our deck and adopted us. Somehow she knew we would save her and we obliged. Tucker and Leah never became best friends, but humorously tolerated each other. Leah, being smaller than Tucker, was the only thing he was afraid of, and he gave her a wide berth to avoid the frequent playful ambushes she became famous for.

In the ensuing years, Jessie passed on and we adopted yet another kitty, this time Steve’s black cat, Pepper, when Steve moved to Oregon.  Andrea had moved there years earlier for graduate school, and he wanted to see why she liked it so much. Pepper was a young, strong, large male. Tucker immediately saw him as competition, and Leah was happy to have yet another boy to pester. They semi-peacefully coexisted and provided significant entertainment for us. They were our retirement kids.

During the end of summer last year we finally followed our real kids to Oregon and successfully transported our feline gang cross-country to our new home. They survived the trip amazingly well, surprising us all with their ability to adapt to life on the road. Tucker got the prize for best traveler, though, simply hunkering down in his open carrier, peacefully waiting for car purgatory to end, and curling up under hotel night stands.

It is now fifteen months later and only Pepper remains with us.  While Tina and I were away last December Leah suffered a sudden blood clot in her hind legs.  Thank heavens Steve was there checking on the gang when it happened or she would have suffered horribly.  He rushed her to the vet but there was nothing they could do.  She was thirteen.

And now I sit here with tears streaming down my face again. We had to give Tucker the final ‘gift’ from us a few days ago.  He was sixteen. His age began leaving its mark last year, when his kidneys and thyroid started acting up. We were able to control those problems for him until a couple months ago when we learned he had cancer.

All pets leave a void when they depart, and it’s no different for us.  We miss Leah terribly, our little goofball. While the boys slept, she would follow us around all day long, getting into whatever we were doing.

But losing Tucker has left this huge gaping hole in our hearts.  He was our first. Mister independent. Our handsome little soldier.  … The one who turned us into cat people.

The house seems so empty.  I guess I’m still not done crying.




I’ve spent most of the day asking myself that question, filled with such a deep sadness it hurts to my core. Why is this happening?  What drives someone to inflict such horror and destruction on perfect strangers?  This is certainly not the America I grew up in.

I don’t know the answer.  Whether this was home grown or not, it is not simple.  But I do know we won’t fix it with a government that has divided us, while replacing decency, principle, and doing what’s right for America and others with greed, corruption, and doing right only for themselves. It’s no wonder despair has replaced hope for so many.



A Modern Tragedy

With few exceptions, nearly every experience is easier and/or more enjoyable if we are fit and well-nourished. Whether we are playing, working, fending off disease, or surviving a disaster or accident, being in shape helps us both enjoy the good and cope with the bad, and can make the difference between an average or exceptional life, or be the deciding factor in whether we live or die. So why do so many of us choose to be slugs?

In ever-increasing numbers, today’s first-world human is a physical wreck. Modern life has gotten so easy as to nearly eliminate any activity that would cause us to perspire, and the majority of the food consumed is a nutritional nightmare. Most people have heard the expressions, ‘You are what you eat’ and ‘Use it or lose it’. Never have these been more relevant than today. The human body needs more than a greasy hamburger and carbonated sugar water to continually rebuild itself, and bones and muscles only stay strong through use.

The villain in all this seems to be our innate drive to make life more comfortable and to taste better. Madison Avenue, not giving a damned about our personal well-being, has turned that against us to make a profit, resulting in a population addicted to sugar, salt, soft chairs and TV, and we are suffering from a growing list of chronic lifestyle diseases with barely enough strength and energy to climb a couple flights of stairs.

If you aren’t happy with what you see in the mirror, you might consider another of my favorite expressions: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’  Nobody will fix this for us. It’s mostly our choice if we want to do it for ourselves, but the deeper we sink into the couch, the harder it will be to get out.



Shocked, But Not Surprised

This morning’s news was consumed by stories about the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice.  This was a horrible incident, and my heart goes out to those injured.  I wish them a speedy recovery.

I am both shocked and saddened, but there really is no surprise.  An angry despair has spread across America.  A despair caused not by some external influence, but one from within.  Once one of the most respected institutions on Earth, our Congress has devolved into nothing more than a bickering, partisan mess driven by systemic corruption and lack of integrity, with members worried more about campaign contributions than solving the country’s problems.  Their approval ratings are at historic lows.

This is being felt internationally as well.  A friend in Germany recently said to me, “… there is some sort of vacuum where US leadership used to be. And that is a potentially dangerous situation. … the new star is China. [The US has] handed world leadership to them on a platter. And they gratefully accept since they anyhow see these last few hundred years as a fluke. Otherwise China always has been the greatest nation in the world.  So that’s where we’ll all have to look in the future.”

I believe incidents like yesterday’s shooting are driven by a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we can’t fix this.  A lack of hope causes people to either give up or it drives them to extreme actions. We are seeing both.  Initial reports of the shooter indicate he was emotionally distraught, in part due to this governmental chaos and associated divisive rhetoric.

As expected, we are already hearing about how to provide better security for members of Congress, including increased police and Secret Service details.  It seems to me, however, the best security would be obtained simply by Congress cleaning up their mess.  Maybe by becoming respectable again, by eliminating the corruption, stopping the petty politics, and getting back to actually working for America (and setting a good example for the world) fewer people would be compelled to violence through desperation.  And just think of the problems we could solve.




No, It’s Not OK

President Trump tweets almost daily, bragging about how big he thinks his dick is, but it has been five days since the hatred-motivated shooting in Olathe, Kansas, and he has yet to even acknowledge publicly that it happened.  This is all we need to know to understand the measure of this man.  It is not OK. Not for me, not for any of us.