Deerface Holler

Telehealth and Living Rural

Deerface HollerIt's been quite a while since I last posted here. Back before our family moved to the country I began having some strange health problems. Weird things would happen, like my fingers would hurt, the knuckles would swell, and then random episodes of fatigue hit. The day that I couldn't get off the floor when lying on a beanbag was the day I went to the emergency room.

Living in a very rural area can lead to problems when you're looking for a family doctor. Qualified physicians can be many miles away. When there is a need for a specialist, you may need to wait for months before you can get in. For example, I am suffering from some sort of autoimmune disorder. We're not sure exactly what. Everything I have read points to Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. My doctor said the same thing, but then the lab reports came back negative on most points.

Lots of tests

Because there are not a lot of places to check for second opinions I checked into a telehealth site. These sites allow people from anywhere in the United States to ask health related questions. The doctors can give advice based on their knowledge and the symptoms of the person asking the question.

It's really frustrating, because every symptom I am experiencing point to Lupus and RA. Other symptoms have been said to resemble those from polymyalgia rhuematica and polymyotis rheumatica. Then we have symptoms of giant cell arteritis. Talk about a fun mix.

Then when I was cleaning out old boxes I found a photograph taken back in 2002. When I lived in Virginia I had been bitten by a tiny deer tick and developed a ring-like rash. The doctors there told me it couldn't be Lyme disease, that Lyme was unheard of in that part of Virginia.

However, by checking out different websites, especially those where doctors can give people answers based on the symptoms they are experiencing, I found that Lyme disease can lie dormant for years. Not only that, Lyme can trigger Lupus and other autoimmune disorders!

The trick is finding a doctor who will test for Lyme disease. It can be hard to detect through traditional tests. One doctor with experience in Lyme has spoken out to patients with the same questions as I have and said more physicians need to be aware of the tests used for Lyme. Currently the Western Blot is one of the best tests to detect this disease. The silent killer is a known imitator, much like Lupus. The symptoms experienced by sufferers can range from simple to complex and some are downright mindboggling.

Phantom rashes

Headaches

Hair loss

Insomnia

Heart problems

Hives

Lesions in the mouth

Lesions on other parts o the body

Neurological dysfunction

Loss of sex drive

Unexplained weight gain or loss

Metallic taste in the mouth

Tingling or numbness in various parts of the body, especially the face/mouth

These are only a few of the symptoms caused by Lyme. Many overlap with other diseases. Lupus has many of the same symptoms which can make a doctor scratch their head when tests for that disease come back negative.

Something else I found out by utilizing telehealth sites is that you can be negative in lab tests, yet still have Lupus or RA. It's been hard to fin a doctor way out here that has heard of that. There's only one rheumatologist in my area, but he's overwhelmed with patients. You must have a solid positive batch of lab results to get in to his practice ... which I don't have. Sero-negative is what they call my situation. Some doctors deny that it exists, but thanks to the internet, I know that it IS a real thing and I'm not crazy.

While I adore living here and wouldn't trade it for anything, not everyone will tell you how hard it can be to get quality medical care. Long gone are the days when the country doctor was your reliable friend. Today it has become all about the money no matter if you are in the city or hanging out here with me and the bears.

Berry Pickin' Fun

kids in field first time
My kids on their first walk in the field! 

A photo of JulieSeveral months ago my family took the leap and moved to a home in rural  Southern Tier of Western New York. To my five children still living at home, this was the adventure of their lives. Driving away from the urban wilds of Buffalo the children spied their first 'real' cows, deer, and more open land than they'd ever seen.

After we were settled in, I took the kids out to explore. We wandered through the field behind the house and down an old trail in the national forest that butts up to our yard. While we explored, I found the tell-tale signs of some of my favorite treats: berries!

The field was chock-full of wild strawberry plants. In thickets around the edges of the forest and field there were raspberry canes and blackberry brambles. As the winter slowly melted away, we kept six sets of hungry eyes on the plants.

strawberry bloom
A wild strawberry bloom tempting us in May. 

One day in late June my seven year old ran into the house, “Mommy, I see a tiny strawberry!” That day turned into the kid's first berry hunt outside of a grocery store. I  was filled with pride watching my city kids become country kids, but the berry hunt was the turning point in their plant appreciation. Searching through the tall grass, the kids would pop up with a mouth or hand full of berries. Cries of “Found some!” echoed through the field.

After the filed was mowed for hay, berry hunting became much easier. Even my smallest, 20 months old now, learned to find strawberries. Luckily she held them up first for me to identify, once she came up with a snail!

As June melted into July, the raspberries came on. Every day we would hunt for them. The yields were not spectacular due to the drought, but it was enough for snacks. After the raspberries stopped producing we found something that sent me into the throes of berry ecstasy: blackberries. While the strawberries and raspberries were wonderful, there's just something about blackberries that make my Southern Girl heart flutter. Memories of blackberry cobbler, pie, jam, and syrup bubbling in my great-grandmother's kitchen flash though my mind's eye.

blackberry blooms
Sweet promises of the deliciousness to come. 

The best of these black delights spring up in the forest. So far I've found three different species, my favorite are the dewberries. My children, well, their favorites are whichever berry happens to fill their mouths. We go on berry hunts and delve ever deeper into the forest. On one trip out, the children stayed at home and somehow my best friend and I accidentally climbed a mountain.

We're still not sure how that one happened. It didn't matter, because hidden on top of the mountain was a treasure trove of the biggest, juiciest, most succulent black berries we had ever seen.  Suddenly I found myself climbing dead-falls, jumping off of stumps, and crawling through the underbrush just like when I lived on the farm over a decade ago. No brambles or bear would get in my way. The only trouble I ran into? My silly dog eating the berries from the bush. I didn't hold it against her, I had a few handfuls myself.

So far we've done quite a few things since moving from urban to rural life. I've taught my family what I know about gardening, plant identification, and we've sampled some of the tastes nature has for us. It is amazing watching my children become country kids. This summer we're picking berries, next summer, who knows?