Stand Up and Be Counted!

Rudi Hempe

rudi hempe

"I stood there in the corridor holding my magnetic employee card and suddenly I didn't know where I was."

Thus began Rudi Hempe's story involving Lyme disease, a story that took months to come to its conclusion. Or at least he hopes it is concluded.


Actually the real beginning took place a week before when he says he experienced chills and fever while in his URI office where he is a part-time website content writer.

Hempe, 67, considers himself well informed on tick diseases, having written about them countless times before he retired as a newspaper editor-he has even written for www.TickEncounter.org. Suspicious about his symptoms, he called his doctor asking him to prescribe a Lyme disease test and to get him started on an antibiotic-just in case.

Unfortunately, it took more than a week to get the test results back.

As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors in deer tick territory, he often joked to friends that he must be immune to Lyme disease. As a Master Gardener, he practically lived in his backyard which is surrounded by a forested area swarming with deer. In fact, URI researchers use the woods in back of his property as one of their deer tick test sites. Hempe also spends many volunteer hours as Master Gardener projects facilitator at URI's East Farm, another hotbed for ticks.

A week after his feverish spell, he drove to work and walked to his office building. He entered the corridor, employee card in hand ready to open the magnetic lock of his office "and my mind went blank."

"Confused, I went back to my truck, sat there until things cleared up, and eventually drove home. When my wife got home she found me feverish and dazed and took me to the hospital emergency room. They started asking me questions such as my birth date and the names of my grandchildren. I have eight but could name only three. I blanked on the birth date question. I could not even remember what day it was," recalled Hempe.

"They tapped my spine, plugged me into all sorts of devices and admitted me for tests," he continued. For two and a half days he underwent CAT, MRI and two EEG tests. It wasn't until the second day that he could remember his birth date. Gradually the names of the grandchildren were retrieved. The Lyme disease test result came in while he was hospitalized. It was negative. A neurologist was consulted and along with the EEG doc, they concluded he might have had a seizure. Given a prescription for anti-seizure medication and kept on the antibiotic, Hempe was sent home-after $12,000 in hospital charges.

A few days later, he had a second Lyme test done and it came back no-doubt-about-it positive. He says he never saw the tell-tale bull's-eye ring that occurs when many people are bitten by an infected deer tick. "I never saw a tick. But obviously I had been bitten and it had not been caught in time," he said.

"I stayed home for a few days, constantly weak and tired. I crashed for a couple of hours every afternoon for weeks. My wife says it was apparent just from my walk that something was amiss. The only good thing was that I lost part of my spare tire through lack of appetite," Hempe said.

As the weeks went by, he said the daily weariness gradually diminished. More EEG tests convinced his neurologist to gradually reduce and then eliminate the anti-seizure medication. The antibiotic treatment ended after four weeks. After five months, the visits to doctors' offices ended.

"My neurologist is not convinced that the Lyme disease caused my seizure-that perhaps my brain is susceptible to some other disorder although there is no family history of that sort of thing. My primary physician is not so certain about the neurologist's seizure diagnosis," Hempe said. On the other hand he said he found plenty of testimony from Lyme disease victims on the Internet that if the disease is not caught early, seizures can result-or something worse. "I guess the jury is still out," Hempe said.

"The big lessons from this is that prevention is the first line of defense and that if a tick strikes, early detection of the critters and treatment are musts," Hempe said. "I no longer joke that I am immune to Lyme disease."

Written By Rudi Hempe