GOOD HOPE TOWNSHIP – A Good Hope Township man recently accomplished something that’s apparently quite rare and noteworthy – though he probably wishes he hadn’t.
After being bitten by a dog tick Jim Fry, 80, developed an uncommon medical condition called tick paralysis, which at one point immobilized much of his body and left him dragging himself helplessly across the floor of his home with his elbows.
Tick paralysis is more associated with dogs than with humans; when Fry got medical attention, he recalled Thursday, doctors at first had trouble figuring out what was wrong with him.
“They thought it was Guillain-Barre syndrome,” he said. This rare disease causes muscle weakness that often begins in the feet and legs and spreads upward; something like what Fry began experiencing in late May. He didn’t yet know that he had a tiny dog tick sucking blood from his shoulder.
“The last two days of May I had a little bit of trouble with my legs, and walking,” recounted Fry, who in April was profiled in a Logan Daily News story about his weather-watching.
Fry felt fine on June 1, he said, “but then on June 2nd when I got up in the morning my legs were just going in all different directions, side to side. I could walk but I fell down twice… I got a little bit better and could walk pretty much normally, but then at 10 or 11 o’clock on June 2nd, I was standing in my room and my legs just collapsed, and I fell and hit the side of my head on a small, heavy marble-top table.”
He went to bed, and when he woke up the next morning, “I tried to get up but I just slid onto the floor. My legs wouldn’t work… I pulled myself around the room on my elbows.” As he lay on the floor, his faithful cocker spaniel Toby “was lying right there beside me, and he kept licking my face.”
Barely able to work his phone, he called 911, but when the EMS crew arrived he couldn’t unlock the door, so they pulled an air conditioning unit from a window and crawled through. Fry spent about 12 hours at Hocking Valley Community Hospital before being transported to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. It was there that health professionals finally identified his problem – partly by a lucky break. When his hospital gown slipped down, a nurse noticed a spot on his shoulder, which turned out to be a tick.
Fry said it’s not surprising he picked up the bloodsucking bug, but a little surprising he didn’t notice it. “I spent a lot of time this summer planting trees and shrubs and flowers and crawling around in the grass, and that’s probably how I got it,” he said. As a former naturalist for the Columbus and Franklin County Metropark System, he knows dog ticks are found in grassy and brushy areas – like the yard of his home – and stays alert for them both on himself and on Toby.
“Usually when there’s a tick on me I feel it crawling and I get rid of it, but this one was on my left shoulder, and I never felt it,” he said.
The sharp-eyed nurse’s observation came just in time, he added; he had begun having trouble swallowing due to the progressive paralysis.
“I was just a few days away from being put on a ventilator and a stomach feeding tube,” he noted. He was also thinking that whatever he had, he might not recover from.
“It got so bad that on Saturday, the 5th, I told my son what I wanted in the way of funeral plans and who I wanted the pallbearers to be,” he said. Once the tick gave doctors the clue they needed for the correct diagnosis, they put Fry on treatments to counter the neurotoxins from the tick’s saliva that were causing his body to freeze up. By June 9, he was able to leave the hospital and go home.
Curious about the condition that might have killed him, Fry has since been searching the internet for information – with little success.
“If you Google ‘tick paralysis,’ be sure to Google ‘tick paralysis in humans,’ because otherwise you’ll get information about dogs,” he advised. “I haven’t talked to anybody yet who has heard of tick paralysis, and the doctor at Riverside who treated me said he had never treated a patient with it.”
But though tick paralysis in humans is a rarity, there are other good reasons to watch out for ticks. Deer ticks are well known to carry Lyme disease, and while dog ticks don’t, they do carry other ills such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
“Ticks carry and transmit diseases just like mosquitoes do,” confirmed Wendy Hanna, R.S., environmental health director for the Hocking County Health Department. “So we’re always trying to educate the public – go outside, enjoy the outdoors, but you just want to be careful and aware.”
If you have a lot of grass around your home, you should keep it mowed. Once a tick latches onto your body, Hanna said, it can start transmitting disease within 24 hours. So if you’re spending time outdoors where you might pick one up, she advised, “do a complete check every 24 hours, using mirrors, or have another person do it.” As a precautionary measure, she added, you can apply permethrin to shoes and clothing that will kill ticks on contact.
Fry said his recent experience has definitely upped his awareness level.
“I have a tick repellant that I can use to protect myself,” he said. “But now that I know that the first symptoms were in my feet, if that happens again I’ll start looking for a tick and get it off me.”
Email at email@example.com