“Idiopathic” is the word of the day, the week, the month, the summer. It means “arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause” and also “peculiar to the individual”. It comes from the Greek words “idios”, meaning one’s own personal, and “pathic”, meaning feeling or suffering. In other words, there is no reason, no answer, no visible cause for what is happening to you.
Whether it is my recent illness with Lyme Disease, the unexpected death of a much loved friend or the latest health crisis with my poor sweet dog, Stella, this summer has plunged me deep into the waters of not knowing. Years ago, a friend of mine told me, “You’re allergic to not knowing.” And it’s true. When confronted with a problem or crisis, I usually immerse myself into investigating what I can do to make things better. Only sometimes, I’ve learned, I just can’t.
When my dog’s mouth dropped open and she began drooling and was not able to eat or drink last week, I rushed her to the vet. She tested positive for ehrlichiosis, a frightening type of tick disease. I was no stranger to it since Silk, my horse, almost died from it about ten years ago. We were sent to an amazing vet who is a neurologist, and he told me that he believed it was “idiopathic trigeminal neuritis”. Stella’s jaw was paralyzed, and it might take weeks, if ever, to resolve itself. We went home with doxycycline, the drug of choice around our house, and we tried to feed her by sticking our hands deep into her mouth, tossing food down her throat. By Saturday, she had stopped eating and was growling at us, which was really unheard of since Stella is a total love dog. I called our vet on Sunday morning, and he announced that he was concerned about rabies. Trigeminal neuritis is a symptom of rabies, and even though Stella had very recently had a vaccine, the vaccine is 98 percent effective. What if she was in the two percent where it didn’t work? I couldn’t imagine how she had been exposed to rabies, but he scared the crap out of me. I leaped into action.
We rushed Stella back to the insanely expensive vet specialty hospital, and she was going into shock by the time we got there. The admitting vet said it was definitely the right call to bring her in, saving her life. They gave her intravenous meds, did an MRI, spinal tap and bone marrow test. No rabies, thank God. She was diagnosed additionally with “idiopathic thrombocytopenia and neutrophilia”, which meant her platelet count was dangerously low. Two days later, they said we could take Stella back home since she was stabilized, but there was still no answer. The neurologist vet tells me that there probably never will be. He said he has to live with “the Mystery” all the time in his practice. Just like my doctor told me that there’s still no answer to why I cough and have trouble breathing after I’ve finished my course of doxy and have been pronounced “cured of Lyme disease”. Idiopathic, unknown, uniquely personal suffering.
I’ve been wrestling with the concept of acceptance for a long time. Now, this summer, I am spending my days contemplating “the Mystery”. This morning, Siete had trouble walking across her stall to eat her breakfast. I can’t even tell which leg is lame. It looks like they all are. “ Oh, no, Lyme again” flashed through my mind as I gave her a dose of banamine. It’s gorgeous weather today, and the green, flowering outdoors beckons us. My daughter, who has never had a tick disease, is afraid to go out there, and who can blame her? There’s almost no research being done to figure out how these deadly tick diseases work or how to treat or control them. It reminds me of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Denial and excuses from doctors and drug companies and the CDC.
I came into the house, and while drinking another cup of coffee, I opened a book by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a hero of mine who has written extensively about living with illness and accepting death. “Mystery is the presence of the soul. It’s the way that we encounter and experience the soul in the world around us. The experience of mystery strengthens us, changes us and awakens us,” Remen says. “Mystery cannot ever be solved or known and with its unknowing, it presents us with a dimension of life which might be considered sacred. Mystery is never solved. Mystery is lived.”
She’s right about that part. Around here, we are definitely living with it. And feeling very grateful for good pet insurance.