Farmers often have to think about and deal with sick or injured animals, but what happens when the sick one is the farmer? Recently we’ve had the misfortune of finding the answer to that question here on our farm. A couple of weeks ago I (Aaron) woke up shivering in the middle of the night and then again a few hours later to part with the contents of my stomach. The next day I went to work and struggled through the day with little energy and a pounding head (don’t worry, I work alone so I wasn’t jeopardizing anyone else’s health). That night I continued to have a terrible headache, fever, night sweats, and chills, so I went to the doctor first thing in the morning. While I was at the Dr. I mentioned to the PA that I had had well over 50 ticks on me this year and suggested that perhaps I should be tested for Lyme disease. She ran a full blood panel along with tests for Lyme and Ehrlichiosis (another tick-borne illness). When the results came back we were told that my white blood cell and platelet counts were low and that I needed to be tested again to be safe since I’ve had Melanoma in the past. The next blood test came back with even lower numbers and immediately signaled the PA to get me to a hematologist. Luckily between that test and my appointment with the cancer doc we got the results of a blood smear, which I understand as a literal smearing of blood on a slide for a pathologist to study under a microscope, and it showed no abnormal cell activity. After meeting with the hematologist he was pretty convinced that I was suffering from Ehrlichiosis and got me on the appropriate antibiotic for treatment. I went back for a blood test a week later and my levels were all back in the normal range and I was relieved to not be worrying about cancer anymore. You may be thinking, why all the detail for this when I could just tell you what I had, or not even mention it at all. Well, I wanted to share my experience and symptoms so that more people are aware of Ehrlichiosis. I had never even heard of the illness even though it is more prevalent in our area than Lyme disease, yet everyone knows about Lyme disease. It’s a tricky illness to diagnose because the testing commonly shows false negatives (mine was negative) based on the length of time it takes your body to create the antibodies that would show up on a positive test. We are really thankful to have had such proactive medical attention. I have never been so sick in my life and thanks to them I was able to get quick treatment and didn’t have to suffer as long as some people that aren’t diagnosed properly. I’m still not back to being 100% in terms of energy level, but we’ve read that can take some time for people following this illness.
So, other than bringing awareness to an illness I had never even heard of prior to a couple weeks ago, my other motivation for writing about this is how it impacted the day-to-day operations on our farm. I physically couldn’t do our farm chores while I was sick. I could barely do the work required of my main job, but luckily my dad was able to take time off of his job to come help me get my work done. Being a solo operator of your own business is usually a good gig, but this was a real wake-up call for me. With me out of commission, Shannon had to take over all of the work on the farm. I’m usually the one lugging around 50# feed bags and 5 gallon buckets of water, but now it was all on her shoulders. Fortunately, Shannon is strong and determined and is fully invested in the farm. If she had not been on board for all of the farm enterprises I’ve been setting up, it could have been a real strain for her to have to take on chores that she didn’t want in the first place. Our set up right now is pretty simple, but this made me think about how we need to plan everything on our farm in the future. I started wondering in hypotheticals about what would have happened if this had occurred at a time we needed to load pigs to haul to the processor or some similar physical activity. We need to start looking at systems and making sure that they can be physically handled by other people and that they can be easily explained to another person if we are both unable to do the chores, even for a short period of time. We also need to make sure that we are both aware of every aspect of the farm. As the initiator in most enterprises on this farm, I know what is happening, who gets what feed, when things need planted, etc., but Shannon has no way of knowing any of these things if I don’t tell her or if it’s not on a calendar. I think this is an important area that a lot of young, able-bodied people don’t really consider when they’re setting up their farm enterprises. Do you really want to lug buckets of water when you can have buried irrigation? Is there an easier way to haul feed? Do you want to have to move portable electric fencing frequently when you could have permanent exterior fences with easier to manage interior fencing? Sure, a lot of these more convenient options are significantly more expensive up front than their cheaper counterparts, but when you factor in your time and energy savings, it won’t take long for them to pay for themselves. Something that doesn’t require a great deal of capital is just simple job aids. Going forward, I think it would be wise for us to create job aids that detail the steps of everything that needs to be done on the farm. They need to be clear, concise, and set up so that a novice could look at it and understand how to do the task. An added benefit would be that if we ever have anybody come work on the farm we can make sure that all tasks are being done the same way every time to eliminate potentially negative variability.
We all get sick occasionally. No matter how much kombucha and kefir we drink or how many fruits and veggies we consume, we cannot eliminate illness from our lives. Sometimes we have to just work through the suffering, but that’s not always an option. It’s important to take steps to ensure that things will continue to run smoothly even if you aren’t. On the plus side, you’ll also have systems in place if you ever want to take a vacation (whatever that is!). If you don’t want to take the time to create systems, it would behoove you to not get bit by ticks.
NOTE: Going forward, we are using a natural bug repellent (like Bug Soother – it smells amazing!) on our skin and a standard bug spray that contains DEET on Shannon & Aaron’s boots and clothes every time we head out to do chores. Then, a full body tick check on everyone every night. It is also recommended to shower after spending time in tall grasses or wooded areas. The Pyrenees pups are on a Bravecto and the house dogs are on Vectra. We won’t be taking those tiny, little bugs so lightly anymore!