by Dr. Bill Rawls
From the first time I pushed away from the dock for a solo adventure, I’ve had a love affair with boats. I was 10 years old at the time, and the boat was 14 feet long and made of wood. The outboard engine was only 7 ½ horsepower.
That boat was freedom. It enabled me to escape my mother’s gaze and venture out alone into the marshes, waterways, beaches, and islands of coastal North Carolina. Every trip was an adventure.
Since then, there have been many boats in my life — sailboats, kayaks, powerboats, both big and small. I’ve built a few from scratch, but I seem to have a weakness for restoring old boats. When my dad mentioned a 14-foot aluminum boat that he no longer had use for, I couldn’t resist.
I didn’t remember the boat. Apparently, it had been sitting behind the house for years; ignored in favor of bigger and fancier boats.
It turns out the boat had a history. It was my grandfather’s boat; my father’s father. He had used it for fishing at the northern outer banks of North Carolina. My grandfather had quite a reputation as an avid outdoorsman.
But I didn’t remember him that way.
By the time I came along, he was older. The man I knew was depressed and irritable most of the time. The story goes that he retired in his early forties because of a “mystery illness” that his doctors didn’t understand. For the second half of his life, he suffered from migraines, sleep problems, chronic pain, crippling arthritis, fatigue, and a host of other symptoms.
Of course, I now strongly suspect that he had a chronic tick-borne illness, probably Lyme disease.
The fact that we both became compromised by chronic Lyme disease is something I attribute more to our love for the outdoors than common genes. Like most other chronic illnesses, there are genetic tendencies for developing chronic Lyme disease, but I don’t think it’s directly inherited.
My takeaway message here is that people have always had mystery illnesses — it’s only been in the past 50 years that we’ve started to formally recognize what causes them. The microbes associated with chronic Lyme disease have been making people miserable long before it showed up in Lyme, Connecticut.
It’s interesting that the herbs and natural therapies I used to overcome Lyme disease were available during my grandfather’s time, but even less accepted than they are today. He used drugs to control symptoms, but remained chronically ill until the end of his life.
I’m now as old as my grandfather was when I first came into his life. Instead of being crippled with pain and misery, I hope to be spending the next decade reliving some of my youth.
The boat is almost ready to go. I’ve repaired leaky holes and seams, and the bottom has a fresh coat of paint. It should be as good as it was 50 years ago. I found a used motor; this time a 9.9 horsepower. With a used trailer from craigslist, I’m off to explore!
When I’m out on the open water, I’ll be thinking about my grandfather, the man I never really got to know, enjoying the outdoors when he was young and untouched by Lyme disease.