ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Spend some time with WCCO-TV political reporter Pat Kessler at the Minnesota State Capitol and one thing is clear, he loves the place. He even leads Capitol tours for kids.
Still, he’s not just the Cliff Clavin of Capitol facts. He’s one of its longest serving reporters, with a well-earned reputation as one of its hardest workers.
“It’s very difficult to be away because I’m always thinking, ‘I’m missing something,'” said Kessler. “I mean, I’m missing something somewhere in this Capitol.”
That’s why WCCO was so shocked when he called in sick one day last July.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “It was terrible.”
It happened after a very scary Sunday night.
Kessler spends a lot of time outdoors and admits he’d noticed a bull’s-eye-shaped rash on his right thigh.
He worried about Lyme disease. But he’s Kessler, so he planned to squeeze in a visit to the doctor the next day. Then he started getting sicker and sicker.
“Temperature of 99, 100, 101, 102, 103,” he said. “Headache, fever, chills, throwing up. I didn’t know what was going on.”
His head was throbbing, he could hardly see and barely walk. His wife rushed him to Region’s Hospital, where the ER staff treated him with extreme caution.
“I go into isolation. Everybody who comes in to see me is wearing a mask and gloves,” he remembered. “I’m like ‘Oh my god. What happened? What’s going on?'”
Kessler doesn’t remember much after that, which is why he returned to the hospital months later to thank his doctors and find out why they were so concerned.
“You just looked so sick, which is why we went on to do the spinal tap and all that, because we were really worried about you,” said Dr. Stephanie Taft, the supervising physician.
They started treating him for Lyme disease immediately because of the bull’s-eye rash. But they suspected something more.
He had the classic symptoms of meningitis, in part, because the second stage of Lyme disease can be a form of meningitis.
“To rule out the meningitis, we do what’s called a lumbar puncture and put a needle into your back,” said Dr. Marc Ellingson, a resident at Regions.
“That’s a spinal tap,” said Kessler, wincing at the memory.
It’s a painful procedure, but fortunately, Kessler’s spinal fluid was clear and the Lyme disease was both caught and treated early.
“There are side effects to medications but I feel like the treatment is better than missing the diagnosis of Lyme and not treating it,” Taft said.
That’s because missing it can have dire consequences, according to Taft.
“Like the potential heart problems, developing a true meningitis and then even more chronic problems down the road,” she said.
In Minnesota, there’s an average of 1,110 cases per year, mostly between May and July, and then again in the autumn when more people are out in the woods.
Even though Kessler’s case was diagnosed and treated so early, his recovery wasn’t easy.
“I was off work, just completely out of it for days and coming back, it was hard,” he said.
This hard-driving reporter, known for working such long hours in the Capitol in his cramped basement office, admits that he sometimes struggled to make it through the day.
“I was tired all the time,” he said. “I had fatigue, I still had headaches, soreness and aches.”
Even now, more than three months later, he still feels lingering effects.
“Every few days I’d be really sick,” he said. “Very tired. Then it got a little farther apart. Now it’s once every few weeks.”
Imagine if this wasn’t a relatively mild case of Lyme; caught early.
Kessler certainly does and he hopes this story will make others more aware than he was.
“This is the kind of thing that makes you pay attention,” he said. “Makes you sit up and pay attention.”
Kessler hopes this will make people more aware of Lyme disease and, since the ticks are so small, to really watch for the rash. If you see a bull’s-eye, go straight to the doctor.