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Lyme disease

Lyme Book Excerpt - The Ghost Caller

You may know that Prednisone is contraindicated when you have Lyme. Ever wondered what would happen if you took it anyway? Before my test results had come back from IGeneX, I was prescribed steroids to stop a spreading rash.

When I finally found a doctor educated about Lyme, he expressed deep concern when I told him about the steroids, which had been prescribed by an IDSA doctor. They had replicated the Lyme bacteria, driven it into my organs and across the barrier into my brain.

The day I started on Prednisone, I began to experience auditory hallucinations--the kind you hear, not the kind you see. I also had kinesthetic hallucinations: I would wake up from a nap convinced I had a raging fever. But the thermometer always read 98.6.

The steroids took a big toll, emotionally as well as physically. The irony was, they didn't even stop the rash completely. So in my fog, I reasoned that I had to keep taking them—follow the doctor's orders. By the time I mustered the guts to disobey the doctor and stop taking it, the damage was done. I couldn't walk, talk, or think.

The following is an excerpt from my ebook, available soon:

So, I took the Prednisone. And life as I knew it started to disintegrate. As the undetected Lyme bacteria began destroying my immune system, it collided with the corticosteroids. I began to learn what it meant to fall apart.

I was in the kitchen when the phone rang. I answered. Wrong number. It rang again; I picked it up. Again, a little girl on the other end asked for someone whose name I did not know. 

Again, I told her she had the wrong number.

But the phone kept ringing. 

Each time, I picked it up and said hello. As soon as I set it down, it would ring again. To the same exact little girl I said, “sorry, wrong number.”

By the third time, I was angry and my voice was rising in pitch. “Please stop calling me,” I said. “Wrong number! Which word do you not understand?”

By then I was fuming, staring at the phone like a snake at a mouse. This was ludicrous. No normal person would keep on calling over and over, thinking she was going to get it right eventually. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting different results?

When the phone rang again, I flew into a rage. 

From another part of the house, Evan heard me yelling into the phone. He appeared in the doorway. My heart was beating fast. I wanted to hit something. I slammed the phone down hard.

“What's going on out here?” he asked.

I shot him a look to kill. “Some stupid moron will not stop calling! She’s got the wrong number.” 

He looked at me. “I didn’t hear the phone ring. Not once.”

“You were in the shower!”

“I was in the bath. I would have heard the phone,” he said. 

I am outraged at his bullheadedness. “Well, if it hasn’t been ringing, what are you saying? I’m crazy?” 

My head wobbled on my neck and I collapsed into a chair, choking back tears. I had tremors and a stammer.

Evan headed for the door. “Why don’t you call your mom,” he said, before pulling it shut behind him.


Lyme sufferers in need of help

I receive heartrending letters like these every week. has a good forum, and I have urged these two to go there. If you have some sound advice for these predicaments, we welcome supportive comments.

Note: If you have thoughts of suicide, please call the Lyme Disease Hotline: 1-800-886-LYME (1-800-886-5963)

My husband has Lyme disease, and we have health insurance with Blue cross/Blue shield through my job. My husband has been on IV for the past 3 months & is just starting to show some recovery. Now yesterday, 9/1/09, insurance says it will no longer pay, because this treatment is called "experimental IV". Has anyone else had this problem, if so what did you do? I am at a loss.

I know I have Lyme, I was bit by a tick at age 4, and I am now 40. It has affected my brain, I have no sense of direction, I cannot remember anything anymore. My left arm feels like it has been cut off at my wrist making if difficult because I am left handed. I have boils on my face the size of golf balls, I can't go into public which being in sales isn't possible so I lost my job. The doctor has tested me for everything under the sun and I told him to test for Lyme. He did a IgG/ImG, something like that, and the blood test came back negative, so he said I do not have Lyme. I can't get out of bed. I now am having problems walking because of my left hip. Several years ago I was semi-diagnosed with MS because I had a case of Bell's Palsy. The tick that bit me in Maryland wasn't found for over 2 days. I was severely ill. My insurance has been canceled and I am losing control. I don't know what to do anymore. I have been thinking suicidal thoughts and am very scared. Please if someone could give me some advice on what to do next. I need some guidance in a really bad way.

Give yourself a pain break

Illness doesn't take vacations. You don't get to clock out for long weekends of R & R. There are no breaks, no furloughs, no specific date you can circle on the calendar, flipping the pages and counting the days. Dealing with Lyme is a full time gig, especially when your symptoms are acute or you're in the midst of a flaring herx.

Since nobody at Lyme Headquarters is going to pop their head out the door, shake your hand, and tell you to go home and put your feet up, we need to remind ourselves. Take the opportunity to take a break. The whole world celebrates at this time of the year. Being sick now feels a bit like being the kid at boarding school with no parents coming to pick her up for summer. So even if you feel lousy, you're in pain, you wish you could formulate a complete sentence without forgetting what you were talking about...take time out. I've done it, and you probably have too, so I know it's possible.

When I was in an acute stage, bedridden and miserable, pain-breaks were few and far between. I learned a couple of tricks, a little mental prestidigitation. One was to watch funny movies and laugh. Out loud. Belly laughter is more than physical, it's a state of mind. It takes complete control of your attitude. It's really hard to be miserable and laughing at the same time. And for those few precious moments, I didn't feel the pain. In fact I felt happy, normal, and like everything was going to be alright.

Another trick I discovered, which isn't a trick but really more of a visualization, is to imagine another person, someone you either know or don't know, who is suffering worse than you. Sadly, we don't have to look far. Hold a picture of that person in your mind, take a deep, relaxing breath, and as you breathe out imagine all the pain and sickness draining from them. Whenever I do this, I can vividly imagine that other person smiling and rosy-cheeked, and I instantly (even if only for a moment) feel better too.

A doctor friend of mine tells me these little tricks are very healthy. She says they can even help break the cycles of pain involved in many chronic illnesses, cycles known as the pain cascade.

So take a pain break. Get on the phone to a long-lost friend, or e-mail them if talking is too tiring. Send e-mail notes to all your loved ones wishing them a happy holiday -- e-mail is less expensive and less work. Cut and paste. Watch a comedy on TV or rent a funny movie and let yourself get caught up in the silliness. Find a kid and tell them a knock-knock joke. I bet they'll have one for you, and it just might make you feel better.

We'll be here after your break, to wish you well, as always.

Happy holidays, everybody. Cheerio.

Rick's Lyme success story

Rick, an active sports-lover, was married and starting a family. He was a runner, a cycler and a swimmer. His northern California lifestyle was the type most people can only dream of. "I would water-ski, snow-ski, do anything I pretty much wanted to, looking back. Then I'd hang out with my family, get into the car on the fly, and still have energy on the weekends," he says.

One day he woke up with a frozen shoulder. He was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Although Rick had been tested for Lyme, the tests had come back negative. His RA doctor told him, "Lyme doesn't exist in California. It's probably not that. You just need to consider that you have arthritis. Then he added, right in front of my wife, 'you have to trust the experts to help make you better,'" says Rick. He laughed. "I'm in sales," he explains. "Whenever I hear somebody say 'trust me,' I know I'm going to get f****d."

His RA doctor recommended surgery, which he had. The pain was still unbearable. He was sent from doctor to doctor and no one knew what the problem was. He spent over $25,000 in medical tests without receiving any answers. He was placed on medications that never seemed to help, and only made things worse. At one point, he was popping sixteen Advil per day, eight in the morning and eight at lunch. At night, he self-medicated with wine. The entire time he was sick, he hid his painful symptoms from everyone he worked with, and never complained, even to his wife. But he wasn't getting better and knew he couldn't go on like that.

Finally, at his wife's suggestion, he realized that he had to trust yet one more doctor. He had Googled "Lyme + doctor" and found a clinic in nearby San Francisco. He walked into the office of ILADS physician Dr. Raphael Stricker. When Dr. Stricker told him he had Lyme, he was flooded with intense relief. After only three weeks of treatment, his symptoms began to disappear.

Rick now considers himself to be about 90% better, and he's been able to return to some of the activities he loves. How did having Lyme change his life? In so many ways, he says. Specifically, his empathy for other peoples' hardship and pain. "My family says I'm nicer now," he adds, laughing.

LDRD members, you can listen to Rick tell his entire story in the members area.

NY Times article on Lyme disease

There's a lot to admire about Jane Brody's recent NY Times article on Lyme disease, A Threat in a Grassy Stroll. It will inform some who haven't ever heard of the disease (yes, they're out there), or people who had heard of it but know squat about it, such as my Aunt Louise, who called to offer her condolences after I was diagnosed. ("Unfortunately, nothing can be done, dear. Eating rosemary is supposed to help.") The article may even throw a wrench in the common nonsense that Lyme is "hard to get, and easy to cure," a myth that originally began where? With an article in the NY Times, by Gina Kolata.

Perhaps what I appreciate most about Brody's piece is that alongside the statistics and experts she quotes, she offers her own personal observations. After presenting the simplified version of the IDSA's and ILADS conflicting views on treatment, she says, "Although I cannot state with authority which side is correct, I have encountered enough previously healthy people who have suffered for months or years after initial treatment to suggest that there is often more to this disease than 'official' diagnostic and treatment guidelines suggest." The article's meta-text is twofold. First: Don't believe everything you read. And second: Don't discount your own observations.

My problems with the article are fairly nit-picky, and my bias in support of ILADS makes me frustrated to see this global organization of highly-educated physicians and researchers referred to as "a nonprofit medical group," but okay, they are a nonprofit medical group. I also think it's a little weak on Brody's part to suggest the ISDA simply agreed to revise its Lyme treatment guidelines, since in fact the IDSA faced criminal charges of antitrust if they refused to do so. Furthermore, Eva Sapi, PhD, director of Lyme disease research at UNH, says that even 40% DEET wasn't strong enough to repel ticks when she and her students ventured out on their tick-collecting walks through Fairfield County, CT. She recommends permethrin-saturated clothing instead. And Dr. Sapi says that ticks have been known to transmit bacteria after only one or two hours -- not the 24 hours that Brody says the vile little critters need.

Some of these transgressions, even if they're small, can spread damaging half-truths to the overall message about Lyme. The truth is, it's a serious disease. Easy to get, and hard to cure. The lucky ones are cured following the simplistic guidelines of the IDSA. But the numbers of sick people who don't get better on that protocol tell a different story. In all, I have to say it's exciting to see good reporters talking about Lyme, bringing their own observations into the mix, and not simply mouthing the words of the CDC.

Listen to the experts themselves, and use your own good judgment.