My reverence for nature has been a constant source of nourishment in my life, drawing me out to the woodlands, waterways and oceans of Cape Cod. My nature-loving, adventurous friend Diane and I would take our beloved dogs and head out into the woods or the marshy grasslands of the Cape beaches. Often, we’d walk in the conservation lands, soaking up the sights and sounds of the bountiful wildlife around us. I never dreamed for one moment that my passion for the great outdoors would soon be linked to my spiral down into a dark maze of undiagnosed illness and despair.
It was October 2004 when first I began to experience insomnia and extreme fatigue. My usual enthusiasm and drive for work as a professional astrologer began to wane. I fought a constant, insidious mental fogginess and general lack of stamina and became increasingly concerned about my symptoms. Though I continued to ride my bike, lift weights and do yoga, my routine became exhausting rather than energizing. A consult with my primary physician revealed nothing more than speculation about hormonal changes. My doctor prescribed a sleeping aide at my request.
December 18, 2004 was the exact date when my physical body began its rapid decline. Life as I knew it was about to come to a screeching halt. I awoke one morning with my wrist joints in so much pain that I found it difficult to write, work on my computer or perform basic household chores. Over the course of two weeks, joint and muscle pain spread throughout my entire body. I experienced myriad other strange and debilitating symptoms such as tingling nerve sensations, muscle cramps in my arms and legs, rapid heartbeat, extreme muscle weakness, arms and legs falling asleep in the middle of the night and a sporadic feeling of numbness in my legs.
I descended into a black hole of undiagnosed illness, panic and desperation. Frequent trips to Boston hospitals included comprehensive medical tests with brain and spine MRI’s. Everything came back negative. I was prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, which only made me sicker. In between bouts of feeling miserably sorry for myself, I found the inner strength to become my own advocate.
Early on in my illness, my intuition, which has yet to fail me, told me I had Lyme disease. I had persuaded my physician to order the Western Blot Lyme test (It had not been performed to date). My doctor soon reported back, “Your lab results came back negative. You do not have Lyme disease.” It was her opinion that I may have been exhibiting early stages of a “connective tissue disease” and referred me to a rheumatologist. I refused to accept this vague diagnosis and began diligently educating myself about the complexities and controversies surrounding this insidious disease called Lyme.
I learned that Lyme disease is one of the most underreported infectious diseases in the United States. It is a bacterial disease transmitted by a bite from an infected deer tick, the size of a poppy seed, commonly found on vegetation and animals such as deer, dogs, mice, horses and birds. The deer tick in the Eastern U.S. and the western black-legged tick on the pacific coast are the only species known to transmit this disease. It is contracted most often between the months of May through August when ticks are most prevalent.
If caught early, successful treatment can range from ten days to one month on oral antibiotics. However, the Center for Disease Control estimates that only one in ten Lyme patients are properly diagnosed due to a lack of proper testing. Most people do not realize that only 60% of infected individuals actually get the characteristic bull’s-eye rash. Other early warning signs include a localized rash, fever, flu-like symptoms and joint pain or swelling.
To complicate matters, many individuals will experience no initial symptoms because the spirochete, called Borrelia burgdoferi, which causes Lyme disease, can hide or lay dormant in the immune system, eluding doctors as it burrows in the joints and areas of poor circulation. This dilemma results in a delayed diagnosis.
Furthermore, this lack of “absolute” clinical proof fuels controversial debates between physicians and insurance companies because there are many false negatives and false positives. To further complicate matters, Lyme symptoms mimic other central nervous system disorders such as MS, Parkinson’s, ALS and Lupus. Many individuals are also misdiagnosed with Fibromyalgia, arthritis or depression, allowing the disease to become firmly entrenched in the central nervous system.
The key to receiving a proper diagnosis is to do your homework and educate yourself about Lyme Disease. Find a “Lyme Literate” physician who understands the complexities of accurate and prompt diagnosis. An educated Lyme or infectious disease specialist will treat those patients who present a clinical picture of Lyme disease, with absence of other disease factors and blood test confirmation. (Though it is possible to have an existing illness and develop Lyme.)
Late stage diagnosis can be effectively treated with long-term antibiotics. If Lyme disease is suspected, antibiotic treatment is critical, as this serious bacterial disease has the potential to invade the central nervous system, resulting in later resistance to the treatment process.
I was one of the unlucky individuals who did not show the characteristic rash, nor did my blood lab results test positive for Lyme. With all other disease factors ruled out, I was properly diagnosed in late March of 2005 with chronic Lyme Disease, and within 3 weeks of antibiotic treatment, my stamina and strength improved dramatically. It has now been almost 4 months of treatment and I am continuing to experience improvement. I still struggle with the cyclical nature of the disease (residual symptoms and
flare-ups) but I have my life back and my peace of mind. I appreciate and have gratitude for each and every day that is symptom free.
How can you protect yourself against Lyme? Try to avoid moist, shaded, wooded, grassy or brushy areas if possible during tick season. If you must be exposed to high risk areas, wear light colored clothing, long sleeve shirts and pants. Tuck your pants into your socks as the ticks often jump from the ground to the leg area. If you work outdoors in landscaping, you may want to consider using insect repellent containing DEET during the high-risk tick season (be sure to wash it off thoroughly when you come in as it is highly toxic). If you find a deer tick embedded in your skin, remove it with tweezers and call your doctor immediately for preventative treatment.
I have come to accept my physical healing as a process, not an absolute destination. My successful treatment plan to date encompasses both orthodox and complementary medicine. One of the many lessons this disease has taught me is that we are long overdue in our modern world to embrace the marriage of traditional and complementary healing in the treatment of disease. I was advised by my Chiropractor and Blood Microscopy Specialist (who do not support antibiotic use) to consider the adverse side effects of taking long-term antibiotics and their potential to do more harm than good.
Conversely, doctors told me that complementary methods of treatment are not strong enough to treat the ravages of this bacterial disease. In truth, both orthodox and complementary medicine has been invaluable to my continuing recovery.
If you suspect Lyme Disease, trust your intuition and your body and insist on the most up-to-date Lyme medical testing available. You can recover from this potentially devastating disease.
By Carol Bellis, Fall 2005
Carol Bellis is a Certified Astrologer, Nationally Certified Reflexologist and Reiki Master. She is a passionate student of symbolism, myth and the divinatory arts. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Management. Carol resides in Sandwich and currently consults with clients at the Four Winds Soulstice Center in Sandwich and the Mind Body and Soul Connection in East Falmouth.
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension 508.375.6690
Barnstable County Dept. of Health & The Environment 508.375.6617