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How Lyme Disease Saved My Life

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:36am

By Virginia T. Sherr

When Lyme disease saved me, I had no clue that anything was really wrong with me, except there were some weird things that kept happening. For one thing, as I told an allergist, my sinuses, in waves, felt funny, and for the last several seasons, I'd gotten morning headaches after the house heat had been turned on in the autumn. He and I agreed that the furnace must have stirred up a new allergy to dust. Time went by, and for general safety, it occurred to me that it would be wise to buy carbon monoxide alarms for my home. To my amazement, a properly placed CO alarm in the basement immediately clamored a warning.

When the oil furnace repairman arrived and pointed out a one-inch crack - a separation between the furnace and the chimney - I was dumbstruck that it had gone unnoticed. Interestingly, the weird waves of nasal stuffiness and the morning headaches stopped with the repair of this crack in the flue.

In my psychiatric office, I had been listening for years to a subset of patients who were exquisitely sensitive to everything chemical in their lives. Medicine that required a dosage of 50 mg for the average person was too strong at 12.5 mg for them. Any commonplace side effects were magnified, and therefore, the idea of taking medicine had become anxiety producing to them and, I remembered, to myself as well, for the same reason.

At that time, the concept of a connection between medication and chemical sensitivity due to Lyme disease was unknown to me. It only occurred to me when, many years after a red ring rash on my arm, I finally was diagnosed as having Lyme disease and began to evaluate carefully my patients who had symptoms of tick-borne diseases. I found the majority of them to have extreme sensitivity to medications.

It turns out that Lyme disease tends to interfere with the metabolism of the liver in such a way that chemicals are processed too slowly. And there is a failure of "T4 thyroid hormone" to convert properly into T3 hormone at the cellular level. The spirochetal infection causes a Wilson's syndrome - a lowering of body temperature - which makes all chemical reactions sluggish. This causes a backlog of molecules, which are imperfectly metabolized if at all and which then act as if the person has taken an overdose. The side effects, not the desired effects, became the patient's main focus, and the person usually wishes to forgo future trials of all medications.

In my case, extreme sensitivity to small amounts of carbon monoxide may have registered in the form of waves of sinus stuffiness and related headaches.

As a psychiatrist, I am aware that the unconscious mind often tries to alert us to our specific critical needs. For example, one frequently hears the exclamation: "I was dreaming of a waterfall, and it woke me; then realized I really had to urinate." I had lived in my home for decades without CO detectors, headaches, or nasal/sinus stuffiness. I have no doubt that my personal chemical sensitivity caused by Lyme disease caused me to respond symptomatically to trace amounts of carbon monoxide. Those symptoms started my quest for answers and perhaps led, subconsciously, to my choice of having the CO monitor installed. I had never consciously considered CO poisoning as a factor because I thought I had a state-of-the-art furnace. But it was the gap in the flue that gave me a break.

Like a canary in the mineshaft of old, my unknown chemical sensitivity may have acted as an early-warning system for invisible noxious fumes. The heightened awareness that something was wrong was akin to the noticeable effect of the "drug-sensitive" canaries that keeled over at the first hint of carbon monoxide, their sacrifice alerting and ultimately saving coal-miners from a toxic CO level in their workplace. In my case, my own sinuses, then the CO alarms led to the solution of the external toxic problem and ended the deadly risk of eventual serious CO contamination of my household.

No longer reluctant, I now am pleased to offer credit where credit is due - to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the then as-yet undetected tick-borne disease that very likely helped to rescue me, while also changing my life's direction dramatically and forever.

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