This is an open letter to my dad, who among others, has inspired me to become a healthcare provider.
It's easy to be angry at individuals who deny that Chronic Lyme Disease exists. But I want to call attention to those who deserve praise. These are the physicians who stand in the face of adversity when the entire medical community is telling them to shut up and listen to the CDC. These individuals look beyond an easy diagnosis and don't see patients as parts on an assembly line.
These practitioners truly embrace their solemn vow of "Do no harm". And more than anyone, you fit these criteria. You know my life story, even though I'm only 25 years old. You knew me when I was a curious child and explored forests, dunes and fields as I pretended to travel with Lewis & Clark, western cowboys or indigenous allies. My love for nature was obvious, and you encouraged me to become the athlete that trained in women's tennis, snowboard racing, golf, wakeboarding, sailing and cheerleading. You always made sure that I respected and understood nature, but most importantly, had fun.
Who knows where the tick came from; they feed on birds, deer, house mice and more. It would be impossible to remember when I was bitten, as I was constantly outside, observing animals and wanting to make friends with them like Snow White. Once I rescued a baby bird that fell out of its nest and tried nursing it back to health. Then I rescued a litter of abandoned newborn bunnies from a ravenous dog eating them alive.
I was always given bug spray before exploring, was taught to avoid tick-infested areas and always checked for ticks and other bugs. Nonetheless, myself and more than half of those with Chronic Lyme will never know when they were bitten by a Borrelia burgdorferi-infested tick.
Ultimately, it inevitably could have happened anywhere. From a park in Chicago to a Colorado forest to any suburban backyard, Lyme ticks are nearly everywhere and even the smallest ones can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi. So when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 24 and had an array of symptoms that RA couldn't explain, it didn't add up. It ultimately took seven doctors to get a Chronic Lyme Disease diagnosis.
I have always looked up to doctors, as they sacrifice themselves to save others. They embrace the most brutal, thankless and punishing experiences to pursue an immense education of science, the human body and everything in between. Yet over time, I have come to realize that not all physicians are created equal and not all share the same viewpoint. They are still human, after all.
I don't hold ill will against physicians who do as they are told, because that is how they were trained to save lives. Yet I have a deep appreciation for those who go beyond their job description. Because it takes an emotionally intelligent, empathetic and self-aware person to trust one's instincts.
Because when patients are dying from Lyme Disease left and right and no one wants to talk about it, fulfilling the basic job description isn't enough. Doctors and patients alike are succumbing to this disease because there is no part of the body that Borrelia burgdorferi can't affect. ALS, MS, RA, heart complications and central nervous system impairment are just a few things that Lyme can masquerade as, before taking the host's life. This is why Lyme is dubbed "The New Great Imitator". Lyme doesn't care that I'm 25, so I have no doubt that had you not intervened, I would have been among the ranks of fallen patients.
With a lifetime of experience to draw from, you are wise and genuine. And at a time when other physicians wouldn't listen to my explanation of debilitating symptoms unrelated to RA, you listened intently as if I were your only patient in the world. When other practitioners were telling me that I had no choice but to accept RA as my final diagnosis, you talked with your peers to research other possibilities.
When I was terrified of taking chemotherapy pills for RA that would knock my immune system out, you understood my fear and asked why. Why should a 25-year-old athlete hinder her own immune system? Why didn't she have severe arthritic pain until after she was prescribed immunosuppressants? Why does she have an array of cognitive and physical symptoms that RA can't explain? And why would taking poison fix any of that?
At a time when I felt deranged and disobedient for not believing my specialists, you gave me something to believe in. No matter my mood or condition, your unwavering support and mantra went like this, "We'll figure this out. You're going to be okay. We'll figure this out." It wasn't easy to believe, but turned out to be true. Because at my worst point, you referred me to an electrodermal tester. She gently and miraculously found Borrelia burgdorferi in my body. This merciless bacteria is the root of Lyme Disease. This incredible finding inspired me to book an appointment with a Lyme specialist, who officially diagnosed me with Lyme Disease.
Merriam Webster defines a doctor as a person who is skilled in the science of medicine and a person who is trained and licensed to treat sick and injured people. But you went above and beyond this definition when you prioritized my future above your reputation, the controversy of Lyme Disease and the tormenting nature of my health problems. Because of you, I can say that I am getting better and I understand my body now more than ever.
It breaks my heart when I learn of Lyme patients suffering or dying. But how can I be pessimistic when you proved that one person can save many lives? Just like pushing through pain in sports, I want to push through the controversy of Lyme Disease. Like exploring nature, I want to explore medicine to raise awareness. And because of the unconditional love you provided me, I want to lend a voice to suffering patients and ideally, save lives.