Seven Things My Lyme Doc Taught Me

It took me a long time to find her, but I am fortunate to say that I have a good Lyme-literate medical doctor (LLMD) who has taught me a lot of important things.

If my count is right, she was the 14th doctor I saw before finding someone who was able to help me. Sounds like a lot, but many Lyme patients have a longer list. She could help because she had been through something similar herself, and had the knowledge and compassion to be able to help others get through their ordeals.

So what has she taught me? Probably more than I’m outlining below, but these are the things that come to mind.

#1 – A LOT OF THIS IS ABOUT TOTAL LOAD – Total load means the total amount to stressors your body is facing. Obviously, Lyme is a big stressor. So if you have Lyme, you have to reduce the other stressors.

Doctors who subscribe to the total load theory use the rain barrow analogy. Stressors are like rain that falls into a rain barrow. As long as the rain stays in the barrow you’re OK. But too much rain (i.e. stressors) and the barrow overflows. That’s when you get symptoms.

There’s no shortage of stressors – Lyme, other infections, emotional and physical stress, heavy metals, pesticides, poor diet, dental amalgam fillings and other dental problems, candida, etc., etc. One of the keys to getting healthy is eliminating and reducing stressors and keeping the water from spilling out of the barrow.

#2 – B VITAMIN SHOTS CAN HELP A LOT – One doctor told me not to bother with B12 shots because he said I didn’t need them. Another doctor told me B12 shots were quackery. But my doctor said I should try both B12 and B complex injections. She was right. They helped a lot, giving me some energy at a time when that commodity was worth about a million dollars an ounce to me.

#3 – CATCHING COLDS OFTEN MEANS YOU MADE A MISTAKE – During one of our visits, my doctor was chastising herself for getting a cold. Turns out she felt she made a mistake.

I’d always thought catching a cold or the flu was an accident that couldn’t be helped. But I now see it as something that’s an unavoidable accident about half the time and an avoidable mistake the other half.

Maybe I forgot to wash my hands after being in public during cold and flu season, maybe I skimped on sleep and my immune system suffered, maybe I got stressed out on a day when I felt the first sign of a tickle in my throat. Or maybe something else. This doesn’t mean being a germophobe, it just means that when you have a serious illness like Lyme, you need to be careful to not pick up other infections.

#4 – YOU CAN IMPROVE YOUR EYESIGHT – I’ve always been looking for ways to improve my vision, and I’ve asked several eye doctors this question. They all say there’s nothing you can do.

Not true, says my doctor. She had a strong prescription of -5.50 that fell to a moderate -2.50. That’s a huge drop. She said she did it by gradually healing infections in her body and eyes, taking a lot of antioxidants and intravenous vitamin and mineral infusions.

#5 – PUT THE TOILET LID DOWN EVERY TIME YOU FLUSH – This thought had never occurred to me. But one day I noticed a clipping on her office billboard showing results from a study that showed flushing with the toilet lid up results in a slew of often pathogenic bacteria flying around your bathroom. I’m not sure how much effect this has on total load, but every bit counts.

#6 – EAT ALL YOUR FOOD DURING A SHORT PERIOD OF THE DAY – I’m not sure if this works for everyone, but it works for me. The theory is that your body likes having a decent sized mini-fast every day. I’d mentioned I was having gut symptoms, so my doctor suggested trying to eat all my food in an 8-12 hour window each day.

Eight hours is tough to manage, but most days I eat my food in an 11-hour period and give my body 13 hours to fully digest it and work everything out. Doing this has helped reduce my gut symptoms.

#`7 – NEVER GIVE UP – My doctor has told me stories of her own desperate efforts to stay alive so her young son wouldn’t lose his mother. She never gave up and taught me the same.

The truth with Lyme is you never know when things are going to turn around in your favor. There are umpteen ways of treating it, and if you keep trying, you’re likely to find one that will work for you. So there’s good reason not to give up. It also helps, a lot, to find a doctor who won’t give up on you. When I was down and out and bedridden, my doctor made 10 house calls to try to get me back on my feet. That’s right. House calls. I told you I was fortunate.

Healing Lyme God’s Way

Imagine what it would be like if most Christians placed their main focus on Christ every day and not just at Christmas?

I think it’s a very important question, particularly if you are a Christian with Lyme Disease.

I don’t know about you, but when I first got sick with Lyme, my focus was squarely on me. I felt far worse than I’d ever felt before, I was scared, and I was running around from doctor to doctor to try to find someone to save me.

When you know in your gut that something is seriously wrong with your health, you tend to put your own needs in front of others. It’s a crisis, and you feel God will understand your selfishness.

This is what I thought, and it took me nearly a year to even start shifting my main focus away from doctors and treatments to prayer and looking to God for answers.

During this 10 month or so period, all the running around didn’t do anything but dig a deep hole that took me a long time to dig out of.

Now, what if I’d focused more on God from the day I got sick?

I’m not saying I shouldn’t have sought medical attention. Doing that was clearly appropriate. But the problem was a matter of focus. What was I placing my faith in and Who was I not placing my faith in?

What if I’d spent a lot more time praying and asking others to pray for me? What if I’d sought out healing prayer? What if I’d put my primary focus on God?

In most healing stories you read about in the Bible faith plays the major role. In Luke 17:19 (Amplified Bible), Jesus says this to a man he has just healed of leprosy. “Your faith (your personal trust in me and your confidence in God’s power) has restored you to health.”

So I ask myself, in those early days of Lyme, was I showing personal trust in Jesus and confidence in God’s power? Or was I immersed in a panic?

And what if I had decided not to be a bit selfish? My thinking went something like this. I have a wife and a small child and I need to get better for both my family’s sake and my own sake. So, in this case, I felt justified in the times I put my needs ahead of others.

But doesn’t the Bible stress putting others first? Does it say anything about that approach being suspended when you’re sick?

No, what the Bible says in Matthew 6:33 (NIV) is “Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To paraphrase, Jesus is saying put me first in all circumstances and you will be rewarded for it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Lyme is a very serious disease and it requires placing a substantial portion of your overall focus on treatment. But that doesn’t require moving your primary focus away from God.

Focusing on God and placing complete trust and confidence in Him was the key to healing in New Testament days. Is it any different today?

Photo: Eric Davidson

Seven easy ways to not delay your healing

I was going to compile a list of “don’ts” here, but nobody likes to be told don’t do this and don’t do that. So why don’t I make it a list of “avoids”?

We people with Lyme are usually so focused on making sure we do this and take that and see so and so that we don’t pay enough attention to what we should steer ourselves away from.

It’s all about not accidentally shooting yourself in the foot and setting yourself back.Many times what you don’t do is as important to getting well as what you actually do.

#1 – AVOID watching a lot of TV news.  People underestimate the importance of keeping their headspace positive. I’ve worked in television, so I know that TV exists primarily to sell advertising.

To help further this, many things are sensationalized and made to appear more extreme than they actually are. You may have noticed this during the recent U.S. election campaign. It appears the trend will only worsen.

A little TV news can help keep you informed, which is a good thing. A lot can get you depressed and carrying a negatively skewed view of the world in your head. Not so good.

#2 – AVOID eating (much) crappy food. In recent years, health researchers and doctors have been increasingly stressing the importance of a good diet to maintaining health. I’ve seen in my own life what an incredibly positive difference eating the right foods makes. But let’s not go overboard. Healthy food is often tasty, but unhealthy food is often really tasty. So go ahead and cheat, a bit, especially now that we’re in the holiday season.

#3 – AVOID arguing unless you have to. This might be a difficult one for the politically inclined this holiday season in the wake of the recent U.S. elections. But love has an awful lot to do with getting healthy and positive relationships generate love. Arguing has a way of tearing apart relationships, and really, what purpose does it serve 99 percent of the time? Sometimes you have to take a stand, but those times are rare.

#4 – AVOID believing that you’ll never get well. I remember early in my Lyme journey when I just couldn’t see how I could get better. I felt doomed. Big mistake. In his landmark book, “The Biology of Belief,” written in 2005, Dr. Bruce Lipton wrote convincingly of how a person’s beliefs play a huge role in what actually happens to them. This concept is becoming so mainstream that National Geographic just wrote a cover story on it.

The truth is that many, many Lyme patients have emerged from seemingly desperate circumstances to get fully well. Sometimes it’s a new treatment that works for you when previous ones didn’t. Sometimes it’s finding a different doctor who figures out your problem when others couldn’t. In short, there’s good reason to AVOID giving up.

#5 – AVOID pushing yourself too hard. This is especially important to remember during the holidays. One of the most valuable skills a person with Lyme can master is learning how to say no. When your energy level will allow you to do only so much, politely explain to people that this is the case, and it’s very important for you not to overdo it.

Not pushing yourself too hard also comes into play when it comes to treatment. Lyme medications can often cause serious die-off (Herxheimer) reactions, but many doctors in the field are now saying that it’s best not to promote these Herxes as a good thing to be aimed for as has often been done in the past. I believe the newer message is better. It says that Herxes are sometimes unavoidable but that you should try to avoid them.

#6 – AVOID getting down on yourself. I belong to several Lyme Facebook groups and I see a lot of people expressing their dismay at not being good enough wives or husbands or mothers or fathers or sisters or brothers or whatever.

For those who feel this way, give yourself an important gift this Christmas. Look in the mirror and repeat these words. “It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.” You got sick with a serious illness that limits what you’re able to do. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

#7 – AVOID focusing too much on Lyme. Fighting Lyme is such a full-time job that this one can be difficult. But it helps a lot if you can work towards having as full a life as possible with Lyme being only one component of it. Maybe try setting aside one day a week when you don’t say the L word or even think about it. Maybe Christmas day would be a good day to start.

Photo: shonna1968

7 Easy Ways To Help Yourself Heal

I didn’t want to make the title too long, but it could have been 7 easy ways to help yourself heal that most people don’t do at all or don’t do nearly enough of.

Most of these are no-brainers, so obvious that they really shouldn’t need to be mentioned. But do I have to be reminded to do them? Yes. Do you? Well, let’s find out.

#1 – WASH YOUR HANDS!– Now that it’s cold and flu season this is more important than ever. I’ve done an admittedly unscientific survey about handwashing and it suggests serious problems. Lyme Disease has forced me to move many times and to live with many people. The common denominator. Nobody washes their hands before they eat.

Experts say the most important factor in avoiding colds and the flu is handwashing, and that we should wash our hands frequently, especially after using the washroom and before eating. My survey hasn’t included bathroom habits, but I suspect the worse.

#2 – EARLY TO BED! – Science tells us that the hours of sleep before midnight provide the greatest benefit. Does 10 p.m. sound reasonable? Can you squeak in 9:30 without feeling like a boring old fart? So you’ll miss a bit of TV. Nobody ever went to their deathbed regretting that they hadn’t watched enough TV.

#3 – GET OUTSIDE! – We were not built to spend 90 percent of our time indoors like most of us do. Studies show that outdoor air is generally much healthier than indoor air. The air is even better if you can get out to the country, or to the beach, or to a mountain. Of all the things that have helped me in my journey to getting well, fresh air is near the top of the list.

#4 – FLOSS YOUR TEETH! Are you kidding? No. This is no joke. Doctors who specialize in chronic illness are increasingly stressing the importance of oral health. Some go so far as to say that cavitations, root canals, hidden dental infections, and the like are some of the primary things that cause recalcitrant health problems.

The good news is that fixing dental problems in a careful way and paying strict attention to oral hygiene can be major factors in getting you well. So think floss before bed, and while you’re at it, brush those choppers two or three times a day.

#5 – GET OFF YOUR BUTT! – I understand that this doesn’t apply to many people with chronic illness who can’t get off their butts. But if you can, go for it! Doctors are nearly unanimous in pointing to our sedentary lifestyle as the cause of a myriad of ills.

We were built to move, so move as much as you can. If all you can do is stretch, then stretch. If you’re stuck at a desk, get up and take as many breaks as you can get away with. Go for walks as often as you can.If you can do it, park the car a short distance from your destination and walk in. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. You’ve heard this all before. Just do it! Nice slogan, eh.

#6 –  SMILE! – I’ve had severe chronic Lyme to the point where it almost killed me, so I know that sometimes it’s next to impossible to smile. But if you can, it’s going to help you a lot. Studies suggest smiling can cut stress levels, lower your heart rate, and even make you look younger and more attractive.

#7 – LAUGH! – Again, a tricky maneuver when you’re really sick, but worth the effort. By now, most everyone knows that laughter produces endorphins, which make you feel good and are good for you. My unscientific household survey also shows that most people don’t laugh much.

So lighten up everybody, for your own good! If you have an Internet connection, there are scads of funny things available on YouTube, iTunes, and other outlets. If you’re not big on the web, how about telling jokes? My elderly mom is a big fan of joke books. Most of the jokes are corny, but who cares? It’s not about winning Nobel prizes for Literature. It’s about making you laugh, and, more than that, it’s about helping you to get well.

Photo: Douglas Scortegagna

Stephen Buhner vs. The Lyme Conventional Wisdom

You can approach treating Lyme Disease in two basic ways. First, you can look at it purely as a science. Or, you can look at it as partly a science and partly an art.

The conventional wisdom says go strictly with science. Over the past few decades since Lyme hit the map, Western medicine has developed treatment strategies that for the most part fit the disease into its existing paradigm.

It goes something like this. We’ve discovered Lyme is a bacterial infection. We test for it. If the test is positive, we throw antibiotics at  it.

This works great for some people, but it doesn’t work very well for a lot of other people.

Enter Stephen Buhner, master herbalist and author. He is far from the only proponent of the science plus art approach, but no one has done more to champion it.

Among his books are two editions of Healing Lyme, plus two books on treating coinfections associated with Lyme. If you read these works carefully, you’ll clearly see how different his way of treating Lyme is from the conventional wisdom.

It’s not that Buhner isn’t scientific. He worked from 1980 to 2005 as a clinical herbalist and psychotherapist and also has treated many Lyme patients since. In Healing Lyme, Second Edition, he says that he has had contact with more than 25,000 people with Lyme and has read more than 10,000 peer-reviewed papers on Lyme.

In this book, he also gives some stats on his Lyme protocol’s success, saying that from the feedback he received from 2005-2015. he estimates that 75 percent of people experienced what they considered a cure from the program, 15 percent needed to continue with a reduced form of the protocol, 5 percent had some relief, and 5 percent got no help.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the differences in the two approaches. As mentioned earlier, the conventional wisdom has worked well for many people, while Buhner’s way has helped many others.

I should mention that I’m referring to the conventional wisdom for treating persistent, or chronic, Lyme. It should also be noted that not all Lyme doctors fall completely into one camp or another. Some are a totally conventional, some a bit unconventional, and others quite a bit unconventional in their treatment methods.

But, for the sake of comparison, here’s how I see the main differences between Buhner and the conventional Lyme wisdom.

Conventional wisdom: Only antibiotics will cure Lyme.

Buhner: Lyme can be cured by using herbs and other natural products. Several natural protocols have been developed  by Buhner and by others, and one particular protocol may or may not work for one person, and another protocol may or may not work for another person.

Buhner is not against antibiotics. He says they work very well for some people and they can be combined with herbs, but they often aren’t necessary.

Conventional wisdom: Fighting Lyme is like fighting a conventional war. You have to keep blasting away at the bugs until they are defeated. Sometimes this means taking high doses of antibiotics for a year or more.

Buhner: Fighting Lyme is like a guerrilla war. You have to outsmart the bugs. The goal isn’t to bludgeon the enemy into submission, it’s to understand what the bugs want and need from their hosts and to find ways to deny those needs and prevent them proliferating.

Conventional wisdom: Strong and highly unpleasant die-off (Herxheimer) reactions are an unfortunate, but necessary, part of getting well from Lyme.

Buhner: Herxheimer reactions aren’t necessary. They sometimes happen, but you should try to avoid them.

Conventional wisdom: The doctor creates the protocol and the patient doesn’t deviate from it.

Buhner: Patients should listen to their bodies and tweak their protocols according to what works best for them. Having patients educate themselves and develop a feel for how herbs and natural products interact with their bodies is a crucial part of treatment.

Conventional wisdom: Patients need to push themselves and fight through difficult patches in treatment.

Buhner: Only go as fast as your body is telling you to go. If an herb is making you feel significantly unwell, back off and cut down on the dose.

So now that I’ve gone through the main differences in approaches, I’ll admit to having a bias. The conventional wisdom didn’t work well for me. Buhner’s protocols haven’t gotten me fully well, yet, but they have contributed to substantial improvement.

I also find the Buhner model more sustainable. Going on long-term antibiotic programs wreaks havoc on many body systems, especially the gut, and nobody knows what long-term effects that will have.

The conventional wisdom approach is also hard on the human spirit. The consequence of taking antibiotics long-term is often feeling awful day after day, month after month. Many times the treatment feels worse than the disease.

A lot has changed since the first edition of Healing Lyme came out in 2005. The trend in the conventional wisdom among leading Lyme doctors has slowly been moving in Buhner’s direction.

Herbs and other natural products are more commonly used as many doctors are now willing to look beyond solely an antibiotic approach. And this makes sense to my mind. Buhner strikes me as someone who has studied Lyme Disease as thoroughly as anyone and understands it as well as anyone, and people should look closely at what he’s doing.

The Lyme bacteria is known as one of the most intelligent and resourceful of bugs, and the conventional wisdom approach hasn’t stopped it from spreading rapidly worldwide. One hopes that more people like Buhner will step forward and put the focus on figuring  out more new and perhaps unorthodox ways to neutralize Lyme and reduce the tremendous damage it is causing around the globe.