Over the last few years, I’ve developed an awe and respect for the illness we’ve come to identify as Chronic Lyme Disease. Like the great Eastern gurus who guide their students to deeper levels of self-awareness, Lyme disease pushes people to more fully, develop their faith and spirituality. A patient who has healed from chronic symptoms has done a lot of soul searching, and practiced forgiveness and gratitude. This guru teaches us many lessons, including the paradigm-shifting awareness of what an “infection” is. Chronic Lyme Disease is not an infection.
Not in the traditional sense at least. Our Western definition of infection implies that a single bacterium can be identified as the causative agent of symptoms, and that an antibiotic treatment can resolve the problem. If we lack technology to identify the infection, and if people fail to respond to antibiotic treatment, well then, diagnosing someone with Lyme disease after negative test results and a failed trial of antibiotics, is irresponsible and paramount to malpractice.
But what if Lyme disease is not just about the bacterium (a spirochete), called Borrelia? What if it’s the result of a collection of bacteria and viruses, working synergistically to create symptoms unique to the person who’s infected? Just as humans are comprised of trillions of microbes (microbial cells outnumber our human cells about 10 to 1), the gut and saliva of a tick also carry many microbes – some of which are still being identified with molecular technology. Silly to think that ticks inject us with just a single infectious agent (or mosquitoes, for that matter).
And what about our technology that tests us for the presence of infection? Most of these tricky bacteria resist culturing by avoiding the tissues we’d use to culture them (e.g. urine and blood), and by reproducing very slowly in a specialized medium (food source) that makes direct testing unreasonable. We rely on lab work that identifies our immune system reaction to specific fragments of the bugs, which poses challenges for people infected with subspecies of bacteria not typically tested for, or whose immune system produces atypical responses. This is one of the many reasons why Health Canada clearly states that a diagnosis of Lyme disease is to be made clinically. Test results are only supportive evidence.
Chronic Lyme Disease can be considered as an umbrella term for multiple bacterial and viral infections that thrive only when a person’s immune system is unable to maintain balance. The symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease rarely reflect the actions of the bugs – they most often reflect the body’s attempts to contain the infection and find balance again. In other words, the condition reflects the constitution of the person rather than of the bacterium. This is why the illness appears so variable between people, and why it’s so difficult to diagnose.
This is also why I prefer to use testing that helps me better identify where the body’s stuck. We could spend hundreds to thousands of dollars identifying immune system reactions to Borrelia, or we could spend a few hundred dollars on tests that help us identify key biochemical pathways and body systems that are stuck or overworked. In my practice, I’m far more likely to order Organic Acids Testing, Heavy Metals, or hormone panels, than I am Lyme disease antibody tests. It just makes more sense to me.
Back to Lyme disease as a guru: It’s one of the clearest paths to the revelation that current medical practice is far behind the science. It reveals the gaps between what Westerner’s perceive as “health”, and what old world cultures have practiced for thousands of years. For people struggling with the illness, it’s a journey unfolding in the midst of a paradigm shift which, though extremely challenging and, at times, lonely, offers beautiful opportunities on the other side of recovery. One step at a time.