A First Hand Account of Treating Acute Lyme Disease

A First Hand Account of Treating Acute Lyme Disease, Good Hearth in Rockland, Maine

The first indication of my acute Lyme Disease infection was a lucid dream of lying facedown on a dock, admiring and then catching a beautiful fish using only a t-shirt as my unlikely lure.  It wasn’t until other symptoms showed up that I made the connection– but I draw a line between the two because: 1) I rarely remember my dreams at all; 2) this was easily the most vivid dream I have ever had; and 3) Chinese medicine has a rich history of dreams revealing imbalances in human health. 

  Tobey Williamson offers Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Rockland, Maine

After she had confirmed the bullseye rash and was filling out the prescription for doxycycline and my treatment plan, I mentioned the dream to Jennie McNeil FNP, a nurse practitioner in Waldoboro who has diagnosed and treated many cases of Lyme Disease here in Midcoast Maine.  She said, and I paraphrase, “Yes, that’s Lymey.  It interferes with your sleep and can have many cognitive effects.” 

As amazing as the dream was, I take the avoidance of another infection like that more seriously than ever. It lasted only a few weeks (so far*), but for others Lyme Disease becomes a nightmare that does not want to end.  What follows is my direct experience with the acute effects and treatment of Borrelia burgdorferi, which (along with various co-infections) is considered to be the cause of Lyme Disease. 

* Who knows what I may encounter in the long run, now that this spirochete is part of my system.

Overall, my biggest takeaway is first-hand knowledge of how serious these Lyme infections can be and a new empathy for those who suffer from them.  Previously and right up through the initial stages of my own infection, my understanding was limited and I believed I had THE tools that would help people heal from tick-borne disease.  After speaking with my friend Joel Oyer, LMT, who succeeded in scaring me into quick action with a tale of complications due to late-diagnosis and treatment, my mind frame shifted to being open to any and all forms of treatment that would help and a commitment to find what works.  From that point I decided to use the entire experience as a foundation for compassionate care – first my own, and then others.  As my acupuncture teacher is fond of saying, “Our bodies and our ailments are our best opportunities for learning.”

What follows is a detailed sequence of events according to my notes:

Day 0             Walked in a newly opened trail through the woods behind my house.  Found several ticks when I checked afterwards at home.

Day 1             Dreamed of catching rainbow fish using a white t-shirt as a lure.

Day  2             Noticed red and white splotchy, slightly itchy spot on the back of my left knee.  Never saw a tick in this location.

Day 3           Spot was getting bigger, darker, itchier and the skin felt tighter.

Days 4-6         Rash more purplish in the center spreading above and below knee.  Getting slightly painful, but still able to walk without trouble.

Finally made time and effort to apply moxibustion therapy.  I should have started earlier, but I was traveling a lot at the time and the initial location was a difficult one for me to reach on my own body.  Excuses. Excuses.**

Good Hearth in Rockland, Maine**The above explains why my immune system would have been better able to fight this bacteria if I had done more moxa sooner!

Spleen and Liver channels (inside aspect of calf and thigh) affected, showing little blisters/papillae further up inner thigh. 

After needles and moxibustion, the immediate locations felt better and were noticeably less swollen and red.  Papillae healed up within a few days.

Day 7             The swelling at the back of the knee ,where I had done much less to no treatment because it was hard to reach, was continuing to get worse.  It was much harder to get around on my feet that day.  Pain of 3 on a scale to 10 (3/10) and stiffness was focused in the back and outer aspect of the knee and calf.

Day 8             Knee continued to worsen to (4/10) pain.  TMJ type jaw pain (2/10) and stiffness on the left side began and gradually spread across my temple into my forehead as a persistent dull ache.

Pattern of the rash was still a mottled red/white, but it was swollen, painful and spreading in what began to look like concentric rings to the purplish spot on the back of my knee.  The distinctive bulls eye pattern was appearing.  Reached out to Joel Oyer and Paula Jackson Jones to discuss acute Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment.

Asked my wife to apply moxibustion therapy to the back of the knee that I could not reach.

Moxibustion Lyme Disease Acupuncture Rockland Maine

Day 9             Woke up with the range of motion in my knee more limited, and pain (5/10) upon any weight bearing. Remembered a transient achy, crampy, pain in my core upon lying down to sleep the night before.

TMJ & dull headache were up to 4/10 and the lymph nodes on my neck and groin on the left side were enlarged.  Felt a little lethargic and run down.

Got in quickly to see Jennie Mcneil who confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed doxycycline.

Noticed an almost immediate (3 hours) small reduction in pressure and pain.

Days 10 & 11          Lots of moxibustion therapy on all affected areas of the knee later and 48 hours after first doxycycline pill, all of the initial pain and tightness in the back of the knee was gone.

Pain moved to front of knee below the knee cap and registered 7/10. Nearly an identical feeling as when I tore a bit of meniscus there playing in a pick-up football game 25+ years ago.

TMJ went away (no moxa or needles used locally)

Days 12 & 13           Knee back to itchy and tight, but was good enough to mow lawn with a push mower.

Noted a visceral avoidance of all tall grass/woods where I might encounter another tick that I never see. 

Occasional, very slight, achy/crampy sensations moving through various parts of my body.

In addition to the doxycycline I began taking grapefruit seed extract and a course of specially formulated Chinese herbal antibiotics and constitutional support to be sure I was carrying on a strong and varied attack on the spirochete bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) responsible for Lyme Disease.  I had been reading a lot about this particular pathogen and its remarkable ability to adapt to and alter the environment it finds in each new host.  So, I was waging a major offensive.  Continued to take clinically proven strains of pro-biotic supplements before bed to counteract the impacts of the antibiotics on my gut flora.

Days 14-17          Complete recovery of all apparent acute symptoms. Continued the course of doxycycline for a total of 30 days. 

Day 18-present     Continuing probiotics, herbal constitutional support and maintenance care acupuncture and moxibustion.

Future           Who knows?  So far so good.  But, like so many others here in Midcoast Maine, I will continue to be vigilant about tick checks and finding ways to avoid them.  I will also be taking good care of myself by eating well and getting enough rest and regular preventative treatments to keep my immune system strong.  Basically doing the very best I can to avoid and manage any chronic affects from a Lyme Borrelia infection using a balanced lifestyle, Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and moxibustion.

A First Hand Account of Treating Acute Lyme Disease, Good Hearth in Rockland, Maine

What I’ve Learned

Other than the first hand knowledge chronicled above, my most powerful learnings about the seriousness of this disease come from reading Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book, Healing Lyme. So here are three important broad understandings he shared for healing this disease:

1.     The bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease attacks and feeds on our collagen.  This is what forms our connective tissue, which create the fascial networks that literally hold our bodies together.  It wraps all of our organs, connects all the muscles to bone at each joint, and differentiates each muscle from every other and also makes up the cartilage that cushions the junction of bones.  Collagen is also what surrounds our nerves with the “insulation” (called myelin sheaths) that allow electrical impulses to travel efficiently throughout the body, affecting sensations, movement, and overall function.  This explains the joint pain that affects so many with Lyme Disease.  Remember my tick bite originally affected the muscles and ligaments in the back of my knee. Then when the bacteria was under attack, it moved to invade my previously-injured meniscus cartilage.  Because it attacks the collagen fibers that insulate our nerves, Borrelia burgdorferi can also create the varied neurological  symptoms associated with Lyme Disease.  Interesting topics for future study come from connecting this understanding with the latest theories on how acupuncture works through stimulation of the fascia – a truly amazing substance 

See Dan Keown’s theory that fascial planes match up with acupuncture meridians and his fascinating discussion of the embryological development of these networks in his book Spark in the Machine, How the Science of Acupuncture Helps to Explain the Mysteries of Western Medicine.

2.     Lyme Disease is not a new disease.   Borrelia burgdorferi and other spirochete bacteria make up some of the oldest, most adaptable species on the planet.  According to Buhner, it is present in almost every environment and can be carried by a wide spectrum of animal and insect species— not just mammals and ticks.  This bacteria as been found in the joints of Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains emerged in 1991 from the retreating glaciers of the Italian Alps.  As I wrote about here, this 5300 year old “wealthy caveman” very likely suffered from joint pain and received regular acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.  That’s right, turns out that people have been using Eastern medicine to manage Lyme Disease for thousands of years!

3.     Perhaps because of its ancient origins, Lyme Borrelia infections can be incredibly devious in their manner of adapting to the particular environment they find in each new host.  The broad strategies of this bacteria include the following: a) working symbiotically with co-infections; and b) protecting itself from attack by the host’s immune system as well as antibiotics.  Both help the bacteria to persist in the body for long periods of time – leading to chronic infections.

Tobey Williamson offers Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Rockland, Maine

      a.     The fact that Lyme spirochetes work with other pathogenic bacteria, funguses, etc. explains the effectiveness of a Classical Chinese herbal approach developed by Heiner Freuhauf.  It is his contention that the ancients described Lyme disease and co-infections perfectly when they discussed “Gu Syndrome” in their medical texts.  Briefly, “Gu” was a traditional form of casting hexes on enemies and rivals that took the form of primitive germ warfare.  The worst sources of pathogenic evils (think rotting meat, sewage, other refuse) were combined in pots that were buried for months at a time.  Whatever festering goo (or in this case “Gu”) was retrieved from these pots after excavation was then used to infect those against whom grudges were held. Dr. Freuhauf believes that in effect, increasingly mobile and virulent pathogens combined with modern stressful lifestyles and diets that affect the delicate balance of our immune systems are creating analogous cocktails of disease-causing microbes inside our bodies.  As one example, think about how leaky gut syndrome, a sleep deficit, and overwork could lead to an overwhelmed immune system.  Now add in a particularly devious and adaptable pathogen like Lyme Borrelia and it is easy to see how things can go haywire in a variety of ways.  Dr. Freuhauf’s herbal Classical Pearl formulations are based on the effective responses of ancient healers to similar circumstances and use expertly grown and processed herbs

      b.     The various ways in which spirochetes hide in the body help to explain the difference between acute Lyme Disease and the vast variation in complications from chronic Lyme Disease infections.  So far, my acute infection has been relatively easy to contain and reverse.  This is because I knew about it early and attacked it vigorously from many different angles.  Had I not known about or had I not taken the tick bite seriously, I risked allowing the bacteria to gain a foothold in my body.  So, take tick bites seriously.  Avoid them if you can, treat them quickly if you get them. 

According to Stephen Buhner, Lyme spirochetes persist in our bodies, sometimes undetected, by developing biofilms, creating “roundbody” type cysts and by disrupting the signaling mechanisms our immune systems use to determine friend from foe.  These defenses all serve to protect the bacteria from attack by our immune response, can limit the effectiveness of antibiotics, and can lead to auto-immune diseases if our bodies lose their ability to differentiate between our own cells and invading microbes.  This explains how Lyme Disease transitions from an acute case to the variety of ways that chronic cases present.  

Eastern medicine works by identifying the patterns of symptoms present in each individual patient.  This medicine is flexible and dynamic and can meet people with Lyme Disease exactly where they are to help them heal.  Techniques like acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese herbal formulas when integrated properly with Western medicine and other modalities can be extremely effective. This integrative approach can both keep an acute Lyme infection from becoming a chronic one, as well as manage the variety of symptoms and promote the healing of the underlying causes of illness in those who struggle with chronic Lyme disease.