Growing up, my biggest worry was getting good enough grades to get into Veterinary school. I am an Animal Science graduate of Texas A&M University and two years ago I was hired as a veterinary technician at a large animal ICU practice. I was slowly gaining the skills and abilities needed to survive veterinary school and become a great veterinarian. All I thought about was the animals I would help as a mixed practice veterinarian and the One Health issues I would research and collaborate on.
While working nights at the clinic there would be moments where my mind would go blank in the middle of a sentence and I began struggling to remember words as simple as “scissors”. I thought I was just adjusting to working overnights. My parents noticed I would space out in the middle of conversations and most days I walked around like a zombie. I became so tired that if I wasn’t at work I would be sleeping. I was irritable and depressed but I still chalked it up to working overnight. I became ill multiple times with GI issues and doctors couldn’t figure out why. During my anniversary trip to the beach that summer, each time I walked outside I felt like death and any food that wasn’t bland made my acid reflux unbearable. I couldn’t explain why, it was almost like every nerve was on end all the time and I was always physically and mentally exhausted.
Then it all took a turn. Almost a year ago I woke up in extreme pain. My whole body was stiff and aching. It felt like I had run a marathon and all I did was get out of bed. I went to the doctor and my mother pushed me to get tested for everything under the sun. My doctor suspected Lupus, Chronic Fatigue or Fibromyalgia. My mother suspected Lyme disease. My sister was diagnosed with Lyme after multiple years of unknown extreme fatigue. I wasn’t so sure. I haven’t been in the northeast in over two years, I never saw a tick on me, and there was no rash.
The next day, walking to my truck after a ten hour shift at work, I blacked out. I was able to get myself to the ER and was admitted with chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme body aches/joint pain. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and sent me home. Two weeks later, my test results came back. I was CDC positive for Lyme Disease and because of my symptoms I’ve most likely been infected with Borrelia b. for multiple years (if not my whole life). My doctor also suspected I had another co-infection, Bartonella, because of my years of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I started a six week course of IV antibiotics along with more vitamins than you can imagine.
The pain that I felt before I was diagnosed was nothing compared to the herxheimer reactions I had on the antibiotics. When the Borrelia spirochetes die off they form together in little clumps and release toxins into your body. Nothing helped and everything hurt. Any injury that I had from the past has become aggravating joint pain and at only 26 years old I have arthritis in my hands and knees. I couldn’t be around loud noises or people and sometimes my body is in so much pain that it hurts to be held or touched.
So far, after a year in treatment, the only thing that has gotten better is my energy level and my ability to be around loud noises. My symptoms come and go and the only things that have kept me from going insane are the Lyme support network, my family, and the fact that these symptoms mean these stupid spirochetes and other bacteria are dying. This past year has been hell and although I still have a long way to go I know I can’t give in.
A chronic illness doesn’t just debilitate your physical body, it effects your mind, your decisions, your future, and the people around you. I feel like I’m a part of some cruel nightmare and I can’t wake up. The scariest thing is this disease affecting my years in veterinary school. I am attending veterinary school in the spring and I am absolutely terrified that being chronically ill and in pain while going through school is going to cause me to have a breakdown and be unable to fulfill my dreams. I know that I can’t dwell on that but it is always on the back of my mind.
I have a disease that has changed my life but I have hope. Hope in the people of this world and the amazing grassroots campaigns that start up simply because people are tired of the way things are being handled. This disease is an epidemic that has changed the lives of thousands. It mimics diseases like lupus, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis and is possibly one of the factors causing Alzheimer’s. It can be sexually transmitted and most likely can be transferred in the womb from mom to baby. It’s so much bigger than we think it is and this is why we need a change.