The Killer in the Crowd

♪ “Who is the betrayer, who’s the killer in the crowd?
The one who creeps in corridors and doesn’t make a sound.” ♫

Something I never considered the IVIG might do was the one thing I’ve diligently avoided doing at all costs for the past two years: Wake my immune system from its compromised state of complacence. Because that, in turn, as has happened every single time over the past six years, would reactivate my latent bartonella infections.

But that’s exactly what it did.

Some of you may not remember my ordeal with this infection unless you’ve somehow been following my blog since the beginning, but this short post from January 2012 might help a little.

I realized a year later that my symptoms were re-emerging and my bloodwork showed increasing signs. From then on I did everything I could to not stimulate my immune system, especially avoiding antibiotics at all costs (i.e., in the event I caught something extra; because as we know this entire treatment-failure conundrum was caused by me being unable to tolerate antibiotics to treat the Lyme, bartonella, mycoplasma, etc.). Because of this, and thankfully so, it remained somewhat latent in contrast to how quickly it spread the first few times it was active. From past experience, I’d seen that activating my immune system in any way triggered it to attempt fighting infections wherever they existed, despite my immune system not having everything it needs to actually fight, or even being able to use what it does have, efficiently. I’d found out the hard way that to reactivate bartonella was to initiate my imminent decline: The first time this happened, I was bedbound within eight months; the next, within just four.

Well. All the symptoms that have occurred periodically since the bartonella relapsed, are once again emerging VERY reliably every 5-6 days (usually five, as is part of the reason bartonella “quintana” got its name). There are the frontal headaches; the unusual rashes and bumps on my feet, ankles, lower legs, and hands/fingers; the foot pain; the shin pain; chest pain; more arrhythmia; more anemia; the volatile moods that occur the worst on that 5th day, leading to rapid cycling between hopelessness, suicidal ideation, rage, paranoia, and anything else you can imagine, before fading as quickly as it arrived; the worse “brain fog” and neurological dysfunction; low-grade fevers; excruciating fatigue; worse dehydration… Unsurprisingly, its pattern started five days after my first infusion in October, and has continued ever since.

A part of me just cannot believe this is happening again. The other part of me has not experienced something so dangerous since practicing Buddhism, and is able to be objective enough to find it fascinating how a body reacts to infection.

The worst flares–the ones that scare me–happen right before my infusions, when my immunoglobulin levels are at their lowest. I get IVIG every four weeks, but at my current dose the effects only last three weeks… So the fourth week, my system has fallen back to its usual, immunodeficient state, which means I am at mercy of a potentially-fatal infection with little to give it pause.

I discussed this with my immunologist today and he has upped my dose. We’ll see with my next infusion if this new dose will last long enough to stretch the entire four weeks, but if not, we’ll try every three weeks. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll have to do it subcutaneously every week just to stay stable. :\ (I hope not; I don’t know if I could handle that, mentally.)

I felt so horrible the morning of my last infusion, I thought I might more likely end up in the emergency room than their office, and wasn’t even sure if I should go. But within two minutes of praying for guidance, my doctor’s office called me and told me to come in, come in immediately. So I did, and by that evening I was a different person. For one, I was hydrated, but I also no longer felt like I was being mauled by a bear from the inside out. The flare completely stopped.

For the first time in over two years, I feel like I have a chance to slow these diseases’ progressions. And after seeing how my body can now fight back after receiving an infusion containing the parts of my immune system I’ve never adequately been able to create on my own, I have hope that maybe I can be like everyone else who gets a bartonella infection, and just kill it off before it kills me. This can really only go one of two ways.

If I can continue getting IVIG reliably then maybe several months from now my new-and-improved immune system, thanks to literally thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of donors, can finally overthrow bartonella (and maybe the other, less-rapidly-progressive bugs?), and I’ll never have to worry about it again. That’d be nice… Really nice. But if not, I know this is still my path.

I regret nothing.

a rainbow at night

What My Pain is Actually Like

It occurred to me one day several months ago that I’ve never stopped to answer a question people may have, the same question I often wonder about others in my situation: When I talk about being in pain, what am I actually talking about?

In my case I’m talking about severe head pain, and what some call “malaise,” but… Malaise is what you call it when you are sick and you feel “off,” and unwell, and basically.. gross. It’s also a term you can use for having something as simple as a cold or as insufferable as end-stage AIDS, much like a fever has drastically varying levels of severity.

In “malaise” standards, what I feel is like my immune system is fighting to save my life but it may or may not actually take me down with it. Most types of pain are usually localized, or at least, if it’s everywhere it’s an identifiable ache. This? Maybe I should invent a new term.

Deathlymalaise. Yeah that sounds about right.

What happens in my newly coined “deathlymalaise” (feel free to use that), is this:

  1. I always have “the” headache with it, the one I’ll discuss in a moment.
  2. I have a low-grade fever, and I alternate rapidly–or maybe there is only the sensation of rapid cycling–between uncomfortably warm and sweaty, and clammy, cold, with freezing and numb extremities. It’s like when you have the flu and every five minutes you’re either tossing the blankets across the room or clambering to collect anything made of fabric and burrito yourself in it. My GP says this is my immune system. Apparently it’s trying to figure out what to do with itself.
  3. I feel dizzy and there is often a “buzzing” sensation, but whether it’s nerves sending wrong signals or my vascular system trying to sustain normal circulation, is anyone’s guess.
  4. My lymph nodes, particularly the axillary and cervical nodes (under your arms, and around your neck), have a constant, dull ache, and get stabbing sensations.
  5. I get muscle spasms in my neck, back, and all around my abdomen in general, that are so sudden and severe I usually end up screaming.
  6. I feel a burning sensation in the nerves in my face, as if they were on fire from the inside-out. I think it comes from the same inflammation responsible for my headache. The trigeminal neuralgia is thus usually activated and I have to stop myself from clawing at my face–that wouldn’t help much, now would it?
  7. I feel as if I’m going to vomit, but I won’t let that happen–I take Zofran as necessary.
  8. My joints–moreso on my left–swell and get stiff, difficult to bend or move.
  9. There is substantial fatigue during these “bursts” of deathlymalaise, but sitting or–more appropriately–lying in one place is usually not an option because this is the kind of suffering that, on the pain scale, would be at the level that it interferes with your every thought.

I’m a complete and utter wreck. And please remember, this list is only covering the malaise part of the illness, something that has been very prominent since The Big Relapse. It’s not medication withdrawal, because these symptoms are part of the reason I started taking anything to begin with, and it’s not herxing. It’s just disease. It makes me uncomfortable to even type that, but it is what it is. I can’t sugarcoat something like this.

[ETA, 2016 Feb] In Dr. Hyde’s book about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (which back then in 1992 he abbreviated as “M.E./CFS”), he describes our malaise like this, under “Pain Syndromes Associated with [M.E.]”:

” ‘Malaise has probably occurred in every [ME epidemic] described in the literature.’ Malaise is accentuated in the Initial Stage and it recurs for as long as the disease process exists. Malaise is almost impossible to describe. It is often referred to as the pain and discomfort that one has during the acute phase of an influenza. However, it is not always the same. The patient feels terrible, feels as though he is about to die.

“It particularly injures the sensory and dulls the cognitive abilities of the brain. The pain seems to originate everywhere, both on and within the chest and abdominal areas, head and extremities. The rapid muscle and brain fatigue that is normal in [M.E.] becomes accentuated.”

As you can see, what I described when I first posted this in 2013 is almost exactly what Dr. Hyde wrote; I was absolutely floored when I read it, and honestly, most of the book is like this: full of specific, uncanny validation about all the quirky things that occur in this disease. If you have M.E. I highly suggest you buy it while it’s still available.

Some of the other things I wrote are very specific of Lyme disease, such as the burning in my face where the infection damaged multiple nerves, and the “buzzing” sensation, which many Lymies describe as, it’s like you’re sitting atop the hood of a car while it’s running. [/ETA]

I usually feel aghast–but almost in awe–at the reality that a person could possibly feel so horrendous, and helpless at the thought that a hospital–the place you’re raised thinking can always help you during any health crisis–cannot do anything, because there is nothing to stop what’s happening. How do you explain to someone how terrible all that feels, with the word “malaise”?

Several of my friends who also live with Lyme & Company admit to feeling this, some even writing letters or notes to loved ones during the worst “episodes” because they think surely something must be about to go very, very wrong for the human body to give out all these warning signals.

They usually say, “I feel like I’m dying.”

We really do.

The progression of my headaches has been a monster all its own. Their onset began with occipital neuralgia four months after my tick bite, almost seven years ago. Bartonella came with its own, mostly frontal-oriented headaches; I don’t have those any more. But almost without fail, I have had a particularly severe headache for 4-5 consecutive days every four weeks since the Lyme invaded my nervous system. Now, that exacerbation happens about every two weeks, thanks to the Mycoplasma (or at least, I assume).

I used to requite prescription-strength medications for breakthrough pain only a few times a year for the attacks of occipital neuralgia. As things steadily progressed (especially within the past two years), I went from needing them an average of 1-3 days per month, to having 3-week-long bouts of unrelenting head pain which alternated with 3-pain-free weeks, seemingly for no reason. Now, since my relapse in October, I’ve needed them every single day except 1-3 days per month. I guess all of this is why needing them so much frightened me: I wondered–and still wonder–if there is no turning back from this point. Regardless…

This head pain is a throbbing sensation at the back of my head, the base of my skull and down into my neck. I wouldn’t outright call it occipital neuralgia, because my attacks of O.N. are even more severe and almost completely untreatable. But otherwise, it’s just like them. Baby neuralgias? They even exhibit the so-called “ram’s horn pattern,” and the top of my head often goes numb, and I am sensitive to anything touching my scalp. There is no sensitivity to sound, but extreme sensitivity to light. I get bursts of nausea. Since vasculitis has been such a major feature of this relapse, these “headaches” may have some vascular component.

As of right now, later this month my pain management doctor wants to try a shot in my neck. I’m uncertain is he intends a nerve block for O.N. or another route, but since this has gone on so long, it’s time to try something new.


There’s not really a pretty way to close this article. But when I talk about being in pain, to all of this is what I refer.

a rainbow at night

No more minocycline and guilt over happiness.

The reason I have this blog is to keep track of my symptoms and occasionally share a ramble. I never imagined I’d be getting thousands of visitors… Thank you, for your views and your comments, and I sincerely hope the things I’ve written can help someone else. Many of you have shared that they have, and I will always feel blessed by it.

So yes, I need to update on a few things for future reference… The first one being: My brain fog. If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: Flagyl gives me the worst brain fog ever. I’m glad I only take it four days a week. My typing has been fairly atrocious lately (sometimes worse than others) so I apologize in advance if this entry doesn’t come out right. I know some of you have to translate it into your native language and this one might not be.. erm.. see, I can’t even think of how to finish that statement! :\

My eyes have been hurting for weeks. I’m so sensitive to light, and I get stabbing pains in them. I’ve spent the past week in the dark. My nervous system has been very sensitive, in general, since I started treatment, however my eyes don’t usually hurt this much… I’m wondering if the Nasonex has anything to do with it. I’ve taken it for.. probably a decade, now? But I had a two year break, and I don’t recall it having an accompanying Glaucoma Warning in the past…? But it does, now. I’ve stopped needing it, so I stopped it two days ago. Today my eyes ARE better, but it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from that. It’s probably just coincidental timing and I’ll get a severe case of eye pain tonight like I did yesterday, aha. If in the future, however, I start Nasonex and get crazy eye symptoms, I’ll know something.

It would appear that warning-hive I got a few weeks ago held true to its title. On the 12th of May, I got very, very sick, and had to stop all antibiotics. Aside from the fact that I felt completely flu-ish with a severe headache, I’d gotten to the point that I could not eat anything, even drinking water was becoming difficult, and amassed in me shaking, becoming dehydrated, and needing Zofran three times a day to keep my nervous system from having a meltdown. These are the same things that the Doxycycline did to me last year before I was hospitalized for five days. We were worried that the minocycline might do this, too, which is why we’ve been easing into it for all these weeks… It’s clear now that I can no longer handle the tetracyclines. I’m just glad that (1) I knew what was about to happen so I stopped the medicine in time, and (2) that I basically had available to me the same medications that they gave me last year to pull me through it (except re-hydrating took a tad bit longer without an IV). After three “missed” doses of antibiotics I was able to eat a chicken sandwich, and it’s been a steady improvement since then…well, at least in regards to being able to eat and keep food in my system.

Wednesday I couldn’t breathe again, having much the same symptoms as two weeks prior. And I’m still having that problem: I cannot breathe when I sit up, but as long as I’m lying down, I’m pretty much okay, though I still have to gasp for air every so often.

Now, I’ve had flare-ups every two weeks for almost two years, now–since summer of 2010, I believe, when I took grapefruit seed extract (GSE) for a few weeks–so this isn’t too much of a shock. But I usually have Lyme symptoms during those flare ups. This time, I haven’t. At all. I’ve had lung pains, and coughing a lot, and an inability to breathe right. That can’t be Lyme disease?

The reason I assumed the GSE had woken up the Lyme disease when I took it, and gave me flares every two weeks instead of every four weeks, is because GSE is a supposed to be a destroyer of Lyme cysts (i.e., the cysts that the bugs were hiding in, open up and start causing symptoms, then you can kill them with antibiotics)… Well, I’m on Flagyl, which is THE cyst buster, so could that have anything to do with my minor Lyme symptoms during these flares? Or is this not Lyme disease at all, and is it Mycoplasma? My money is on the latter for this particular scenario, given the hive and the breathing problems and lung problems which are all the things that I was worried might happen. :\ Because I tell you, my other symptoms are very mild. Shockingly so. When I was off antibiotics this past week, my neuro symptoms barely even flared up! I’ve been having mild “hot foot” sensations in my right leg, and that’s about it. (My tags say I last had that.. well, let’s just say that every time I’ve mentioned it, I’m also talking about Mycoplasma… The evidence mounts!) Nothing went to attack my arms, nothing started quickly progressing like a starved animal waiting to pounce… That is very exciting, and makes me feel like we’ve at least done something the past four months. As I usually say, time will tell! I’ll keep updating on it, and hopefully a pattern will emerge.

Until then, we just make sure I’m on both Lyme and Mycoplasma antibiotics. So I started Biaxin today! I’ve heard great things about this one, and it treats borrelia burgdorferi and mycoplasma pneumoniae and even bartonella, in the event that some of those critters have survived and are saving up for a revolt. Also, the pills are bright orange!

Ah, and so far, I feel accomplished with my goal to not be advocacy-frenzied. I’ve reposted/retweeted a few things, but that’s about it. Life is good, despite everything. I’m happy, even though I feel like I have society and ten thousand other sources telling me I’m not allowed or shouldn’t be… I’m sick, I’m “supposed” to be complaining about everything, right? Ha. Last week I felt the urge to announce, “I’m so happy to be alive.” Because I was. Because I am. And afterward I felt so odd about it. One friend said, “You feel odd because society tells you to complain about your woes. You’re happy because you see what matters most.” Which is pretty dead-on. Another said that people see someone like me “who is thankful for another day and enjoys life as much as possible, and they make a hateful comment” because they’re trying every materialistic avenue available to them and still can’t feel happiness and appreciation.

I suppose when it comes down to it, I was worried someone would take it in the wrong way, or find a way to interpret it negatively, or think I was just “saying it to be saying it” even though I really do mean it. Also, I didn’t want it to sound conceited? I know people going through minor troubles who are very bothered day in and day out, and I have.. erm, well, a lot of daily troubles and suffering and yet lately I have maintained happiness. It’s just a fact. So I don’t want it to sound like I think I’m better than anyone, or something. Because I used to be bothered by daily insignificant things, too! I’m just so happy to not be that person anymore, to have inner joy no matter what, and I want to keep that balance between expressing that happiness about it, but not rubbing it in everyone’s faces. Then again, I only have so much control over how other people interpret what I say, especially when I know my heart is in the right place: Again, balance.

a rainbow at night

Almost finished with bartonella treatment!!

I used to post much more often than this, I know, but… Things are somewhat monotonous! I don’t have to constantly be on top of symptoms every five to seven days to post updates as regularly. Or at least I don’t think I do… Last month, around the 5th, and then the 10th, I had the same symptoms as this month, around the 5th, and then the 10th… I’m not sure what that’s about.

The past few weeks I’ve still been antsy over my random symptoms. Flu-like, fever (99.5 on the 6th–probable Lyme?), severe headaches, neckaches, dizziness, legs going very weak/requiring wheelchair, POTS, poor mental state. All very possible Lyme symptoms! But this is my last chance to make sure there’s no reliable pattern before we stop the bartonella treatment. These are possibly my last few days on Rifampin, after being on it a year! I also don’t think I’d be able to tolerate a maintenance dose of my Bactrim (i.e., two single-strength tablets per day) plus the Minocycline and Tindamax I think he’s switching me to this week… But! I am comforted by the fact that Minocycline has bacteriostatic action against bartonella (and mycoplasma), so even if there are some remnants, they won’t be able to replicate! :)

At any rate, Lyme is being.. interesting. I have not have a headache for about a week! Which is very ironic, because they’d otherwise become daily events! (Also ironic is I didn’t have a headache the last time I posted!) I just don’t get the bartonella-related headache anymore, the ones that hurt in the front of your head like a sinus headache might. I have about half of the symptoms I had at this time last month. The inflammation is way down so I haven’t needed any ibuprofen. Severe fatigue for several days, weak legs, numbness in my legs, episodes of arthritis, an internal tremor all day yesterday… What has surprised me with its reoccurence is the sensation of a bruise on the back of my left ankle, just like last month! It’s not an actual bruise, I don’t think, because it just spontaneously happened while I was lying down, and then I was limping the rest of the night. It makes no sense, but it’s obviously something Lyme related. It’s like achilles tendonitis that only lasts one night, haha.

I don’t have the results of my thyroid ultrasound yet but the technician said I only had like three little cysts??? That’s very good!

I leave you with a quote from Ralph Marston. :)

“Frustration comes from focusing on what you cannot control.
Achievement, on the other hand, comes from focusing on all the useful and valuable things you can do.

Resentment comes from seeing yourself as a victim.
Effectiveness comes from stepping up and taking responsibility.

If you constantly complain that life is unfair, you’ll blind yourself to the best opportunities.
Yet by simply accepting that what’s done is done, you’ll find a way to make the most of it.

Don’t waste your time arguing and fighting with life.
Instead, invest your time and resources in inspiring and encouraging the best in yourself and in those around you.

There is good, positive, fulfilling value to be lived every day, in any situation.
Choose to be the person who shines a light on that potential value and who brings that value fully to life.

Let go of the frustration, resentment and despair by letting the positive possibilities fill your awareness.
Embrace and enjoy the immense power that comes from taking full, unconditional responsibility for all you are and all you experience.”

a rainbow at night

More rashes?

So first off, HEADACHE TIME. My eyes hurt and the front of my head hurts, but no sound sensitivity. I’ve been using the wheelchair off-and-on the past few days to make things a little easier on myself–whether it’s the joint pain or the blood pressure or just being out of breath at the time, lots of things are making it difficult to get around right now! It’s always easier by evening, though.

After some chatting on the support groups it would seem that my persisting joint pain might actually be bartonella, but the really severe episodes I have where I wake up unable to move my knees might still be Lyme. I haven’t had other instances of that, though I am now generally arthritis-y in every joint, particularly my hips, which is.. not typically Lyme-y to hang around like that? I can’t remember ever having this before. I’ll keep track of it but I’m glad I’m not the only one to experience this during treatment.

But what has startled me to make this post isn’t to rant about the joint pain, which I’ve accepted as a random part of the Bactrim that’s hopefully killing the bugs. No, this is Tuesday, so mid-week flare (previously the Saturday/weekend blues) is upon me. Right now I have another ankle rash. It’s an itchy, slightly rasied red area, with clusters of red pinpricks in it. I also have some other spots on my lower legs, that do not itch, and the red dots on my feet are back as I feared they might do. They’ve been appearing slightly the past few days–so whether it’s Lyme or bart or any combination of things, something is definitely active within me right now. These also do not itch, but some of them are much more prominent/noticable than the last time they sprung up. There are fewer of them, though?

This ankle-cluster-rash is the exact same thing I got a couple weeks before the whole tree thing happened, BEFORE I got re-exposure to the fleas, so I’m more likely to believe it’s something I already had than it being the result of mysterious-new-flea-infection. I don’t know what to make of it. About two weeks ago I got a similar bump-thing above my left knee that looked like a scratchmark, but it wasn’t? It gradually faded away as all of these do.

What exactly is going on, here? Is this another case of “one infection is down so another is going to pop up”? Or is this just another strain/another side of the bartonella infections I’m trying so desperately to eradicate? I’m halfway tempted to make an appointment with my (not-Lyme Literate but still Open-Minded) infectious disease specialist and see what he thinks might be going on. If it were a med reaction, it’d be consistent, wouldn’t it? Not just randomly happen when I’m also experiencing bug-symptoms?

This is confusing. :\

a rainbow at night