A Bite of Reality An SLP’s bout with Lyme disease helped her better understand the frustrations of clients undergoing similar medical uncertainty. First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page  |   August 01, 2014
A Bite of Reality
Author Notes
  • Lori Duncan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in a private practice clinic in Texarkana Texas. cartsyd@aol.com
    Lori Duncan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in a private practice clinic in Texarkana Texas. cartsyd@aol.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Special Populations / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   August 01, 2014
A Bite of Reality
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.19082014.88
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.19082014.88
After finding and removing a tick from the back of my head, I gave little thought to how that bite would change my life forever. I recall initially being concerned, but no immediate problems arose so I dismissed the thought of any ill effects.
Weeks after discovering the tick, I began experiencing frequent headaches, infections, flu-like symptoms and fatigue. As months progressed, I was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy and began experiencing slurred speech, facial numbness, fluctuating global muscle weakness, vision changes, dizziness, swallowing problems, muscle and joint pain, and muscle twitching. I was extremely concerned by this time because doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. At my worst, I experienced brain fog, memory and attention problems, and word-finding and spelling difficulties. My neurologist ordered multiple MRIs, CT scans and blood panels, which all came back with no answers.
Medications made little to no improvement in my symptoms; in fact, the symptoms persisted and worsened. The symptoms’ severity fluctuated, and some days my body seemed to be healing while other days seemed dismal and worsening. Depression began to root into the symptoms, and I withdrew and isolated myself from social interaction. I also was isolated because of the fatigue and other symptoms, which allowed me to function only for short periods of time every day.
I began treating my Bell’s palsy and swallowing problems with speech intervention. It took mental and physical energy to articulate words precisely because of the muscle and nerve involvement. It was extremely frustrating and embarrassing. I had never seen one of my patients experiencing these symptoms without an etiology, so I was very concerned. I began researching disorders and their symptoms when my energy level would allow.
One day, I discovered the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and read stories of patients suffering from it. It was one disease I had not been tested for. I asked my neurologist to run the Lyme panel. I had markers for the disease and many of the symptoms. I did not know how I was going to get better. Most patients with Lyme disease take long-term rounds of antibiotics, and I had already taken many rounds of antibiotics as my symptoms persisted. I felt my immune system could not tolerate any more, and that antibiotics were not the answer to my healing. I wanted to boost my immune system so it would fight for me.
During my illness, I was reunited with a friend from college who is a chiropractor. We established a care plan to allow my body to heal. My care plan addressed diet changes, supplementation, an exercise program, stress-reduction strategies and taking care of my nervous system. Postural changes were also part of the plan, and I continued speech intervention. I rediscovered that I suffered from a moderate degree of scoliosis, so I underwent intensive corrective chiropractic care to help straighten my spine. This treatment helped with my pain management and helped me function daily. Healing was not immediate and required dedication, but I am a testament that my body has healed. Today I feel better than I did before I was infected.
As speech-language pathologists and audiologists, we need to know the causes for the symptoms our patients are exhibiting. I have been a patient with a communication and swallowing disorder. I have personally experienced how frustrating and socially isolating it can be, especially when there is no known reason for it. I have learned to be more compassionate toward and empathetic for my patients because I know how difficult it is to slowly become disabled. We must become more aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease, as we may be the first avenue to help diagnose it.
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August 2014
Volume 19, Issue 8