Featuring Shelley Marshall
Lyme disease is something that most of us probably don’t think much about until it affects us or someone we know. That certainly was the case with me, and what I thought I knew about this disease was far from accurate. Prior to getting Lyme disease, I thought it was something that you could get when you are hiking in the woods or camping and one would immediately find the tick and/or a bulls-eye rash. I also thought the main symptom was only fatigue, and after a round of antibiotics you would be okay. Well, in 2013, my theories were proven wrong, and my life changed in an instant.
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The Early Signs
In November 2012, I was on a business trip in Las Vegas and I recall waking up in the middle of the night, hot and in a soaking sweat. I also was extremely tired and could not get myself to leave the hotel room and explore this fun city. I just didn’t feel right and my energy disappeared. It seemed to be a cycle that would follow for the remainder of the year and into the next. Sometimes I felt fine, but mostly I felt lethargic in conjunction with headaches, body aches, and pain in my chest and under my arms. I also t the flu twice, despite having the flu shot. I chalked it up to overdoing it: a busy, active single mom, and well … I was getting older so perhaps this was just life!
Expect the Unexpected
That summer, I decided to take my daughter to the beach for a nice, relaxing vacation … or so I thought. It was our second night on vacation and I couldn’t sleep, I woke up drenched in sweat, my nose was stuffy, my eye kept watering and my ears hurt. I felt lousy but forged on to enjoy a well-deserved vacation. But at the end of the trip, I went to freshen up in the mirror before dinner and was astonished at my reflection. I couldn’t close my left eye, the left side of my forehead was frozen and stiff and my smile was crooked I thought I was having a stroke or a reoccurrence of a brain tumor that I had recovered from in my twenties. Immediately I went to the ER and spent the remainder of the vacation in the hospital where they put me through a variety of neurological tests.
I soon learned that I had Bell’s palsy. After a series of blood tests, Lyme disease was discovered as the root cause. My test showed that I had both an older infection from Lyme and a more recent infection. I couldn’t believe I contracted Lyme disease twice and never knew it.
But I was never bit by a tick, never saw a tick on my body, never t the bulls-eye rash and yet, now my face was half-paralyzed …. How could this be Lyme disease? I quickly learned that perception is not reality.
The Road to Recovery
In the week that followed, I was treated with steroids to help the damaged nerve in my face and received a round of oral antibiotics for Lyme disease. I had to sleep with my eye taped shut and eating and drinking was a challenge. It was difficult to out in public or explain to my six-year-old why mommy looked so strange. While I was told that my Bell’s palsy might heal in a matter of two weeks, nothing was changing. Another misconception not everyone recovers from Bell’s palsy in two weeks and some don’t recover at all.
After visiting PinnacleHealth Infectious Disease Associates, I had a small procedure to have a port placed under my skin in order to have six weeks of daily intravenous (I.V.) antibiotics administered to combat the Lyme disease. I also had weekly sessions with an acupuncturist, as I had spoken with a few people who had had some success with recovery from Bell’s palsy through acupuncture. But my progress was slow, painfully slow it took six months for my Bell’s palsy to away, although I never fully recovered. The fatigue and other symptoms took even longer to recover well over a year.
Still, I feel blessed for getting back to nearly 100%. Most people today would not even know I ever had Bell’s palsy to look at me.
I was hesitant at first about ing public with my story, but feel it is important to share this experience in the hope that others can learn the serious nature of Lyme disease and maybe raise awareness of what is typical or not. I also gained valuable lessons through all of this, both about Lyme disease and life itself. So here they are:
Lyme Lesson 1: You don’t have to be out hiking or camping to be bit by a tick.
I’ll never know for sure where and when I encountered a tick … both times but I suspect it was when I was mowing my lawn a normal everyday activity. Now I know to be more vigilant in checking for ticks and wearing tick repellant when I outside. I also have my lawn treated for ticks each spring.
Lyme Lesson 2: You may have Lyme disease and never get a typical warning sign.
I never saw a single tick on my body. I never got a bulls-eye rash or any rash for that matter. I had no idea I had Lyme until it t severe. I had warning signs but blew them off as overdoing it or getting older. Now I know what to look for and when to the doctor and hopefully treat it before it progresses. Don’t assume and trust your instincts.
Lyme lesson 3: A tiny tick can cause a lot more damage than I realized.
I had no idea Lyme Disease could wreak such havoc on the body – from neurological to cardiac issues to issues far worse than what happened to me. Lyme disease can cause severe, permanent life-altering damage. It really isn’t something any of us should take lightly or chalk up to treating once with a round of antibiotics because sometimes that is not enough.
Life Lesson 4: Find your work/life balance.
Even though I had an “excuse” for being tired, I never knew it and never really slowed down. Getting Lyme and having to be treated with IV antibiotics forced me to check myself and how I was managing my life. I learned to really slow down, focus on healing, and balancing life better than I ever had been able to in my past. When you are forced to do it, you realize that is possible to have a balanced life. Doing so makes it that much better, productive, and enjoyable.
Life Lesson 5: Don’t take your smile or laugh lines for granted.
Through this experience, I was able to teach my daughter a valuable lesson about beauty and loving yourself. I have always been hard on myself about my appearance. I would imagine most women are because of society’s perception and pressures of what ideal beauty is. But when I got Bell’s palsy, I longed every day just to look like what I did before. I didn’t need to change the way I looked. It was only when I lost my smile did I realize I was perfect just the way I was. I also began to accept that I may not get better, so I had to truly look within and focus on those traits that make people truly beautiful: kindness, strength, selflessness, laughter, and love. I was fortunate too, to have a strong support system that exuded those traits as I went through this to reinforce what was truly important beyond the surface.
While I have recovered 90% from Lyme disease and Bell’s palsy I carry what I learned from having this disease with me every day. I know to be more vigilant for checking for ticks and wearing my repellant. I know when to call my doctor when something doesn’t feel right. And while my smile is still a little crooked, I am confident all of life’s little imperfections are perfectly fine.
About UPMC Harrisburg
UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.