One of the strange side effects of those with chronic Lyme disease is that we don’t tend to get a lot of colds. In fact, the last time I can remember having a cold was in 2011, when I visited Brighton, England to speak at the Full Frontal conference. The visit happened to be during November and I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the damp, cold temperatures I was met with when I arrived. I then proceeded to have a horrible cold for most of my time in England, including during my talk (for which I had a bottle of highly alcoholic cough syrup tucked behind the podium to sip on instead of water). But after that, I can’t remember having another cold.
My doctor said that those in my situation rarely get colds because the immune system is too suppressed to react to viruses. That doesn’t mean we don’t have those viruses taking root in our body, just that we aren’t developing a cold to kill them off. So while my family, friends, and colleagues were getting colds periodically, I went years without one. That is, until April of this year (2016).
I had grown more worried about my condition as I seemed to be accumulating symptoms. For instance, I found that I was constantly blowing my nose and coughing due to a seemingly endless amount of post-nasal drip. I kept a brown paper grocery bag next to my recliner into which I deposited several used tissues each hour, resulting in my using roughly five large tissue boxes a month.
Additionally, I found my body temperature to be completely out of control during sleep. I typically ran a bit hot, but during the fall and winter I had used my air conditioner every single night. On nights when I attempted to sleep without the air conditioner, I’d wake up between 2am and 3am sweating (sometimes this happened even with the air conditioner on). I kept turning the air conditioner temperature lower in a desperate attempt to stay cool.
All of this had been going on for several months and my doctor didn’t have any useful explanation. There are a lot of viruses and bacteria infected me at the moment and any one of them can cause any number of symptoms. We can try some symptomatic relief, he told me, but we probably can’t expect much to change until we’ve successfully fought off the remaining infections.
And so I waited, getting used to coughing, blowing my nose constantly, and needing to use my air conditioner every night even when the overnight temperature was 60 degrees (F) or lower.
My parents had come for a visit in April, marking the first time my father had visited since I moved to California ten years ago. He doesn’t like to travel much, but my mom had convinced him to visit with her since they were both already going to Arizona. It’s unfortunate that my dad’s first visit had to happen when I was too sick to do anything, but we tried to make the best of it.
It was a Sunday night when, right before, I noticed I had a sore throat. “Uh oh,” I told my mom, “I think I’m getting a cold.”
My dad left on Monday while mom was staying for another couple of weeks, and it was a good thing she did because neither of us could anticipate how bad my cold would get.
The sore throat gave way to a horrible cough and constantly running nose. The congestion, headache, and bodyaches signaled that I was in the midst of what many would describe as a normal, miserable cold. It was the type of sick that made you want to stay in bed all day, eat only chicken soup, and ask your mom to take care of you. And thankfully she did.
For the next nine days I struggled with the cold. My coughing got so bad that I spent two nights sleeping in my recliner because I couldn’t stop coughing while lying down. The rest of the nights required three pillows to lift my head high enough to avoid coughing. Of course, none of those nights were very restful and so I continued feeling awful until I was finally able to sleep again.
When my body had finally fought off whatever awful virus had afflicted it, I started noticing changes. First, my body temperature seemed to have evened out. For the first time in a long time I was able to sleep through the night without waking up sweating. I no longer needed the air conditioning on every night, and I experienced the first warm night’s sleep I could remember in a while.
Additionally, my nose wasn’t nearly as stuffy anymore. The paper bag next to my recliner now takes over a month to fill to the top whereas I was changing it every couple of days previously. There just wasn’t as much of a need to blow my nose (something I had attributed to allergies). Last, I found that speaking was easier. Previously, it always seemed that I had to talk over a bunch of mucous in my throat, and suddenly my throat felt clear.
I’m not sure exactly what happened during this cold from hell, but it seemed like my body had finally figured out a way to fight off something that had been making me feel worse for a long time. In the war against chronic Lyme infection, it’s rare to see so decisive a win in battle, so this gave me hope. Hope that my body was finally starting to turn around, recognize and attack some of the invaders that have clearly been living here for so long.