Tag Archives: Coronavirus and Lyme disease

Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 3

by Jennifer Crystal

Since writing “Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 1” and following up with a sequel a few weeks later, I’ve received many emails from those who wonder how I’m doing. In this post, I will give an update on my health, and also speak to some of the lessons I’ve learned while battling presumed COVID-19. 

My COVID-19 symptoms started with vomiting on March 11. I then developed a low-grade fever, dry hacking cough, and shortness of breath. After two weeks, I started to feel better—though I never quite shook the cough—and then a second wave hit: the low-grade fever returned and the cough worsened. During week four, I completely lost my ability to taste and smell. 

My Part 2 update was during week five. My sense of taste was starting to come back—I could discern if something tasted bitter or salty, though I could not yet determine flavor—and I could not smell a thing. I then developed sinus congestion for over a week. After that went away, my sense of taste came back fully, and my sense of smell started to return. First, I noticed intense scents like cleaning fluid. I couldn’t distinguish the particular scent of a candle, but I could tell it smelled like wax. Slowly, blissfully, my olfactory system returned to full working order. I can smell everything now, from the pungent odors of brown bananas or tuna to gentler and more pleasant smells like muffins and oatmeal. 

Besides a newfound appreciation for the senses of taste and smell, battling COVID-19 has given me increased gratitude for my body’s ability to heal. Like recovery from tick-borne illnesses, the process has not been linear. My fever went away and came back more times than I can count. I met the seventy-two hours fever-free” guideline for ending quarantine over and over again. Sometimes the fever would come back five days later. Sometimes seven. During one stretch, I went two and a half weeks without fever, only for it to return. As of this writing, I have been fever-free for three weeks, and truly feel that I am past that point of infection.

In fact, my doctor thinks I am past active infection entirely, and will soon run an antibody test and other biomarker tests to support that supposition. Clinically, the only symptom that lingers is the cough, which is improving slowly. I still get short of breath after exertion, and unloading the dishwasher or talking for an hour can leave me winded. However, my chest x-ray was clear, so my doctor feels I am dealing with residual lung inflammation, likely worsened by the inflammation already present in my body as a result of Lyme disease. Thanks to supplements that target this inflammation, as well as a continued anti-inflammatory diet, occasional use of an inhaler, and lots of tea with honey, the cough has become less frequent and shallower. In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I haven’t coughed once.

Moreover, no longer do I feel sick. During the weeks when the fever would relapse, I felt overall malaise. It wasn’t the same as the extreme exhaustion of acute Lyme, but my energy was low. Standing made my legs feel heavy, not to the extent that they do during a babesia flare, but still, it was an ache that made my bones hurt and sent me back to the couch (but not to bed). In the last couple weeks, I have started feeling much more like myself. It will take time to rebuild my stamina, but I can now walk a block without getting winded or tired. As with tick-borne illnesses, I have good days and bad days, sometimes feeling like I take two steps forward and then one step back. Still, I am moving in the right direction. I have every intention of being able to kayak and paddleboard by the end of the summer!

You might ask, after 90+ days of convalescence, why I’m feeling grateful for my body’s ability to heal. The answer is that I am not alone in this long-haul recovery from COVID-19. A recent article in The Atlantic entitled “COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months” tells of thousands of patients like me who got sick in March and who are still battling residual symptoms. Some are worse off than I am. Most are relatively young and were previously healthy and fit with no preexisting conditions. And that is precisely why I am so pleasantly surprised by how well my body has fared with COVID-19. Despite underlying conditions of Lyme, babesia, Ehrlichia, and Epstein-Barr virus, my recovery has been similar to if not better than thousands of healthy people with relatively mild cases of COVID-19. 

The other good news I have to report is that my underlying infections do not seem to be flaring as a result of COVID-19. I admit there were a couple of weeks when I thought they were worsening, especially when I couldn’t shake the fever or fatigue. But like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, my doctor said it was not time to worry yet”—and he was right. 

This experience has reminded me to have faith in my body. It has reminded me to listen to it: to rest when I need to rest, not to push myself until I am ready, to care for myself gently. And as with my tick-borne illnesses, this self-care has paid off. As a Lyme patient, I have fought COVID-19 and landed on my own two feet.

Additional COVID-19 and Lyme Disease Resources:

GLA POV: Parallel Pandemics: COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Blog: Q&A on COVID-19 and Lyme Disease with LLMD
Blog: Personal Patient Experience with COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Video: Webinar with Dr. Cameron and Lyme-COVID-19 patient
Letter: GLA CEO Addresses COVID-19 and GLA Community
Letter: GLA Chairman on What We Can Learn from COVID-19 Response

jennifer crystal_2

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her at lymewarriorjennifercryst[email protected].

patient story_covid-19_lyme

Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 2

by Jennifer Crystal

I have been battling COVID-19 symptoms for almost five weeks. I have had Lyme disease and two tick-borne co-infections—babesia and ehrlichia—for twenty-three years, though my tick-borne diseases went undiagnosed for the first eight of those years. Having COVID-19 on top of tick-borne illnesses has been nerve-wracking, but as I explained in my Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 1, it has also been for the most part manageable. 

This post is an update on how I’m doing and what I’ve learned so far, which I hope will have relevance for my fellow Lyme warriors. I’ve realized there are many similarities between fighting Lyme and COVID-19, and I hope that discussing them here will give Lyme patients hope and strength in a time of fear and uncertainty.

At the time of my first post, I’d been sick for two weeks. The first week had progressed as many mild to moderate COVID-19 cases have; it started with vomiting, then a night later I developed fever, then on the day after that, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Those symptoms persisted for the first week. Then the fever broke, and stayed away for the second week, and the cough lessened. Shortness of breath became less apparent. It seemed I was getting better and nearing recovery.

Then, as with Lyme disease, the novel coronavirus threw me a curve. At the start of the third week, my low-grade fever suddenly returned, and the cough became deeper and more frequent. That weekend, I lost my sense of taste, and then my sense of smell. It is  not like when you have a cold and those senses are dulled. Right now, for instance, I can’t detect flavors, though I am starting to be able to  tell if something is sweet or salty or bitter. Smell, on the other hand is completely gone. I hold spices, scented candles, cans of tuna, and brown bananas under my nostrils. I smell absolutely nothing. 

“Doesn’t that usually happen at the onset of COVID-19?” one person asked me. For some patients, it is a first or only sign of COVID-19. For others, the loss of taste or smell symptoms develop later in the disease progression, sometimes a week in, sometimes two or even three weeks in. A family member of mine who tested positive for COVID-19 lost her sense of taste and smell at about the same point in her infection as I did. She got it back a week later. 

I’m still waiting for mine to return, but I’m not worried. Because of my underlying conditions (in addition to three tick-borne diseases, I also have chronic Epstein-Barr virus), it always takes me longer than the average healthy person to get over an acute illness. Sniffles for one person can be a multi-week cold or sinus infection for me. But the important part is that I always get better, and my doctors have full confidence that I’ll beat COVID-19, too. It’s just going to take time.

I’ve written in the past about healing not being linear, especially with the ups and downs of tick-borne illness. I realize that the same is true for my COVID-19 recovery. My fever has gone away, and has then come back, and gone away again. My cough has gotten better, then worse, then better again. Each new wave brings fatigue and frustration, but it also brings me a step closer to recovery. The periods between fevers are becoming longer. I hardly notice my shortness of breath now, unless I’ve been teaching (remotely) for hours or I exert myself. When I was at a low point with Lyme, it was hard to see that I was still making progress, incremental though it was, I was in fact doing so.  That experience helps me to see how I’m slowly making progress with my COVID-19 recovery, too. 

Others have lost their battles with COVID-19, and my heart goes out to their families. I recognize that even though my case has dragged on, I have been lucky. COVID-19 may impact an acute Lyme patient differently than a normal healthy person. Though there’s great variance in how each person’s immune system responds to COVID-19, too little is known about it, just as too little is known about how each Lyme patient will react to Lyme treatment. But we can’t let a fear of worst-case scenarios overpower us. That type of anxiety is a feeding ground for spirochetes, the bacteria that causes Lyme.   

I want to say again that so far, COVID-19 has not noticeably impacted my underlying infections. I haven’t had a flare-up of Lyme achiness or joint pain, or neurological impairment. The fatigue of COVID-19 feels like the fatigue I’d usually feel with a cold or the flu, not the tormenting fatigue of Lyme. My doctors can’t yet say how COVID-19 will affect my underlying infections in the long-term. With Lyme disease, there are so many unknowns, but right now I feel like I’m anecdotal proof that a Lyme warrior can weather a mild to moderate case of COVID-19.

If you’d like to hear more about my experiences with Lyme and COVID-19, watch the Q&A webinar I did with Dr. Cameron on April 16th.

Be well, fellow Lyme warriors. 

Additional COVID-19 and Lyme Disease Resources:

Blog: Corona Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 1
Blog: Corona With a Twist of Lyme Part 3
GLA POV: Parallel Pandemics: COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Blog: Q&A on COVID-19 and Lyme Disease with LLMD
Letter: GLA CEO Addresses COVID-19 and GLA Community

jennifer crystal_2

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her at [email protected].