In a Petri Dish: Lyme Disease, Part 3.How Chicago Sports Saved My Soul

September, 2003. I was being my usual couch potato, watching the Bears and Sox.  The White Sox were being swept all week by the Twinkies in their dome, as usual.  But it was a team with Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, Joe Crede, Esteban Loiza, Paul Konerko, Jose Valentin, Aaron Rowand, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, and of course, The Big Hurt.  Little did we know there would be significantly better days to come-  sooner than later.

And to make things worse, Da Bears had lost to the Vikings in that same plastic-coated baggie the Sunday before.  If Hubert Humphrey III really had a choice, I seriously doubt he would have appreciated this hollowed-out echo-chamber to be named after him.  I mean, the man stood for some principles, and this structure simply didn’t come close to what Hubert was about.

But they’re my teams, and watching them brought me nearly the only pleasures each day of my life, to get me through my on-going pain, nausea, fatigue, and occasional bouts of paralysis in my left hand and arm.

Finally on that Friday, Sept 19, I called the University of California, Davis, and spoke with a microbiologist, who’d been a primary researcher in Lyme disease for many years. I was referred to him by a friend, and we arranged to talk on the phone.

Our conversation lasted no longer than 10 minutes. He took my history and ended the phone call by telling me that I must be having other medical issues going on.  I asked why.

“Here in the lab, we have put the Lyme bacteria in a petri dish. We insert an antibiotic and within 3 weeks the bacteria are dead. We have replicated this study at UC Irvine and many other labs throughout the country for years.”

I’m stunned, yet gather myself enough. “But that’s in a petri dish, in the best conditions possible.   I’ve got a body,” I reply.

“Sorry, I can’t help you anymore.  The research consistently proves otherwise. The doctors don’t know what they’re doing,” and he hung up.

So – my body is now a piece of plastic with a red bottom, just like I saw in freshman biology class.  No mind. No soul. No dancer. No motherhood. No professorship. No wife, mother, soccer mom, basketball mom, baseball mom, tennis mom, friend, sister, daughter, baseball player, no human being.  Not even a Klingon or Vulcan. What would Gene Roddenberry say?

All my intense, neurological pain, weakness, and wasting away, is just psychological. I don’t fit into his data, period.  I’ve devolved into a petri dish.  The red padding at the bottom blends in well with our red leather couch, from where I watch my beloved Sox, Bulls, and Bears games.

A petri dish, where my lab partner, Hazel, and I, looked at amoeba and paramecium during Freshman biology at Bowen High.  In Miss Biagini’s Honor class, no less. Miss Biagini, who lived at the end of my block on 90th and Clyde.

Almost a year earlier, I had finally been properly diagnosed with Lyme disease,  after being symptomatic for 15 months.  Specifically for all you lab techs, I was given the Western Blot IGg and IGm – with nearly every lab titre positive.  I’m thankful I lived only 4 ½ hrs. from the Igenex Lab in Palo Alto, one of  only seven in the whole country which knows how to REALLY test and culture my blood, filled with all those spirochetes, burrowing into every cell in my body and helping themselves to my neurons in my brain.

And it was because of my love of NFL football that I finally knew I just didn’t have the only diagnosis the docs could come up with: menopause.  I mean, really, it’s so ironic, but truth be told, that had I NOT loved watching Marino v. Elway for 18 years, would I have known to scream out and know there was something really really wrong with me.

Rewind 11 months earlier to Sunday night, October 13, 2002 :  Miami Dolphins v. Denver Broncos.   Football is in full force. The Bears are having another miserable season, even with Marty Booker, Jim Miller as QB, Mike Brown, Olin Kruetz, and of course our reliable Patrick Mannelly.  But who cares?  Should I?

That's scary.  I didn’t know if I should care or not.  I’m scared. Really scared.  My memory is going.  I forget what errand I’m running when I go to the store.  What store am I driving to?  Where is my list?  What am I doing in the car now? Why did I walk from the kitchen to the living room? For what?

There was a time where I had 10 errands to run, with 10 things to do at each errand, publish a paper, prepare 3 lectures, grade papers, see clients, take the kids to their games, get dinner going, and remember to call my sister or mom that evening.

Now, I can’t even remember the names of those great QBs on Denver and Miami who had that fabulous rivalry. And I find myself crying – and running to my husband’s office, leaving the couch and the game.

“What? What’s wrong,” with fear in his eyes, as David has had all along, in this horrific journey with me.

“What’s the names of the great quarterbacks of the Dolphins and Broncos, who played against each other for so many years?” I’m screaming at this point.

“Uh, you mean John Elway and Dan Marino?” he answers.

I’m stunned. First, because he knew their names, but more importantly, that ME, of all people, couldn’t remember THIS.  Me, the sports-crazed South Side Sports Chick.

“David, something is really really wrong with me!  How could I, of all people, not remember their names?  I’m watching the game right now, of their teams, and I couldn’t even remember.  Oh God!  What are we going to do?

“We’ll call Dan tomorrow.  He has specialized with hard-to-diagnose diseases.”

David just holds me while I’m sobbing.  How is all this happening?  How is my life coming to this?  Dan was David’s boyhood friend, growing up together from Bethlehem, PA. Dan became a doctor and lived in upstate Massachusetts.

And we talked to Dan. And he knew. And he told me what to do, & where to send my blood to get tested. We got the right diagnosis, Dan got me on 2 antibiotics and 1 anti-parasitic medication, and at least started me on my comeback to life, with a few years of some of the most excruciating neurological pain still to come.

But I got my 2005 White Sox.  And I got my 4 seats for all the playoff games through family “connections.”  And I nearly got arrested by a Chicago traffic cop at game 1 v. Boston when we were trying to find parking before the game. And Paulie’s grand slam came screaming 5 feet above us in the rain, in game 2 v. Houston.

I guess there was something about dissociating from pain and sleepless nights, that allowed me to enjoy those precious moments with my teams in the ballpark, especially with my family at my side.

So I’ll fondly remember how Hazel and I mostly talked about her life in The Manor, and mine near CVS, & “who was making out with whom, or going all the way with each other,” even while I did the dissecting of the earthworms and frogs, while she checked off each step. It was this social interaction together, that taught us the value of friendship, caring, and mutuality .

I only wish these nationally acclaimed microbiologists would step out of their labs and learn what two 14 yr old girls valued about interpersonal connection, besides what was under the microscope.  But I’m not just a petri dish to them.  I’m a Borg.

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