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Mystery Illness

The ABC’S of Nutrition & Health

By Dr. Joanne T. Gjelsten

Mystery Illness


It may start as just some fatigue. Well we all have that at times, don’t we? So you take some things that have helped in the past, and feel somewhat better, but you’re not out there hiking, biking, and you’re making yourself ski, at least that’s how it went for me. This isn’t me, but maybe I’m out of shape. So I get on a bicycle with my friend Betty, a tandem bike, and do a short trip out to the Piermont Pier. My thigh muscles went into a spasm that wasn’t normal. I stretched while lying down and my calfs went into a spasm. And it got worse, traveling up my body, alarming me such that a trip to the ER was next. After many Docs, negative tests, and no diagnosis, (one Doc wanted to put me on Prozac!), four months later something finally came up, EVEN THOUGH IT HAD BEEN TESTED FOR LAST MAY, and was negative at the time! HME aka Human Monocytic Erlichiosis. In the meantime, we were trying to rule out the scary muscle diseases, like ALS, MS, and Myesthenia Gravis. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a nightmare when you’ve got something that Docs begin to think is “all in your head”. But I knew it was a tick-borne infection, except I suspected Lyme, which still hasn’t, at this writing been ruled out. Erlichiosis is also a co-infection of Lyme Disease, along with Bartonella, and Babesiosis. Take this lesson from my experience friends. If at first you don’t get a positive test, keep testing at intervals. My test for this infection wasn’t positive for months! Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s “all in your head”, as some have heard, unless of course it is, but you don’t know who you are anyway, so never mind. These co-infections can have many different symptoms, but they all seem to give patients unbelievable fatigue. I had to take a nap or two every day for a while.

Dr. Jo has learned so much from this experience! I continued to work throughout, as I had enough energy for my practice, but not for anything else, or the fun stuff I like. My sailboat is still sitting in the driveway, and I’ve lost the year in activity that I love so much, as I know this will take time to recover from. I think every Doc should know what this feels like, for a day, or even an hour. It’s a humbling experience, and one I won’t soon forget. What kept me going these last months was my work, which I love and am fully engaged in as I do it, my friends, who I realized are my “tribe”, who went with me to the Docs, took me out to lunch, and did everything and more to make me feel better, and my wonderful partner Paula, who’s Mom had just died a week prior to this happening to me. When I got the diagnosis, I went to have my morning coffee to a pretty place to think about what had happened to me, not knowing that it would provide me with a scene that I wrote as it was happening. Here it is:                                                                                         

                                                                         Broken Wing

By Dr. Joanne T. Gjelsten

There were six of them all tolled-seven counting Broken Wing on the shore. They came from parts unknown, as they floated down in formation across the large muddy pond in the soft breeze of summer, far from where she was pecking grass on a flat shore. They drifted toward her, curious, or planning to drive her further inland? Stopping just short of the shore, their sentinel perched on a rock, the rest lining the edge, just inches apart, and they picked and plucked as she slowly waddled, stopping and preening on the way; no danger here, toward them. She seemed glad for the company, not wanting to be seen as a threat, inching closer.

I wondered what they knew of her. Did they see it happen? Was it a dog, or a coyote, or a car that left her helpless on the shore? So busy they were. Little feather sails blew away from the group. A passerby would never know she wasn’t part of the group, her broken wing facing away from the road. I tried not to move in my truck lest they were scared away, and she’d be alone once again. I knew now, after enduring four-plus months of my own version of a broken wing, how important companionship, your own kind, is to your survival.

They pulled on their feathers in unison, over and over, checking and re-checking, until they grew tired and still, taking a cue from Sentinel, as they stopped one by one, heads turned back into the nest of their own backs. She knew it would soon be time for them to go, so gave them permission as she slowly made her way apart, turning her back to them. One by one, they entered the water, Sentinel holding out to the very last, reluctant it seemed to leave her. They milled around until he hopped in and started away.

Just as they did, Broken Wing turned, alarmed now, changing her mind, waddling after them on the shore, trying, and failing, to keep up the pace as they paddled along the shore. “Wait for me” she seemed to say. Two of them, stopped, seemed to discuss the matter, and turned back toward her, climbing the now steep bank where she stood. The others waited in the shade of a bush overhanging the pond, while the three of them grazed above, joining them at last.

They had come back for her; the decision had been made, all together again, enjoying the grass and the sun. I didn’t have to worry about her for now.

I started my truck, drying my tears, filled with this little story of survival and hope and friendship, which I offer as thanks to all who have helped me, and continue to offer their companionship as I begin to mend my own broken wing.

There is no greater medicine than that of friendship and understanding.


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August 11, 2016
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Joanne Gjelsten

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