Wednesday, August 20, 2008


My naturopath, Carolyn Humphreys, is moving to California. I got the letter in the mail yesterday, and at first I simply stared at it in disbelief. In one month, she will be gone—simply gone. I read the letter over three times, but by the third time it still said the same thing. She was leaving.

How could this be happening? There wasn’t the tiniest hint until now that she was planning this, and in her letter there was no explanation as to why, beyond wanting warmer weather.

Warmer weather? What about all her patients? Including me? How will I get better from Lyme disease without her?

I was glad, at least, that my mother was with me when I opened the mail. She is here visiting for a few days, and she is one of those people whose presence is simply reassuring. With her by my side, I can face things.

Carolyn, too, is one of those people. In fact, at times she has felt like the only person Seattle who was there for me. If my illness has been like crossing the stormy North Atlantic on a perpetual winter night, then Carolyn was the ministering Angel, descending from a dark sky on vast white wings, a chalice of healing elixir in one hand and in the other a fiery sword, illuminating the way.

I first met Carolyn in 2004, when I came to the Seattle suburbs to see Dr. X. At the time, it seemed X was my last, desperate hope for recovering from the unknown illness that had taken over my life.

Carolyn was working as Dr. X’s assistant. She is a naturopath, and I barely knew what that was. It turns out that Seattle is the country’s center for naturopathic medicine, since Bastyr University (a mecca for alternative medicine) is here. In Seattle, going to a naturopath is as common as going to an MD. Naturopaths undergo extensive training, as complete as a medical doctor’s. They are able to write prescriptions for most pharmaceuticals, but their preference is to look at a patient holistically, to bring the body into balance with diet, vitamins, supplements and other alternative therapies, instead of covering up symptoms the way western medicine usually does.

When I was working with Dr. X, my primary relationship was with Carolyn, not with Dr. X. I saw X every three weeks, and I saw Carolyn about twice a week.

Carolyn was always cheerful and reassuring, no matter how badly I was feeling. My appointments with her were often an hour or longer, including craniosacral therapy, massage, acupressure and homeopathy. We often giggled and laughed our way through, talking about all sorts of things besides my treatment.

I was devastated when in 2005 she decided to leave X’s office. I considered going with her, but she didn’t have a practice set up, and I decided I would stay with Dr. X because she had more experience. I thought I would never see Carolyn again.

In 2006 I decided myself to leave Dr. X, for the same reasons that almost all of her staff and patients left her. (More on that another day.)

I had lost all my trust in X, and at the same time I had no idea where else to turn. X was the only doctor who had ever helped me in all the long years of my illness. I didn’t even know where to begin looking for a new doctor.

And then I heard that Carolyn had at last set up her own practice. Before I made the final break with X, I went to see Carolyn. She suggested a couple MDs for me, but in the end it was Carolyn who turned into my primary doctor. I had to work also with Dr. David Busher to continue my heparin therapy, but so many of the other therapies that I had done with X and wanted to continue, Carolyn was expert in.

Unlike Dr. X, Carolyn was always receptive to my input and agreed that treatment had to be manageable. If it was so complex and demanding that it used up all my energy, or kept me from leaving the house, what was the point? Thus we cut out many of the extraneous or cumbersome therapies that X had insisted on.

When I left Dr. X I thought all that I needed was to continue the program X had put me on, and I would eventually get better. Carolyn knew better. After a few months, she pushed me to do more.

“This program is good, but it’s only managing the Lyme, not treating it,” she told me. “And I don’t know enough about Lyme to treat it myself, so you need to go to someone else.” And she gave me Dr. Martin Ross’s name.

Dr. Ross gave me two options: a more intense herbal treatment of Lyme than I had done so far, or high dose antibiotics. Since I was already on an herbal treatment plan and had ceased to make progress, I decided on the antibiotics.

I continued to see Carolyn for all the supplements and other therapies that have supported me through the difficulty of treating Lyme. Throughout it all she been caring, sympathetic, open to my own suggestions and understanding of my needs.

And most importantly, her treatments work. Whatever problem I come to her with, she has a solution and it works. When I have insomnia, she gets me sleeping again. When I am exhausted because my thyroid is low, she has something natural or herbal that gives me energy and brings my next blood test right up to normal. She has been the most reliable, effective health practitioner I have ever had in my life.

I have always thought, as long as I live in Seattle, I will have Carolyn and she will help me with whatever health problem I have, or the Poet has, or my friends have.

And now, what will I do without her?

Now I have to believe there will be another doctor or naturopath in Seattle who can step into her role, because I believe I can get better from this illness. There must be a way.

Friday, August 15, 2008


My name is Naomi Adams. I was born in 1972 in Washington, DC, and I now live in Seattle, Washington.

In 1998, while I was working as a freelance journalist in Mexico City, I began to have a series of small health problems that lingered and gathered into a mysterious, overpowering fatigue. Unable to keep up with my writing, I told my editors I was taking a break and I moved back to my parents’ house in DC. By then it was late 1999. A few months later I was bitten by a tick while I was spending the weekend in Maryland.

Since I didn’t get a bulls-eye rash, and my parents often got tick bites in the same place with no ill effects, I never considered that I could have Lyme disease. Instead, my increasing fatigue seemed to be the continuation of whatever mysterious thing had happened to me in Mexico.

I went from doctor, to acupuncturist, to doctor, looking for a cure. Each practitioner had a different explanation of what was making me sick, and each explanation, with its accompanying promise of returned health, made perfect sense to me, much more sense than the actual reality of my daily life: that I got exhausted after standing up for twenty seconds, that my head hurt when I read and my whole body cringed at the sound of a truck going by on the street.

But the explanations and the treatments all lead nowhere and I was left, over and over, in utter despair, often more fatigued than when I started, and on the verge of accepting that I might just have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a diagnosis that was nothing more than a life sentence: no elucidation as to why I was sick, and no known treatment.

I never quite gave in to the trap of that diagnosis, although I did, in time, accept the reality of my mysterious illness and learn how to manage its symptoms. I figured out how to cope, even if I couldn’t figure out how to get better.

In 2004, I traveled with my mother to the Seattle suburbs to see Dr. X. She was the first doctor to make lasting improvements in my health, but she did not cure me. I left Dr. X in 2006 and turned to the naturopath Carolyn Humphreys, who has been my guardian angel ever since (and I write that last sentence knowing the full extent of its corniness).

At Carolyn’s urging, I went to see Dr. Martin Ross, in West Seattle, who had recently begun treating patients for Lyme disease. Dr. Ross explained to me that all my health problems, which McCombs and then Carolyn had been treating one by one with supplements and alternative therapies, were due to Lyme Diseases. Lyme attacks almost every system in the body, from the adrenals to the immune system to brain function.

In July of 2007 I began antibiotic therapy for Lyme. One year later, as I start this blog, I can walk for 45 minutes without getting tired. I am learning how to cook delicious, healthy food, and I am growing organic vegetables in my garden. I go swing dancing twice a week, I laugh with my friends and I dance—I dance for hours!

I also have bad days and bad weeks, when I can’t go out and cry from despair. I always take two naps a day, struggle with insomnia, and pour what seems an unfair amount of my energy into keeping track of the 30 or so supplements and herbs I take daily.

I don’t know when I will be able to sleep without taking fifteen pills at bedtime, I don’t know when I will be able to walk without giving myself a daily injection of a blood thinner.

I don’t know when I will be off antibiotics and able to consider my career again, but I am confident that the time will arrive.

Meanwhile I am writing this blog. It is part memoir, part journal, and also a technical record of what has helped me in my recovery. I hope it will shed some light for others who are struggling with Lyme, or other chronic illnesses.

Names in this blog have been shortened or changed, to protect the anonymity of my family and friends. I have not changed the names of doctors I can recommend.