Every once in a while a patient surprises me and makes it all worthwhile. This is such a story. A 17 year-old female presented in my office in a wheelchair this past spring. She was holding her head, her neck flexed, her face invisible to me. Severe unrelenting daily headaches were unbearable and driving her mad.(in the British sense). She was disoriented - cognitive impairments were profound. For me the most frightening aspect of her presentation was profound weakness. When I asked her to get out of the wheel chair her thighs muscles appeared to contract in a floppy, asynchronous fashion. The analogy that came to my mind was a fish hopelessly flopping on the deck of my boat. I quickly asked her to sit back down. After examining her I thought she was suffering with a severe motor neuropathy.
She had a well documented diagnosis of Lyme disease. She had been treated by another physician in a nearby state with oral antibiotics for an entire year. Despite this, her condition had steadily deteriorated.
I knew that the only treatment that might be effective was IV antibiotics. I ordered a PICC and started Rocephin. I saw her back in two weeks, as is my practice. She was no better. At that point I decided she should be evaluated in a tertiary care center. I sent her to Georgetown. I have found Georgetown more Lyme friendly than hospitals in my own state.
My experience had been with adult side. She was 17, so she was admitted to the pediatric ward. A neurologist barely peaked at her. No EMG/NCV test was performed as I requested. The ID doctor stopped in for a moment I was told. The attending pediatrition diagnosed fibromyagia and a somatoform disorder - a psychiatric condition. The good doctor wanted to stop the IV antibiotics. The youg lady's father insisted otherwise (with some vehemence I suspect) and won the day.
After a few days she was sent to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. This was helpful and she got stronger. The doctors there also reluctantly agreed to continue the Rocephin. Two weeks later she was back in my office.
She looked better. A little better. I felt encouraged and continued the treatment. The brain fog lifted a bit. She asked me if she would be able to attend an important camp activity three months hence. I looked at her in the wheel chair and said: "we'll see."
And then something magical happened. She started getting better - fast. I used the regimen which has served me best. Rocephin layered with Zithromax and the Flagyl IV. I also prescribed Mepron for Babesia symptoms.
After two more months it looked like she might actually be able to go to the activity. A positive thing for her is that she forgot how sick she had been as she improved. Not only was she out of the chair, she was running and dancing.
All of her symptoms gradually began to peel away. She had missed a whole year of school and was now reading and catching up on her studies.
After 3 and 1/2 months, she was looking good. Essentially back to normal. She did no get to go to the camp activity, but she did go to her family beach vaccation, sans PICC line.
Doctors are afraid. They are afraid to prescribe IV antibiotics. To do so you need to be on staff at a local hospital. You have to face the scrutiny of the Infectious disease doctors, the neurologists, the hospital board and various attendant committies - And possibly - the State licensing board. It is safer to prescribe oral antibiotics, to keep plugging away with all the oral medicines in your arsenal. Harder. More. Something will work if you keep trying. It is safer.
What else is there to do.