Becoming My Own Head Doctor

When a series of reputable Lyme doctors gently counseled me to adapt to a “new normal” that felt grossly abnormal, it was challenging to be strong in the face of an illness that refused to be vanquished. I had tried everything from industrial strength antibiotics to cat’s claw herbs to anti-malaria experimental treatments. But when nothing brought my body or mind back, I decided to become my own head doctor. In the age of mystery illnesses from chronic fatigue to autoimmune disorders and viruses—diseases that befuddle even the most intelligent doctors—you can become a medical sleuth, trying to solve the mystery inside your own body.

Research is what I did best in my previous life, but my brain couldn’t focus on words and paragraphs anymore. When I had respites from the pain, I logged onto my Johns Hopkins alumni account to read medical research on Lyme disease, auto-immune disorders, heavy metal toxicity, mold toxicity, and cures. These were a list of ailments I had been told I harbored. Although it can be hard to read when you’re ill, skimming the body of research pertinent to your illness, and making a list of allopathic and alternative treatment plans you would consider pursuing can be the beginning of your path to a cure. Even if there are no peer-reviewed articles about certain treatments, you can interview patients who have tried these treatments—locating them on various social media sources or support groups online—and deciding if these patients have success stories that you hope to emulate.

I recommend combining allopathic medicine with alternative medicine, starting with specialists until you exhaust all known possibilities. Then, it’s time for creative last-ditch efforts. It wasn’t until I had exhausted my own list that I took a wild risk on a treatment in Siberia that most people would call a last-last-ditch effort. I wish I had started with it, for it is the only treatment that cured my spirochete ridden body and returned my memory to me.

We need to awaken the latent physician within more than ever when it comes to Lyme disease and various other hard-to-cure illnesses. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that although only 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC annually, there are up to 440,000 new cases of Lyme and tick-borne diseases diagnosed annually in the United States alone. The report states that Lyme disease costs the U.S. health care system a staggering 712 million to 1.3 billion dollars annually, which means that patients are not getting well and there are more of them every year.

As many as sixty-three percent of Lyme patients experience chronic Lyme, a condition many doctors do not recognize. The lead researcher of the Johns Hopkins study, Dr. John Aucott, says that it is futile to debate the existence of a chronic condition when people are suffering from a debilitating illness. “These patients are lost; no one knows what to do with them. There’s not a magic pill. These patients already got the magic pill [antibiotics] and it didn’t work.” Lyme leaves victims bereft of their health, saddled with broken-down bodies that they are supposed to get used to, but how can one get used to a new normal in which one feels exiled from one’s own body, as I did? 

I was once a lost patient, but the success of my experiment as Michelle Slater’s head doctor lead me to believe in credo of Hippocrates, otherwise known as the ancient Greek father of medicine. Hippocrates stated it as early as 400 BCE: “Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.  But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.”

What I learned in Siberia is that my body is the doctor. It sounds cryptic, I know. But it originated with Hippocrates and made its way to Siberia, and I can vouch for its veracity.

The irony that my complex case of late-stage Lyme illustrated is that the pharmaceutically driven medical industry encouraged me to put high doses of harsh medications and supplements into my body over a long period of time to no avail, but what ultimately saved me was a radical treatment of putting absolutely nothing in my body.

Nobel prize-winning biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi said it elegantly in his banquet speech about his groundbreaking work on autophagy, “Life is maintained by a delicate balance between continuous synthesis and degradation.” However, physicians and nutritionists fail to heed the ancient Hippocratic wisdom that “to eat when one is sick is to feed the illness,” when that would be a time to engage in cellular degradation.

Although every doctor is familiar with the Hippocratic oath to uphold ethical standards while practicing medicine, few doctors heed Hippocrates’s invaluable medical wisdom about the internal physician each of us has in our body. My doctor in Siberia did, and in my next post–as I celebrate my third anniversary of being Lyme-free, what I now refer to as my new birthday–I’ll share just what it means when I say “the body is the doctor.”


What my Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease can Teach Us about Immune Boosting

With over six million recorded cases of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s logical to think about boosting the immune system, since the potential for contracting the insidious virus is high. When stress is at record levels, though, the sympathetic nervous system gets overworked—secreting surges of epinephrine—making us more susceptible to corona virus droplets lurking in the air. I was once in the high-risk category for contracting a virus like COVID-19, so I empathize with those who have it, and those that fear it.

My autoimmune system was suppressed as a result of battling late-stage neurological Lyme disease for years, and I had developed a raging autoimmune disorder. Thanks to a radical treatment that took me to the remote mountains of Siberia, the death knell that sounded for me is in the past. Now I boast about my immune system more than I talk about boosting it. I’m eager to share my story as people across the world suffer from acute and lingering symptoms from COVID-19 that remind me of where I once was.

Over the years, Lyme disease had sucked all the marrow out of me and spit me out like an enervated double of my once effervescent self. I could no longer endure the Sisyphean battle of waking up feeling depleted as I struggled through the most basic tasks before repeating the cycle the next day. I could not play my musical instruments, could not hike, could not teach. Reading, writing, analytical thinking—former sources of great joy and part of my routine as a professor—had all been stripped from me.

Despite countless visits to specialists, modern medicine just left me to accept a “new normal,” that was grossly abnormal. In constant pain and deeply fatigued, I didn’t recognize the person I had become. By the look in his eyes, I could tell my husband did not either. I had fallen into another epic Lyme flare-up in the winter of 2017. Things just started falling apart in my body, more than ever before, and I couldn’t live in it anymore. I found a clinic in Switzerland that offered assisted suicide.

But I didn’t believe in suicide; I was a carpe diem kind of a girl that trekked through the Scottish highlands from Glasgow to Ben Nevis when I was a teenager, hosted champagne brunches at Dartmouth that earned me the nickname “champagne Miche,” and played alto saxophone sonatas on the Pont des Arts in Paris for fun on Sunday afternoons. I was on my way to becoming a tenured professor, proud to arm my students with critical thinking tools and stoke their creative intellect, when—quite suddenly—the quality of my life deteriorated to the extent that the day had seized me.

I wasn’t the first to contemplate suicide in the face of Lyme.  Researchers estimate that at least 1,200 suicides a year in the U.S. can be attributed to Lyme disease. Chronic pain, decreased mobility, and depression (induced and exacerbated by the disease’s inflammatory cytokines) eventually become intolerable. From what I have read, suicide rates in the era of COVID-19 are skyrocketing, too.

But I wasn’t about to go into that good night, even though I had taken every medicine, every herb, every allopathic and alternative treatment available to me. I had become my own doctor after medicine failed me. I had read every health study, every health book, every medical journal. I had experimented on my own body as if I were a laboratory animal. I had nothing left to try. 

Desperate—immobilized and covered in psoriasis rashes—I launched my millionth Google search one summer afternoon. In bed, clutching my phone with claw-like hands, I came upon a Siberian doctor that purportedly cured patients of serious diseases through a method of extreme fasting that “incinerated diseased cells in the body” and “drained the swamp of inflammation.”  This was the most intriguing sentence I had ever read; if it were true, I had a chance to save my life.

As I write in my (heretofore unpublished) memoir, Starving to Heal in Siberia: My Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease, I took an arduous odyssey to Siberia, where I underwent a radical treatment that led to a complete recovery, one that doctors said would never be possible. It’s a story about hope and resilience, and one that paid off. On October 1, 2017, I stepped off from the plane in New York feeling as if I had reincarnated back into the same lifetime, but in a new body.

I want to pay it forward. I now practice this treatment at select intervals throughout the year on my own, for it’s a remarkable tool that can be used not only for a multitude of serious illnesses but also as a regimen that maintains health and increases longevity. In the era of COVID-19, when nearly every individual on the planet must be thinking about how to stay healthy, I believe this is the ultimate way. It left me feeling like I was “shining and bouncing,” something I never thought I would feel again. I’m eager to share it with you, and I’ll leave you with a little clue: it’s about autophagy.

–Michelle Slater

This is the first blog post in a series of posts to come about the author’s recovery from Lyme disease.