Amid complex Lyme disease, it’s time to reexamine how we treat illness

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Marcelle Hutchins

“The Quiet Epidemic” is directed by Lindsay Keys and edited by Winslow Crane-Murdoch. Credit: YouTube.

Imagine waking up with a fever, headache, and skin rash. You see a doctor who prescribes you antibiotics. And yet the symptoms persist. 

Julia Bruzzese, an 18-year-old who has chronic Lyme disease, shares in a documentary, “I started to notice it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. And you know everyone has those days where they can’t imagine waking up. But it was every day, and it took me an hour to get out of bed. The second week I was sick, I was just sitting in class and my legs went numb.”

“The Quiet Epidemic” is a new documentary that examines the spread of Lyme disease and the medical establishment’s reluctance to acknowledge its seriousness. 

“What a lot of doctors will say with Lyme disease is that you have this golden period right after you were bitten, where if you treat it well, right away, that most of the people who do recover,” says Winslow Crane-Murdoch, the film’s co-director and editor. “And so I think what happens is that the longer you wait, the harder it is to treat. I'm hoping that long COVID is a new paradigm for us to view chronic illness in general. And what we're seeing with long COVID is that COVID has the ability to affect people completely differently depending on who you are and what you show up with.”

Co-director and producer Lindsay Keys points out, “What Lyme is demonstrating is that antibiotics for some bacteria might not be the silver bullet. And so what this is really asking for is a reexamination of how we treat illness in general, and also what we consider to be a cure. … If [people are] still feeling sick, but they've been treated with antibiotics, does that mean they're cured? The patients would say no, right? The scientists and the doctors who deny the existence of chronic Lyme would say, ‘Yeah, these people are cured because they were treated. And if they're still sick, then they're sick with something else.’”

Why don’t doctors take Lyme disease seriously? Crane-Murdoch says it’s complicated, but one issue is insurance. “A lot of patients come into these doctor's offices with all of these different complaints, with all of these systems that are in disarray. From the doctor perspective, it is very easy to miss, especially because we don't have a blood test that works [to detect Lyme disease].”

He adds, “You have this group of people that just ends up in this void and has to choose who to trust. And in that space, there's doctors that are doing incredible work, that are on the cutting edge of medicine. And there's doctors that are taking advantage of patients. And so I think you see that through the course of the film.”