Mr. Burgdorferi

In 2016 I achieved my best physical condition in recorded history. Perhaps that sounds funny—”recorded history”—but I mean simply to disqualify everything before I was 25. Before 25 the degree of difficulty for staying in good condition was somewhere between “easy” and “trivial.” That’s not to say I was always in good physical condition before age 25, far from it. I only mean to imply that affecting change was easy before age 25.

My current downward spiral began in the summer of 2019 when I had the misfortune of meeting Mr. Borrelia Burgdorferi. Turns out he’s a total asshole. A full week apart, I had two fevers over 104°F with associated delusions and trips to the emergency room, before enough time had finally elapsed for a Western blot test to confirm that my immune system was intimately familiar with Mr. Burgdorferi. He is in fact a member of the Spirochaete crime syndicate phylum of bacteria, and he has several nefarious cousins who cause, for example, syphilis and yaws. He, and his cousins, have been kicking we humans’ asses forever. You may have heard of Mr. Burgdorferi’s preferred method of torture: Lyme disease.

(Alas, Lyme disease is named after Lyme Connecticut where it was first described, and actually has no relation whatsoever to yummy lime fruits. My hope had always been that it was actually Lime disease, and the preferred course of treatment was with stiff gin-and-tonics with copious fresh lime.)

The treatment—well, actually, there is no definitive treatment for Lyme disease… shit, we’d be happy to have a definitive test for diagnosing Lyme disease. The best intervention is to carpet bomb the entire host organism… that’s me. My physician soon introduced me to my new frenmy Doxycycline, which is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Basically it kills every bacteria via chemical attack. You see, Mr. Burgdorferi and his cousins have a clever trick whereby they can completely change the protein markers on their outer layer—they can simply swap out their skeevy track suits on Thursday and completely evade the human immune system. Which is exactly why they are still around: They’ve evolved this trick of biologic track-suit-swapping; new suit, no more immune system response and the battle restarts. And now you know why syphilis goes through distinct stages, wins the war and kills your ass in horrible fashion. So the hope with Lyme disease and Doxycycline is that you caught Mr. Burgdorferi early enough and can obliterate all the bacteria via carpet bombing, since your immune system is unlikely to do the job on its own.

Geez, Craig! Where is this going?

Mr. Burgdorferi and a bunch of [mostly] self-induced stress (which I’m completely omitting the explanation thereof herein forthwith etc) were a wicked, one-two punch to my weight. Cue sound of plane going into a dive, and my downward spiral. “…and cut! That’s a wrap!”

Doxycycline wipes out your gut flora too. Each of us is simply a big meat-spaceship created to protect and transport the tiny things living in our digestive track. (I’ll wait here while you think about that.) Doxycycline kills almost all of the passengers in the meat-ship, leaving the ship, (that’d be me you recall,) mostly unscathed, but kicking off a recolonization race among the ship’s passengers. And of course the passengers you’d like to have aboard are the slow ones to regrow. In fact, if enough the of sleazy passengers move back in first, the good one can’t even get on board.

Doxycycline pro-tip: Your doctor will say “take this on an empty stomach, and drink plenty of water.” I call bullshit. Doxycycline comes in these standard pill capsules. And it floats. So it’s difficult to swallow. And the capsules are extremely sticky when you first get them wet. You absolutely will get at least one stuck way back in your throat. If it dissolves there, you literally get a chemical burn, in your throat. Here, I’ll save your life: Contrary to ALL pill swallowing advice, keep the damn thing in your mouth until it just starts to get gooey, and more importantly, slippery. That’s the capsule starting to dissolve after it has soaked up a bit of water. THEN, swallow it with water and it’ll go right down. Next, drink a big glass of water. And then drink another big glass of water.

Doxycycline pro-tip #2: And then it will make you vomit about 20 to sometimes as much as 40 minutes later. I’m talking about those sudden-onset waves of nausea giving you, perhaps, 2 seconds from I’m-fine-and-happy to barfing. I learned to plan ahead. Taking my daily Doxy was an hour-long planned affair.

Doxycycline pro-tip #3: When your doctor, who is normally pretty quick with discussion and decisions, pauses and seriously considers whether to prescribe you 14 days or 21 days of Doxy, ask why. It turns out that recent research has shown that 14 days is just as effective as 21 days. My doctor was weighing the fun of taking Doxy against the efficacy. On day 15, when my script ran out, I wanted to buy him dinner.

Meanwhile, I gained 10 pounds in 15 days. Afterwards, my physician—why do we say “my” physician? I’m certainly not responsible for him… Afterwards, my physician goes, “Yeah, sorry, that’s a known side effect, but I don’t tell people that up front because it just stresses them out further.” Thanks Doc. (Tangent for the reader: Go research why they give antibiotics to, for example, cows. Yes, it prevents infection, but—you guessed it—it has the unexplained side effect of fattening them up.)

Anyway, it’s now been several moths of working on what I’m eating as a way to re-reinvent my gut flora as I did 10 years ago when I last started changing my life to pull out of a downward spiral.