Under Our Skin

FEATURE by Willard Manus

There is a new documentary film out there which appealed to me in a personal way.

UNDER OUR SKIN deals with Lyme disease, an ailment that affected and eventually killed a friend of mine some fifteen years ago. Had I seen this film before Emily became stricken I would have been more prepared for her death, which, at the time, seemed almost a fluke, a rare and mysterious accident.

Lyme disease, though, is anything but a rarity. As UNDER OUR SKIN shows, it was discovered in the early 70s among children living in the vicinity of Old Lyme, CT. It was first diagnosed as juvenile arthritis, instead of what it truly was, an illness triggered by spiral-shaped bacteria similar to the microorganisms that cause syphilis. A common way of contracting the disease was from the bite of a tick, but later research has suggested that it can also be passed on from person to person, even parent to child.

The discovery of Lyme disease was controversial from the start. Many medical practitioners misdiagnosed it. Patients were treated for things like chronic fatigue, MS, ALS or even autism. Consequently, Lyme disease spread through the population; today as many as 200,000 people are affected by it. But despite its horrific symptoms--weakness, tremors, partial paralysis, severe weight loss--Lyme still isn't recognized for what it is, one of the most dangerous and fast-growing infectious diseases in the country.

Many doctors refuse to acknowledge the dangers associated with Lyme disease. They insist that it's easily detectable and treatable, that there's no such thing as "chronic Lyme."

In Emily's case, she was told for the longest time that her symptoms were psychosomatic--"it's all in your head...you need to see a shrink, not a doctor." Finally, she found a doctor who recognized what she had and began to treat it properly.

Research has shown that, if caught early and treated with massive doses of antibiotics, Lyme disease can be cured (or at least controlled). For Emily, though, the treatment came too late and she died young, when she was still in her fifties.

Incredibly, there are certain powerful doctors, panel-members of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, who still refuse to believe that there is such a thing as chronic Lyme. They have even denounced (and even suspended) doctors who believe in long-term antibiotic therapy for the disease.

UNDER OUR SKIN reveals that many of these IDSA panelists have taken subsidies from the health insurance industry, which will not classify Lyme as a serious disease and still refuses to pay for its long-term treatment. Profit has trumped compassion, resulting in countless cases where people like Emily have been denied proper care and have died ghastly deaths.

The whole sorry story of Lyme disease is told in UNDER OUR SKIN. Produced, directed and photographed by Andy Abrahams Wilson, this important and moving film not only focuses on the stories of some of those whose lives have been affected by Lyme but deals thoroughly and fearlessly with the science and politics of the subject. (www.underourskin.com)