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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The road to recovery (the rest of the story)

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 5/1/24

As promised in my last column, “Facing the fear and finding hope”, that appeared in the April 5 edition of the Timberjay, I’m resuming the story of Kelly Cramer and her recovery …

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The road to recovery (the rest of the story)


As promised in my last column, “Facing the fear and finding hope”, that appeared in the April 5 edition of the Timberjay, I’m resuming the story of Kelly Cramer and her recovery from three tick-borne illnesses. To recap, Kelly’s story began in 2021 after hiking with her sister in a forested area near Two Harbors. What started as a recreational outing on an early autumn day soon turned into a nightmare that’s taken a lot of physical and mental healing for nearly three years. At a recent meeting over lunch, Kelly described the unexpected aftermath that had left her not only with an array of problems with her physical health but also an intense fear of being infected again. She’s been working hard, pushing against her comfort zone to regain a normal sense of security in nature. “I was afraid to sit in my suburban back yard at first,” said Kelly. It was the encouragement of her supportive husband who helped coax her to start slowly and begin going on nature walks again. Kelly and her husband now live on the outskirts of Ely. While not completely comfortable yet, she considers her living closer to wilderness now a badge of honor. “I had a choice to either let fear rule my life or stand up to it and proceed forward.”
Since publishing her story, some readers informed me they’d put the story down halfway through because it was just too difficult to finish reading. I was surprised to hear this, but Kelly was not. She explained that feeling repulsed is a common reaction when people first hear about tick behaviors and the serious illnesses that they can transmit. Especially disturbing can be the details of their reproductive cycle and the role that large mammals, including humans, play in their procreative success. By acting as hosts, we who live in close proximity to these tiny arachnids are at greater risk for infection. And when we learn about the risks for serious illness from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, intense fear is a frequent response. It means the information is getting through. She hopes that distressing emotions will trigger readers’ instincts to take effective precautions, the first step to reducing infection.
After years of research, numerous visits to specialists, and the eventual correct diagnosis, she is ready to talk about her road to recovery. She admits it took a lot of determination to embark on a path toward healing. That’s why she wants to help others live safer and healthier lives. 
Her goal was never to frighten people from enjoying being outdoors. Rather, to understand the inevitable risks of sharing a common habitat with infection-bearing co-habitants and being proactive about it. Total isolation isn’t possible nor recommended, but responding appropriately and being proactive is! Climate science predicts that tick-borne and insect-carried diseases will likely continue to rise in our region. Staying as safe as possible only makes sense.
Another aspect of Kelly’s story is her pursuit to find appropriately skilled medical care for Lyme. She became frustrated by the confusing and conflicting information regarding diagnostic protocols and medical treatments. She was fortunate that when she was first examined, she still had signs of multiple tick bites. This confirmed the probable cause of her symptoms. “Not all people are so lucky,” she explained. “Practitioners often won’t confidently claim a tick-bite as the culprit, even when their patient is quite certain it is. This can delay proper testing, or lead to re-testing when Lyme tests come back negative as they often do.”
Lyme symptoms can look similar to those of many other conditions, often sending practitioners down “rabbit holes” that can be unproductive and costly. Extensive testing that aren’t rendering useful results can be frustrating and demoralizing for both doctors and their patients.
Another challenge is that symptoms of Lyme and many other chronic diseases don’t always follow a clear path. They may be characterized by “good days and bad days,” vague and varying symptoms that effect one’s general quality of life, or periods of intense debilitating pain. They may migrate from one area of the body to another, and include headaches, extreme fatigue, loss of energy, or a feeling of malaise. Sleep disturbances, loss of concentration or mood swings are also common. And symptoms can come on gradually or suddenly appear “out of the blue,” making a definitive diagnosis very difficult.
Kelly couldn’t count how often her doctors implied it might be “all in her head,” one of the hardest aspects of her doctoring. Physicians are trained to “find the cause of disease and fix it.” Being unable to do so isn’t rare and can be discouraging. It takes a highly-committed physician to persist in the search for a cause, especially when the medical system is increasingly calling for greater efficiency. Typically, the more complicated the medical issues, the more thought and time are needed. Treating patients with ambiguous symptoms or chronic diseases present the greatest challenges for practitioners constantly under pressure to speed up visits to see more patients.
Kelly decided to adopt a more active role in her health care. She kept a log and a health journal to track the signs and symptoms of her condition. And she took it into the exam room every visit. She discovered “blind spots” occurring when doctors are trained to see diseases through a limited lens. Diagnosing now relies heavily on technology. Many symptoms aren’t measurable in centimeters or degrees nor show up on a scan. Western medicine tends to compartmentalize bodily systems named by their major organs, overlooking the intricate connections between complex systems of our anatomy and physiology. These narrow views can impede the search for effective diagnosis and treatment.
Kelly’s self-advocacy model includes, “learn everything you possibly can about your disease.” With her knowledge, logged data, and journal in hand, Kelly began to see a change in the way her practitioners related to her. “Armed with concrete information, they seemed to take me more seriously.”
She also looked beyond mainstream western medicine for a path toward healing. She investigated philosophies, medical systems, diagnostic and treatment techniques from different cultures, some that were more holistic in their approach. She learned of and sought a “Lyme-literate” physician, someone who was specifically trained to look and listen more broadly and precisely to what the patient was saying about living with the disease. Together, Kelly and her practitioner developed a more effective treatment plan.
Kelly documented her recovery. She’s published a set of self-help materials under the moniker, Happiness Recharge ( She even created a health logbook designed to assist people with chronic conditions to expedite their healing. Her books and materials all have a message of personal empowerment, listening to one’s inner voice, and crafting one’s own path to better health and well-being. Through artistry, encouragement and gentle guidance, Kelly helps create a way that nurtures our inner peace, a vital part of her recovery. Her work encourages self-reflection, meditation, and self-expression. Through a variety of easy to access activities, she lays a foundation for taking charge and “recharging” our lives.
Kelly acknowledges that beautiful weather is arriving to the Northland. Nature is “recharging” after a long winter of hibernation. Willows are budding. Lilies are poking through the ground. Soon the forest’s understory will be ready to burst into leafy bloom. Yes, and creeping and crawling lifeforms will also abound. Hungry ticks will be among them and soon entering the peak of their feeding cycle. Climatologists are predicting a more active season so we should be wise and take precautions.
Here are some simple tips from experts:
1) Wear light clothing to spot little “cling-ons.”
2) Keep pant cuffs tucked into high top shoes or boots. Tuck in your shirt. Wear long sleeves.
3) Use DEET-containing tick repellants on exposed skin. Permethrin ONLY on outer clothing.
4) Be extra aware in tall grass and brushy areas. 5) Avoid sitting or lying on leafy duff or laying your gear or clothing on the ground.
6) Upon coming indoors, remove outer clothing. Place in a hot dryer for 30 minutes to kill tick larvae.
7) Take a hot shower. Check closely for ticks. If possible, save them intact. 8) If symptoms develop, or if in doubt, see a doctor for testing. Take with you any saved ticks. Current data shows that it may take 4-6 weeks for accurate results. If a tick has bitten or embedded itself in skin, or if symptoms are present, prompt antibiotic treatment is recommended.
And Kelly’s biggest recommendation for being proactive, in addition to the list above, bring clear tape with you when going out in nature. “It sounds silly, but it’s my secret weapon if I get a tick on me.” She explained, “You can secure a tick by folding it into the tape for safe-keeping. Then, if it bit you, send it in for testing! It’s so much cheaper to test the tick before having to test yourself.”
Awareness, precautions, and prompt attention are keys to healthy living in the north country. We hope this introduction to the risks of tick-borne illness proves useful. So, dress right. Get outside for some sunshine. And enjoy our beautiful environment!