The Wasp & The Caterpillar

alice

Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.
– Woody Guthrie

When the tide turned, I went downhill incredibly fast. No one knew what it was. I scoured the internet all day. I made appointments with doctors. I cried from the pain, even at work. I felt like I was witnessing my own death. I had no power to stop it because I didn’t know what was causing it. Something this monumental surely had a cause, and a significant one, but it remained invisible to me and to every healthcare professional that I sought help from. The pain was earth-shattering. It was the worst case scenario; a nightmare.

I was outside a lot as a child. I loved the natural world and was very curious about it. I learned a lot about the web of life from my parents who have always been avid gardeners and lovers of the natural world. They would point out which insects were beneficial and which were parasitic. From an early age, I witnessed this cyclical web of life in the garden, in the woods, and at the beach. I went on to get a Master of Science degree in field biology and had many more opportunities to witness the physical effects that parasites have on other species. Some of the parasitic relationships that I have witnessed were particularly gruesome and memorable, like the small Braconid wasp that parasitizes the Catalpa Sphinx caterpillar. The wasp lays its eggs inside the caterpillar, which then hatch into larvae that eat the caterpillar from within. There are an infinite number of these parasitic relationships in the natural world, and in fact, it is just a part of being alive. It is a central principle in biology. All organisms, great and small, must carve out a niche for themselves. Why should we be exempt from this?

The example of the caterpillar and the wasp really stuck with me. It seemed particularly cruel. The poor caterpillar. It has no choice but to go on with its life, suffering, until the day when it becomes more parasite than host. We often think that we are separate from the natural web, which can make us blind to what may be causing our health problems. I felt like the caterpillar, and as it turns out, I was exactly right. I was being parasitized by not only one, but three different bacterial infections that I had contracted over the years through tick bites: Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete, or spiral-shaped bacteria that is responsible for causing Lyme disease, Bartonella henselae, more commonly known as cat scratch disease, it is extremely common to contract it from a tick bite, and Mycoplasma pnemoniae, the smallest known bacteria of which 4,000 can fit into a single red blood cell. I discovered that these infections are incredibly common, but are they are seldom spoken of or tested for. And even beyond the impact of the original infections themselves, the histamine response that they awaken in the body can become chronic, leaving the body in perpetual dysfunction. We have learned to view our bodies as separate systems functioning in relative isolation from one another. We isolate the symptom and then isolate the cause. If we can’t isolate the cause, we just treat the symptom. We miss the connections.

There is no end to the amount of disorders, syndromes, diseases, and conditions that we are diagnosed with everyday. If you dig just a little, however, you will be astonished to find that many of these conditions have no known causes. It is very difficult to treat something when the cause is unknown. We have been conditioned to assume that the book of diagnoses are concrete, well-researched, and true. This has not been my experience nor has it been the experiences of many of my friends and family. I was the caterpillar. I looked fine on the outside, but under the surface I was being parasitized. No one could see it. Not a single doctor even mentioned it to me as a possibility. It wasn’t even on the table as an option. It was invisible. Instead, I was labeled with more and more conditions, none of which had a known cause or a successful treatment plan. I went back to my roots; my curiosity for the natural web of life, the convergence of the host and the parasite. I remembered the caterpillar. If not for this, I would have had no choice but to go on with my life, suffering, until the day came when I became more parasite than host.

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I became chronically ill in my early thirties with a disease so controversial that the only hope I had of eventual healing rested firmly on my ability to diagnose myself and then to subvert the medical system so that I could receive the proper treatment. This required that I reawaken my instincts surrounding my own body; a skill with which we are born and that tends to become slowly eroded away with time. I also finally listened to my mother, who had an intuitive wisdom about what was causing my health issues. Along the way, I discovered that hundreds of thousands of others, including my mother we later found out, are having experiences identical to my own, and that our collective cries continue to fall on the deaf ears of the medical community, who carry on with business as usual; simplifying, coding, and billing our symptoms into ever-neatening and ever-narrowing packages that can be quickly turned over to the health insurance companies. We are the casualties of that system.

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