My Lyme – My Voice: One Physician’s Reflection On Treating Lyme Disease, By Dr. Stacey Raffety, ND LAc
Many people have asked me how or why I began treating Lyme disease. They often assume I must have a personal interest, i.e., I must have Lyme disease, which I do not. However, I did realize at one point that most of the MDs I met who treated Lyme, did have it or had a family member with it.
At one point in my practice, I realized many of the people I examined presented with what I felt was a chronic infection. I began to research what this common infection could be in so many people, and I came across information about Lyme disease. Reflecting back, I often feel like I opened Pandora’s box, when I entered the world of treating Lyme, down the rabbit hole never to return and never to examine health, illness, and medicine the same. Lyme disease was presented in medical school as a rare and easily treated disease, one I would never see. However, the more I researched Lyme disease and became more familiar with its presentation and symptoms, I also reviewed old charts, and discovered I had indeed seen more patients with ‘Lyme’ than I had realized.
Like most physicians who decided to treat Lyme, my practice quickly filled up. I was the only one in the area who treated or studied this disease; hence, I had to look hard for and afar for mentors, medical classes and seminars, solid research, and sound treatment protocols.
I quickly discovered not only is Lyme a very complex illness, but it is also surrounded by controversy and political bias. The polarization of doctors studying and treating Lyme disease is shocking. It is surprising to find two opposing medical groups, one that believes and treats all ‘Lyme’ and one that adamantly believes there is no such thing as chronic Lyme. This polarization has an enormous impact on patient care as well as the practice of medicine by the brave doctor who does choose to treat this disease. Having to select a side, and then defend your treatment choice, was not something I thought I would do in my medical career. I have repeatedly been asked by my patients, as well as whenever I give a talk, why there are two viewpoints regarding the existence of chronic Lyme. I have come to explain the situation this way, as I cannot find a legitimate scientific reason for the polarization. Both groups are quite adept at collecting medical evidence to support their beliefs. Physicians are trained to develop a medical opinion in their practices based on exams, labs, research and eventually, develop a final diagnosis to support that opinion. Once that opinion or position is established, like most human beings, most physicians do not like to be challenged either, even if the evidence points toward a better more efficient and beneficial position for the greater good of the medicine they are practicing. It is a rare physician who will keep an open mind and continue to learn beyond their initial medical training, as well as be willing to be wrong. Now granted, we cannot afford to be ‘wrong’ in many medical situations, but to choose not to cling to an idea for the sake of your ego is, in my opinion, a better way to practice medicine. Until the average physician is trained to form opinions that have the right to evolve, we will continue to see medical groups fight amongst themselves and not focus on the real business at hand: finding the best way to treat our patients.
Working as a Naturopathic Physician, I am under a different state licensing board than medical doctors are., which has allowed me more freedom in my practice, without the bias involving Lyme disease that my MD peers experienced. I did not have to endure a threat of the loss of my license if I diagnosed and treated Lyme. Consequently, I have had many local MDs refer patients to me whom they believed had Lyme and were unable to treat them for fear of losing their license. They would do what they could, such as order labs and occasional medications, but more importantly, did not abandon the patient because they had Lyme disease. It was frustrating competent medical doctors could not treat their patients, and the responsibility left to me. Still, I witnessed many patients denied medical care due to a diagnosis of Lyme disease. I had lengthy discussions with physicians who had a different opinion about this disease, and I often found myself defending my patients from their own doctors. I battled many insurance companies requesting coverage for labs and or medications. I wrote lengthy letters requesting medical care for my patients, many times denied. I saw people become homeless, lose their spousal support and become sicker. It was heart breaking. I had many episodes where my patients refused, upon my recommendation, to go to the hospital because of the mistreatment they received once the medical doctors learned they had Lyme disease. This issue was always very stressful for me, as it left me carrying a lot of responsibility that I believed should have been shared with my medical peers in their various areas of expertise. It often felt like I was practicing medicine on a deserted island with limited resources. A large well-known local laboratory, used by most of the physicians practicing in the area, and one I had used for over fifteen years for all my routine laboratory work, at one point, refused to run a standard immune panel I was trained to use to support the process of a Lyme diagnosis. It was clearly an attempt to discourage evaluating patients for Lyme disease. I never had seen a lab try to dictate how a physician uses laboratory analysis for diagnostic evaluations. Eventually, they rescinded this decision, as the lab manager who had made this decision left. None the less, I never returned my business to this organization.
I did have the honor of seeing many people recover and become well, and then have the wonderful experience of being discharged from needing further medical care for Lyme disease. I will also always remember what it is like to tell a patient “you have Lyme disease,” and have them burst into tears. I am sure you think they were horrified they had been told they had a serious infection, one in which treatment was a challenge. On the contrary, they experienced a huge relief someone finally listened to them, believed something was wrong and was willing to find out what, rather than tell them they had a psychiatric illness. Better yet, I had some ideas about how to treat Lyme disease. Part of my work has been to partner with my patients and let them know someone is on their side. I did not have all the answers but was willing to explore, experiment, and continue to look at the research with a scientific lens.
My peers have told me many times I was brave to treat patients with Lyme disease, and they were glad I was doing it. I can honestly say it was very hard work, but I am grateful I had the opportunity. I look forward to the time when more respect and openness is the standard of care for people who have Lyme disease.
Dr. Stacey Raffety earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Linfield Good Samaritan School of Nursing in 1986. She received her Master degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCMC), both in 1995. Dr. Raffety also completed the obstetrics residency program at NCNM. She integrates her experience and training in western, naturopathic and oriental medicine to offer a full range family practice. She incorporates diet and lifestyle counseling, botanical medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture, intravenous therapy in a holistic approach designed to optimize her patients’ health.
After 18 years, Dr. Raffety’s practice focuses primarily on treating patients challenged with environmental toxic induced illness, cancer, Lyme disease and other life-threatening diseases. She coordinated the development of a Cleansing and Detoxification Program utilized as a part of her treatment practices and a successful Stop Smoking Program. She continues to have an acupuncture practice where she focuses on balancing mind, body and spirit.
After realizing that many of the health challenges her patients were experiencing were related to their exposure to environmental toxins, Dr. Raffety studied and received advanced training in Environmental Medicine from one of the preeminent practitioners in the field. She opened her clinic to offer a comprehensive detoxification and cleansing program and continues to develop treatment protocols for toxicity-related health problems.
Dr. Raffety also focuses on the identification and treatment of Lyme disease. She is very active in developing innovative treatment protocols to address the chronic health manifestations of Lyme disease. She focuses on early detection as well as integrative approaches to successfully treat chronic Lyme disease.
Dr. Raffety has been instrumental in training Naturopathic Physicians in Intravenous Therapy. She helped develop Oregon’s IV certification program for Naturopathic Physicians. She has taught IV Therapy both at the Naturopathic College and as a co-founder of Professional IV Therapies. She is the co-author of Parental Micronutrients. Dr. Raffety has served on the boards of both the National College of Natural Medicine and the State Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Dr. Raffety is a proud member of ILADS, International Lyme, and Associated Diseases Society www.ilads.org