THE MISTREATMENT OF BARBARA WAS A TRAGIC END TO HER LIFE
By John Curnow and Francene Lee Taylor
In 2018 The Australian Government announced that it would provide a grant of 3 million dollars for research into Tick Borne-Diseases (TBD). A million dollars of this has been allocated to Professor Richard Kanaan, a psychiatrist at the University of Melbourne and researcher at Austin Hospital’s, Austin Mental Health Unit.
Patients diagnosed with a Tick-Borne Disease or Lyme disease are frequently told “It’s all in your head”. This flies in the face of current research, which confirms that tick-borne infections can infiltrate the central nervous system. This may cause neuroinflammation which can dysregulate the chemical balance of the brain, leading to symptoms of depression, brain fog, memory loss, and other mental disorders.
My late wife’s experience of evaluation and treatment by the psychiatric profession is important and very relevant to this latest move by the Government to fund research into the psychiatric aspects of Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. Barbara, a veterinarian, was denied antibiotic treatment by the medical and psychiatric communities because they would not acknowledge that infections from ticks can impact the mental health of the patient. This is still occurring to this day.
In 2004 Barbara was bitten by a tick. Within 12 hours she had developed the classic bulls-eye rash. Her symptoms included blackouts, skin lesions, memory loss and depression which gradually increased in severity over the next few years. I took Barbara to her GP in February 2008 because of her severe depression. I told him I believed the cause of her symptoms was Borreliosis from ticks. He replied that this could not be, because Lyme disease does not occur in Australia.
He referred her her to an infectious diseases specialist at Lismore Base Hospital. However, the experts in infectious diseases there found her case to be too complex to treat. They had no idea how to test for, diagnose or treat Borreliosis.
Their solution was to transfer Barbara to the hospital’s Mental Health department, where she was prescribed anti-depressants. This treatment did not result in any positive gains. The head of the Mental Health section admitted he knew nothing about infectious diseases impacting mental health. He prescribed Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), for which he required approval from the Mental Health Tribunal.
This treatment began in 2008 and continued for two years. After around 60 Electro Convulsive Therapy sessions Barbara had still made no gains at all. However, I was still unable to persuade the doctors to treat her with antibiotics. I finally said, “Enough.”, and removed her from their torturous program.
Eventually in August 2012, a senior neurologist agreed to move Barbara to private hospital and start her on antibiotic treatment. There was an immediate response, and she was discharged after only ten days with a supply of these drugs. Predictably, the weeks that followed, Barbara developed a Herxheimer reaction. Unaware of the significance of this phenomenon, the neurologist refused to continue treatment.
I turned to naturopaths for help as they knew more about treating Herxheimer reactions than the doctors. Of course, they could not prescribe the drugs required, so we were limited to naturopathic treatments.
In 2011 Barbara had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on her larynx which was removed at Princess Alexander Hospital in Brisbane. The following year she developed many lesions on her face, arms and legs which were also diagnosed as squamous cell carcinomas. However, all these lesions disappeared when she was on the antibiotics the neurologist had prescribed. Squamous cell carcinomas do not resolve with antibiotic treatment. This indicates that they were more likely Acrodermatitis Chronica Atrophicans (ACA) lesions caused by Borreliosis than cancers.
The two-year delay in Barbara’s antibiotic treatment led to further complications which timely antibiotic treatment could have prevented. So much of Barbara’s suffering could have been avoided and her life possibly saved, had she been treated appropriately with antibiotics soon after she’d been bitten by the tick.
Barbara was discharged from Lismore Base Hospital at 4 pm on the 20 December 2012, and I found her deceased some six hours later.
I was interrogated by the police. I lodged complaints with NSW Health, and the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). My complaints were ignored. In 2013 I gave my story to the Northern Star, and it was published as a front-page article.
I am sure stories of mistreatment of people suffering Tick-Borne diseases will continue to be told by many, until accurate and effective testing and treatment protocols are established for Australia’s unique Tick-Borne Diseases.
When someone sees their GP after a tick bite in Australia, the only test offered is the ELISA test. This test is largely inaccurate, and only tests for one species of Borrelia found in North America. The ELISA is not designed to detect any of the TBD co-infections that are known to exist in Australia, such as Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, Relapsing fever, etc. Because Australian doctors are predominantly ignorant of the symptoms of Tick- Borne Diseases, their patients often suffer humiliation, being ridiculed and told it’s all in their heads, and are often subsequently sent to a psychiatrist.
Now, the Government and its agency the NHMRC have given public funds to a Western Australian research group which, over the past five years, has been unsuccessful in isolating the specific causes of these diseases.
It is unconscionable that patients with tick-borne infections are often treated as psychiatric cases. The mistakes of the past must never be duplicated. It is my belief that to send people who are suffering from Tick-Borne Diseases for psychiatric treatment is a grave mistake and can only serve to delay early treatment as in the case of my wife.
Dr John Curnow, Vet.
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