The Lyme Disease movie, Under Our Skin (Under My Skin) has won a veritable plethora of awards since its release in 2009. The movie tells the story of an emerging epidemic considered by some to be larger than the AIDS epidemic, with medicine, money, politics, misinformation, and conspiracy all amounting to a tale of high emotions and a terrifying picture of the health care system in the US. Under Our Skin follows the stories of both patients and physicians who are battling for recognition and fair treatment, and sometimes for their lives or livelihoods. The movie was a finalist for the Tribeca Film Festival Audience Choice Award, and the winner of Best Documentary at the Houston International Film Festival, Sonoma International Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, the Durango Independent Film Festival, and many others despite being the work of a little known director, Andy Abrahams Wilson.
Now out on DVD, the Lyme disease movie goes right back to the place of Lyme disease origin, Old Lyme in Connecticut, where the disease was first classified in the 1970s. Mistaken for juvenile arthritis in a group of children in the town, it was the hard work of a small number of families pushing for a further investigation of the condition that led to recognition that something else was responsible for the patients’ symptoms. The Lyme advocates’ work did not end there however, with many still fighting for wider appreciation of the devastating consequences of persistent infection with Borrelia and the re-appraisal of official Lyme disease guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. Many patients and their families, as well as so-called Lyme Literate Medical Doctors, are now using the Lyme disease movie, Under Our Skin, as a promotional tool for lobbying medical authorities, state senators, and policy makers even at the White House level, with claims that President Obama himself has been hand-delivered a copy of the movie.
A Personal Insight into Lyme Disease
Under Our Skin brings a personal element to the Lyme disease story with accounts of the pain and suffering, and the medical mismanagement experienced by individuals and their families with Lyme disease. There are appearances in the film from doctors who have gone against conventional treatment protocols to treat patients with the disease, risking their medical licences and their livelihoods. Whether viewers will consider their actions altruistic or to be motivated by profit or ego will most likely reflect their own encounters with Lyme disease. The Lyme disease movie makes attempts at being a balanced documentary as it gives a voice to those who consider Lyme disease to be over-diagnosed in some cases, with inappropriate antibiotic use creating its own dangers of bacteria resistant to treatment with existing medicines.
Lyme Disease Movie Director Knew Little About the Illness
In a review of the film appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009, the director of Under Our Skin, Andy Abrahams Wilson says that he knew little about Lyme disease before making the film and certainly was no self-declared ‘Lyme Advocate’. Wilson was trying to understand why the big pharmaceutical companies did not appear to be working for a cure for Lyme disease, especially as it appeared to be a potentially lucrative venture with so many patients infected each year and official reports of cases thought to only represent about a tenth of actual cases of Lyme disease. Wilson’s assessment was that “there is a lot of money in keeping people chronically ill” as steroids, painkillers, and other drugs can treat the symptoms of Lyme but not Lyme itself. He also points out that the disease is difficult to define and diagnose, making it an unlikely target for a single cure and a home-run by a major pharmaceutical company.
Lyme Disease Conspiracy and Plum Island
An interview with Wilson in Vanity Fair reveals that the director was initially drawn to the idea of a Lyme disease movie by the talk of a conspiracy involving the development of Lyme disease as a biological agent. This theory is discussed in the Lyme disease book, Lab 257, by Michael C. Carroll, with speculation that Plum Island, an animal research station off the coast of Long Island was looking at ticks as a way of delivering germ warfare. It is theorized that birds flying between the facility and the nearby mainland, which happens to be the town of Old Lyme in Connecticut, carried the ticks infected with this disease. Despite this being the focus of Wilson’s early interest in producing and directing a film about Lyme disease, the lack of real evidence for the theory meant that he left if out of the final version of the movie itself.
The personal involvement of Wilson with the condition only really started when a friend of his was diagnosed first with Multiple Sclerosis, then Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and, finally, with Lyme disease. The film-maker’s assumption that Lyme disease was an East Coast condition was shaken as his friend lived in the Bay Area in California. Luckily, with antibiotic treatment, Wilson’s friend is now doing much better. The stark reality of misdiagnosis, the lack of seriousness with which many Lyme disease sufferers are treated, and the reluctance of health insurers to pay for spiralling medical costs associated with a hard to define disease clearly had an impact on Wilson who has now become a spokesman for Lyme disease patients across America, if not the world.
Lyme Disease Movie Challenges Orthodox Views
The movie may not appeal to those firmly entrenched in the CDC’s corner, following IDSA guidelines to the letter, but it is precisely these people who Wilson wants to reach. New research into Lyme disease’s neurological effects and the similarity with Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, MS, and ALS, is prompting many physicians to reassess their previous assumptions about Lyme disease. Wilson is intent on “challenging medical orthodoxy… [and] creating the demand from the bottom up” and the Lyme disease movie, Under Our Skin, is certainly causing a stir in the medical community.
Berton, J., Filmmaker revives discussion of Lyme Disease. San Francisco Chronicle. September 14th 2009.
DiGiacomo, F., Q&A: The Lyme Disease Controversy, Vanity Fair 6/30/09. http://www.underourskin.com/sites/default/files/uos_VanityFair_062609.pdf