Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2007

 Lyme disease causes victims to lose the ability to dream

Three times in the last couple weeks I was pointedly reminded about the power of dreams.  Betsy and I watched the movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” the new version, not the old Gregory Peck movie.

In one scene, the good guy star is asking the bad guy star, “Do you ever dream about our Lost Patrol?” The BGS said he didn’t dream about it.

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The GGS pushed, “Do you mean that you NEVER dream about that time?” The answer from the BGS again was, “I never dream about it!”

Asked the third time even more emphatically, the BGS gritted out, “I don’t dream at all!” To which the GGS exclaimed, “Man, everybody dreams!”

Well, if the Bad Guy Star ever dreamt, he never admitted it. But maybe he had Lyme Disease. We Lyme victims seldom ever dream again, for research has shown that Lyme victims never reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the stage at which most people dream.  During that stage, researchers have found that even though the eyelids are closed, the sleeper’s eyeballs move rapidly from side to side.

Don’t ask me why, all I know is, I haven’t had but a couple of dreams since about 1978, which is when I contracted undiagnosed Lyme Disease, which at the time was not thought to be a problem in the South.

One of those dreams was a side effect of some cough medicine, the other was after Betsy got me some of those stick-on nose strips, with the admonition, “I don’t know if these things will help you to sleep, but if you wear them, I’m sure I’ll sleep better!”  She does.

One recent Sunday at church, the preacher made the comment that sometimes one of our real good choir special songs would keep him awake all that night, re-singing it or dreaming about it. The very next week, while I was doing some storytelling for a kid’s art camp at the Bologna Performing Arts Center in Cleveland, the subject got around to dreams, and I commented that some folks, like me, never dream atall.

Later, as the class was filing out, a little seven year-old girl stopped by me and asked with tears in her eyes, “Uncle Bob, do you mean that you NEVER dream?  Never?!!”

I shook my head. She reached up, and I bent down, and she just hugged my neck and walked away wiping her cheeks. Now, I really envy that little girl her dreams!

Betsy every now and then will come out onto the porch with her morning coffee and spend half an hour telling me about a dream she had during the night. The past few years, she’s backed off of doing that, I reckon because she knows I can’t relate, not having dreamed in essentially 30 years.

Because Lyme Disease victims never reach REM sleep, not only do we not dream, we hardly ever sleep soundly, which is one of the big reasons that a main symptom is extreme fatigue and depression.

Interestingly, an animal is about seven times more likely to have Lyme than a human, but it is hard to tell when a cat has Lyme, because a cat is so lethargic anyway, even when it’s healthy! If your dog sleeps too much, it might be a Lyme symptom. Our black Lab, Karo, had Lyme, and that contributed to her death when she got snakebit later on.

I can just barely recall dreaming when I was a big brother in the top bunk, during junior high days. School bus Number 13 had to cross the old iron bridge over the Bogue Phalia, with a seemingly-loose plank flooring.  

Rattledy-rattledy, clackety-clack, and we sometimes felt like we were going to fall through. At night I’d dream about being wrapped in a sheet and rolling out the back door of Number 13, and falling, falling, falling off that old iron bridge into the water below, still wrapped in the sheet. Of course, I was falling from the top bunk onto the floor of our bedroom, every time.

Well, at least it was a dream.  What would it be like to dream again? To awaken some mornings like Betsy does, eager to tell of her dreamland adventures, even though sometimes they don’t make sense.

The Bible tells of God coming to folks in dreams, or of angels appearing in a dream. Oh, well, next time I see an angel, besides Betsy of course, it’s probably going to be at the Pearly Gates! That ain’t no dream, Bubba!