Lyme Disease and Medical Dismissal in the U.S.

In this ethnographic interview, I explored an individual’s diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease, discovering biases and barriers within the medical system.


Through ethnographic inquiry, this study seeks to unravel the intricate dynamics surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease within the United States healthcare system. By immersing in the lived experiences of individuals grappling with Lyme disease, this research endeavors to unearth the biases and systemic barriers that impede accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

Research Design Problem and My Approach

Research Design Problem

Lyme disease poses a multifaceted challenge within the medical landscape, characterized by complexities in diagnosis, treatment, and societal perceptions. This study aims to dissect these complexities, shedding light on the intersection of patient narratives and medical practices. By delving into the nuances of Lyme disease experiences, the research endeavors to address prevalent issues of medical dismissal and the quest for quick solutions, thereby contributing to a deeper understanding of healthcare disparities.


In this qualitative research, I conducted an interview with a young woman, “Sally,” who shared her personal experience with Lyme disease. This narrative approach allowed for an in-depth exploration of her journey through diagnosis and treatment. Sally’s experience served as a case study to illuminate broader issues within the medical system.

Research Process

The research process involved an email interview with Sally, who shared her personal journey with Lyme disease. The interview allowed for a comprehensive exploration of her experiences, perceptions, and interactions with the medical community. The narrative approach was essential to capture the nuances of her experience.

Results & Conclusions/ Key Learnings

Sally’s Experience

Sally’s journey with Lyme disease began during her teenage years. She faced perplexing symptoms, including joint swelling and lethargy. Her interactions with various doctors, all within the biomedical field, reflected a recurring theme of dismissal and skepticism. Despite visible and painful symptoms, medical professionals failed to provide an accurate diagnosis, and she endured years of suffering. Sally’s eventual diagnosis of Lyme disease came four and a half years after the initial symptoms, a period that encompassed her high school years. Her treatment involved a rigorous 30-day regimen of strong antibiotics delivered via a PICC line.


Sally’s unwavering trust in biomedicine and laboratory testing framed her perspective on Lyme disease. She regarded her medical journey as a ritual involving multiple specialist consultations, disease testing, and cure. Her narrative highlighted the prevalence of patient dismissal and skepticism within the medical community. Despite enduring a traumatic treatment process, Sally emphasized her belief in her cure. Her understanding of Lyme disease remained primarily biomedical and mechanical. She was unaware of the pseudoscientific aspects surrounding chronic Lyme disease, reflecting a gap in knowledge.

Lessons Learned

The interview with Sally revealed common and widespread issues within the U.S. medical system, particularly the challenges patients face when their experiences are disregarded by medical professionals. Themes of agency, structural violence, and stigma were prominent throughout the interview, mirroring broader issues within the healthcare system. The research reinforced the need to investigate patient-doctor relationships and structural factors affecting healthcare experiences.


The email interview format posed certain challenges, as it lacked non-verbal cues and limited the flexibility to adjust questions based on responses. The privacy constraints during the interview presented obstacles in note-taking and reflection. Additionally, the asynchronous communication affected the flow of the interview.


This research has provided valuable insights into the experiences of individuals with Lyme disease and has highlighted the importance of addressing dismissive practices within the medical community. It sets the stage for future research that delves deeper into patient-doctor dynamics and structural issues in healthcare.

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