Bedridden in July 2009, Eric Harvey occasionally opened his eyes late at night while darkness enveloped him.

Otherwise, he went months with his eyes shut. The vertigo he was experiencing made it impossible to look at the faces of his loved ones, read or watch TV.

Earlier that month, Harvey had collapsed in his backyard and his wife, Maura had rushed him to the emergency room.

In June, vertigo had forced the adult probation and parole officer for the state of Maine to stop working. Formerly a picture of health, Harvey was barely able to stand. The body-builder and state high school wrestling champion barely tipped the scale at 160 pounds, 50 fewer than what he normally carried on his muscular 210-pound frame. He shuffled as though he had Parkinson’s disease.

“People didn’t recognize me,” he said. “I could walk by people in the hospital that I had known my whole life and they had no idea who I was.”

Harvey’s knuckles were raw as, eyes shut, he used the back side of his hands to maintain contact with walls to maneuver around the home he shares with Maura and their two daughters. The joint pain and muscle pain were so excruciating that Harvey did not want to be touched. He couldn’t raise his arms or dial a phone and Maura mashed his food so he could receive nourishment.

“If it wasn’t for my family and my faith … they kept me going. I wanted to die,” Harvey said.

And some medical professionals indicated that he just might. “More than one doctor told me that I was dying and they didn’t know why,” he said.

In June 2008, Harvey developed vertigo and began seeing doctors and specialists to determine the cause. From years of weight lifting, wrestling, coaching wrestling and being a Belfast police officer, Harvey was well aware that he had pre-existing injuries. He also knew that in 2004, he had Bell’s palsy and that in spring 2008 he was bitten by a tick.

Bell’s palsy, a disorder of the nerve that controls movement of facial muscles, is believed to be due to swelling of the nerve where it travels through bones of the skull. Treatment, according to medical websites, is typically not needed and symptoms frequently improve quickly and go away completely within a few weeks to months. Lyme disease is cited as one possible cause.

During tests, an MRI revealed a spot on his brain. As Harvey’s condition worsened, 18 specialists from Belfast to Boston examined him. Several, he said, indicated Lyme disease might be the culprit.

A bacterial mass, which grew to the size of a golf ball on the side of his neck, was removed. Again, the possibility of Lyme disease was mentioned.

While he became more and more disabled, Harvey said, “I imagined myself back at the gym working out and playing with my kids.”

During those hours lying flat on his back, he said he also pictured himself back at work.

“You truly learn what’s important when you are dealing with illness. I told Maura that I didn’t think that many people liked me,” he said with a laugh, while talking about the overwhelming support he received from family, friends, co-workers — and even people he had arrested.

In summer 2009, Dr. Richard J. Dubocq of Lincolnville diagnosed Harvey with Lyme disease and in August 2009 Harvey began receiving intravenous antibiotic treatment.

And Harvey began to get his life back.

“In the medical community, treating long-term Lyme disease can be controversial,” said Dr. Dubocq. “To date, I have not actively participated in the Lyme disease treatment debate, I simply treat patients and get them better.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in North America, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks can spread the bacteria when feeding on blood of animals and people.

Also according to the Mayo Clinic, before the bacteria can be transmitted, a deer tick must take a blood meal, or 36 to 48 hours of feeding. A 14- to 21-day course of oral antibiotics is a standard treatment for early-stage Lyme disease.

Dr. Dubocq, though, said he believes it is a fallacy that a tick needs to be attached for that amount of time to spread the disease. In addition, he recommends a minimum of six weeks of treatment. Anything less than that, he said, is a roll of the dice.

The family physician began learning more about, and then treating, Lyme disease after his wife was bitten by a tick more than 12 years ago while visiting Monhegan Island.

Dr. Dubocq said his wife found a tick attached to her while showering that same day, squeezed it to remove it and flushed it. She received two weeks of Doxycycline and thought that was the end of it.

Over the course of the next year, though, Dr. Dubocq said his wife experienced bizarre symptoms and saw a multitude of physicians and specialists, to no avail. She read an article about Lyme disease in a women’s magazine and the proverbial light bulb went on. Once a specialist in New York diagnosed her, Dr. Dubocq said she was successfully treated.

“As primary care physicians, we depend on specialists to guide us and most of the time they are right on,” he said.

One problem, he said, is that infectious disease specialists commonly treat Lyme disease for 30 days, no matter how advanced the disease. If symptoms persist, he said that patients are said to have post-Lyme disease syndrome and many physicians are hesitant to go beyond what has been the recommended guidelines of treatment.

Diagnosing Lyme disease, he said, is done through an assessment of clinical symptoms rather than test results, as test results are routinely incorrect, both with false negatives and false positives.

“Tests are inaccurate,” Dr. Dubocq said. “They cannot prove or disprove Lyme disease. That is a hard pill to swallow for clinicians because we like things to be definite.”

Symptoms of Lyme disease may include a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye, fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, joint pain, neurological problems, including Bell’s palsy, as well as limb numbness or weakness, impaired muscle movement, irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, hepatitis and severe fatigue.

Harvey had nearly every one of the symptoms, minus the tell-tale bull’s-eye.

Advanced stages of Lyme disease can reportedly cause long-term joint inflammation, heart rhythm problems, decreased concentration, memory disorders, nerve damage, numbness, pain, paralysis of face muscles, sleep disorders and vision problems.

“It does disable you over time,” said Dr. Dubocq.

People with advanced Lyme disease, he said, are sometimes misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.

Dr. Dubocq said in addition, there is debate about the antibiotic tetracycline, which can be used to treat Lyme disease. While physicians routinely prescribe it for a year or more for teens to treat acne, Dr. Dubocq said those same physicians may balk at prescribing it for Lyme disease, saying they worry that patients that will build up resistance to it.

Dr. Dubocq, who graduated in 1980 from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and is a board certified family physician with added qualifications in geriatrics, highly recommended the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society website (, including for clinicians who want to take a course to learn to treat Lyme disease.

Veterinarians, he said, are the Lyme disease experts. “In the veterinarian world, it is not controversial,” he said. “They treat it and the dogs get better.”

Prior to moving to Linconville, Dr. Dubocq practiced for decades in the Waterville area. There, he said, peer primary care physicians routinely recommended their patients to him to be treated for Lyme disease.

Harvey said his Lyme disease diagnosis was confirmed by Dr. Chandra Swami in Pennsylvania, who reviewed his file. Dr. Swami’s nurse practitioner came to Harvey’s home.

Dr. Swami treated patients who appeared in the documentary “Under Our Skin.”

The film, produced and directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson, founder of Open Eye Pictures, explores Lyme disease, which it purports to be “one of the most serious and controversial epidemics” of this time. The film synopsis reported that thousands annually go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Mandy Hughes, a former Sea World marine animal trainer diagnosed with Lyme disease at age 19, was featured in the film. Given insufficient treatment, for more than seven years, her health deteriorated. Doctors diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome, dystonia, multiple sclerosis and psychological problems before diagnosing Lyme disease and treating her with intravenous antibiotics.

The Colonial Theatre in Belfast offered a showing of the documentary a year ago free of charge as a public service and Harvey said that Monday, May 16, at 7 p.m. that the Colonial is again putting it on the big screen for no charge.

“I could have starred in that movie,” Harvey said.

As soon as his intravenous antibiotic treatments began in August 2009, Harvey said, “I started seeing progress and improvement.”

After not opening his eyes for months, one day he awakened and the world was no longer spinning. Maura said Eric was shocked at how the girls had grown.

By January 2010, Harvey had returned to work part time. “I remember the first time I mowed the lawn again,” he said appreciatively. He also recalled the first time he was able to walk unassisted into the hospital and climb stairs by himself at home.

At physical therapy, Harvey laughed as he recalled being proud that he could lift 2-pound pink dumbbells.

“I’m 75 to 90 percent better on any given day,” said Harvey, who has resumed a modified weight-lifting routine at Bay Area Fitness (not the 2-pound pink dumbbell variety), as well as walking and yard work.

“I eat healthy, mostly an organic diet, for the most part,” he said. “I try to avoid sugar and yeast.”

Maura also remembers and cherishes her husband’s victories.

The entire ordeal, she said, profoundly changed her. “I always looked to the future,” she said. “I would say, ‘Eric, we are going to do this and this.’ Now I don’t ever, ever waste today. I appreciate so so much because I thought my tomorrow was gone.”

The family has now returned to its happy, albeit purposely slower, pace.

The three-month leave of absence from work resulted in considerable financial strain. Medical bills, Harvey said, totaled more than $100,000; he estimated that 75 percent of the amount was incurred prior to the Lyme disease diagnosis. Fortunately, said Harvey, his health insurance has paid for the majority of the bills.

Besides, he said, having his health is priceless.

The Harveys’ focus now is on educating others about Lyme disease. “We want to give something back to the community who gave so much to us,” Eric said.

Toward that end, a Lyme disease support group meets at 6:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday monthly at The Residence at Tall Pines in Belfast. An educational workshop is in the works.

“Know your body,” said Harvey. “If you know something is wrong, don’t stop until you get help. I truly owe Dr. Dubocq my life. I will be forever grateful.”

Maura agreed. “Everybody needs an advocate. Every symptom deserves an answer. There is a doctor out there who will treat you and help you. If I had stopped 15 or 18 doctors ago, he wouldn’t be alive.”

Maura said Dr. Dubocq was Eric’s advocate. “He is the only person who listened to every single thing Eric had to say and about all his symptoms,” she said. “And he listened to what I had to say about what I observed. Eric’s recovery is 100 percent due to him.”

While Harvey’s story has a happy ending, Dr. Dubocq said, “Eric is the tip of the iceberg.”