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Andrew McGuinness: Lyme disease survivor publishes book that 'saved his life'

By Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Eight years ago Andrew McGuinness began experiencing numbness across his body.

Over the next months and years, the Whitstable-based author lost the ability to read, write, and even walk, before doctors eventually diagnosed his condition as Lyme disease.

It was then, at the beginning of his two-and-a-half-year journey to recovery, that he began writing the novel he now believes saved his life.

Andrew McGuinness with his new novel. Picture: Paul Amos
Andrew McGuinness with his new novel. Picture: Paul Amos

Anatomised tells the story of stand-up comic Jack and his wife, who move to Tankerton to build their dream home.

But their lives are thrown off track when Jack contracts a mysterious illness and his health begins to rapidly decline.

While the characters are fictional, the story is largely factual – based upon Andrew’s own experiences of Lyme’s crippling, yet ill-recognised symptoms.

Andrew’s battle against the disease began in May 2010, when he was admitted to the Kent and Canterbury hospital and was initially told he had had a stroke.

'It was very scary. I was rushed back to hospital, where they diagnosed a second stroke. I just thought ‘I’m going to die’.'

“I was only in my early forties,” said the former University of Kent student, “but I accepted it.

“Within a week, numbness was covering most of my body.

“It was very scary. I was rushed back to hospital, where they diagnosed a second stroke. I just thought ‘I’m going to die’.”

Andrew then received a series of misdiagnoses from doctors, who told him he could have multiple sclerosis or even a brain tumour.

“Lyme disease inflames your brain, and slows down your thought processes,” he said. “I lost the ability to read and write – and that was my love, my profession.

“For a while, I couldn’t walk. People may have seen me along Tankerton Slopes with a walking stick and my dog.

Anatomised is available now, in bookshops and online. Picture: Paul Amos
Anatomised is available now, in bookshops and online. Picture: Paul Amos

“It was so harrowing. And then I had to give the disease to my character Jack which is unfair, because I wouldn’t wish Lyme on anyone.

“I’m always apologising to him in my head.”

The 51-year-old writer lives in Kemp Road, Tankerton, with his wife Janice and two collies Bella and Alice.

“The sea, the beach, the beach huts and the Slopes in Tankerton inspired me and they feature in the story,” he explained.

“I’m influenced very significantly by local people, landmarks and the weather. I love living here.

“It was challenging to write the book as it was very difficult reliving some experiences. It took me four years. But the reviews have been very positive, and I’m overwhelmed by people’s kindness.

Author Andrew McGuinness on Tankerton Slopes, where some of his story is set. Picture: Paul Amos
Author Andrew McGuinness on Tankerton Slopes, where some of his story is set. Picture: Paul Amos

“It probably did save my life, writing this book.”

Had his illness been diagnosed sooner, Andrew’s recovery process could have been far more straightforward. He still takes strong painkillers to cope with nerve damage, caused by the disease that raged through his body for so long.

Yet he doesn’t blame his doctors.

“Sometimes I do wish I had that time machine so I could go back and tell them what was really wrong with me, but then I wouldn’t have Anatomised,” he explained.

“I had the classic bullseye rash, but at the time I didn’t know what Lyme disease was and neither did my doctor.

“We need healthcare professionals and the public to learn more about the disease and how to prevent it.”

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia bacteria, and is most commonly contracted through tick bites.

It is endemic in parts of the UK, particularly in woodland areas, but disease-carrying ticks can also be found in cities and gardens. If left untreated, Lyme disease can result in cardiac problems, neurological problems and other potentially disabling symptoms.

'This novel encapsulates the turbulent rollercoaster ride numerous patients face.'

Anatomised’s release coincides with International Lyme Disease Awareness Month, which runs throughout May and aims to raise the profile of the illness.

Natasha Metcalf, the co-founder of the charity Lyme Disease UK, praised the book for helping to improve public knowledge about Lyme.

“Anatomised paints a heart-wrenching picture of the medical minefield that is Lyme disease,” she said.

“For many, even if diagnosed, it is just the start of a long battle against the mainstream medical profession’s ignorance and denial in this field.

“This novel encapsulates the turbulent rollercoaster ride that numerous patients continue to face every day.”

Public Health England estimates there are about 3,000 Lyme diagnoses in the UK each year, but Lyme Disease UK experts say this is likely to be underestimated.

Anatomised is available now from bookshops and online.

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