Former Cypress College student Jon Alvarez is a talented bassist and has a website currently soliciting donations from supporters. It's not a Kickstarter campaign asking to raise money to fund a tour or recording project, though. It's a GiveForward page with a goal of $10,000 to help pay for mounting medical bills following his diagnosis of Lyme disease and associated co-infections.
The musician's story begins with a vacation to Japan last summer. "I went to Nara and visited a world famous tourism park with a Buddhist shrine," he recounts. "A few days later, I woke up with a rash on my thigh." Thinking nothing of it, Alvarez returned back to his home and normal routine as a musician practicing six to seven hours a day. Then the pain started.
Preparing to go to San Jose State, he received a call from fellowCypress College
music student Nancy 'Cat' Mendez to help out on bass for the first couple of performances her band¡Aparato!
was set to play,including Santa Ana
. "At the practice, my left hand started to hurt and I didn't know what it was. Then it started getting to my arm" Alvarez says. "I did the gigs and played through the pain." Afterward, he sought out a doctor's evaluation and the pain was deemed tendonitis. The bassist was prescribed Ibuprofen and told not to play music for awhile until the condition improved. Unfortunately, things got worse, not better from that point.
Still without a proper diagnosis, Alvarez's Lyme disease began to manifest in more severe symptoms as summer turned into September. "My left hand started to tingle so I thought it was a pinched nerve," he recalls. "Tests were run and everything came back normal." Physical therapy was the remedy offered, but no relief came. "Eventually my left arm swelled up and the pain kept me awake for many sleepless nights," Alvarez says pausing briefly to gather himself through the memories. "It felt like a gnawing, burning sensation."
By November, the musician had to drop out of Cypress College as he could no longer attend classes. A month later symptoms spread to his back, neck and shoulders. On most days he felt beat down, but doctors had still not properly identified the reason why. Muscle spasms and twitches came next. The pain soon spread from his left to his right arm. Alvarez could no longer bend either of them and went to the emergency room. After being checked out, he eventually sought a second opinion from a doctor who helped put the pieces in order. The neurologist told him that the neuropathic pain he was experiencing was a systemic disease.
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The musician turned to internet searches hoping to find what the cause of the symptoms could be that was bringing chaos to his life. Lyme disease stood out among the rest. "You get it from a tick bite," he tells me. "I typed in Lyme disease in Japan and the first thing that popped up was the park I visited." Nara, the rash from last summer, and all the confusing pain that ensued all began to make sense finally. It was only by this February, nine months after the initial rash, that Alvarez had found a doctor that properly diagnosed him with Lyme disease and co-infections. Before that time, his life had become hellish realm of around the clock pain and profound disability.
A specialist outside of his medical insurance in San Diego began treating him and things seemingly were on the upward course from then on. "My mood improved, my pain subsided and I was planning on going to UC San Diego for school," Alvarez notes, "But in May I got food poisoning." With Lyme disease having weakened his system, what might have been a short-lived period of discomfort for others turned into a relapse. "I've lost 20 pounds in the last two months and I had to stop taking my meds," he says. "The symptoms came back stronger." The medical bills continue to mount.
Alvarez first began playing music in grade school. He took up piano before his early teens brought on interest in electric guitar and heavy metal. At Cypress College, the musician actually wanted to study to become an auto-mechanic before jazz bass centered him back to his life-long talents. Now, after dealing with his chronic illness, he can only manage only a few minutes practicing whereas just last summer the same activity consumed hours of his day.
"This whole experience has really taught me to be grateful," Alvarez reflects. "I hope and pray that I can go back to playing music and continue my dream, but I just want to live a normal life again, whatever it is."