How Kobra And The Lotus Vocalist Kobra Paige Overcame Her Hellacious Battle With Lyme Disease
Forceful, empowered, unstoppable: all of these words spring to mind when one and listens to and watches Kobra Paige, the founder and lead singer of Canadian power metal outfit Kobra and the Lotus. Kobra has led the band on an almost non-stop touring schedule since 2010, not to mention spending time on the road as a guest vocalist for Kamelot and the Metal All-Stars supergroup. In that time Kobra and the Lotus have recorded six records and an EP, including their upcoming album, Evolution. So it’s unsurprising that the singer comes across as a person with a seemingly bottomless well of energy and stamina.
However, behind the scenes, Kobra suffered for years with Lyme disease, and the debilitating, sometimes invisible illness sapped her strength and also provided lyrical fuel for some of her most potent songs.
Kobra grew up near Calgary, Alberta as part of a family of avid hikers, and hiking remains a serious part of her life. “I’m like a half-breed, I love the city, and I also love nature,” she says of her upbringing. “I grew up with both.” She’s taken several backpacking trips, sometimes at the end of a long tour, including a trip through Romania, as well as Spain’s historic Camino de Santiago. On one such hike, Kobra was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme.
She first noticed symptoms of the disease in 2014, when Kobra and the Lotus were on tour with KISS. “I started getting really ill. I started getting infections, catching everything that everyone had; I couldn’t fight anything off,” she recalls.
Lyme disease is a still little-understood bacterial infection that can present itself in a multitude of ways, including fevers, fatigue, chronic pain, memory loss, muscle spasms, facial paralysis and more — none of which can be easily overlooked for a touring musician. Worse, Lyme sometimes causes dysphonia, involuntary spasms in the larynx. Dysphonia as a result of Lyme disease kept musicians like Shania Twain and Avril Lavigne from performing live for years.
Kobra managed to escape dysphonia, but her infection proved difficult to treat and caused severe fatigue. “I used to always being really strong, physically, but [Lyme disease] manifests in different ways for different people, and for me, it was very physical,” Kobra says.
While being treated with antibiotics, she toured the UK. She recalls: “I was so chronically fatigued to the core. We would get to a hotel room, and I could barely make it in. I would pass out on the bed, fully clothed.” After that tour, in 2015, Kobra’s doctor recommended an eight-month break from touring.
In the fall of 2015, with the bacteria still present in her system, Kobra toured as a guest vocalist with Kamelot on their North American Haven tour. Though she was on a heavy dose of oral antibiotics, she suffered from muscle spasms which would sometimes tear her muscles. She describes that tour as “a physical battle every day.”
After that tour, she was tested again and the number of bacteria in her body has grown “tenfold.” The bacteria had developed a resistance to the antibiotics she had been taking. The band canceled all their touring plans, and her doctor prescribed a regular, intravenous dose of antibiotics, something that could not be accomplished on tour. She checked into a treatment facility in Arizona, by herself, thousands of miles from her home in Calgary. There, she was treated nearly eight hours a day, for five days a week. She recalls other patients showing up in wheelchairs, unable to walk until six weeks of antibiotic pummeling. “That was not a fun eight weeks,” she recalls. “But I did have a remarkable turnaround after I was treated aggressively.”
Kobra’s experience was unusually severe. Most people can defeat Lyme disease with a dose of antibiotics if diagnosed relatively quickly. “If you don’t catch it or people don’t take it seriously, it can show up in a horrible way, and it can compromise your immune system down the road and return,” she says.
However, Kobra is lucky to have been able to afford the clinic in Arizona. For those near the poverty line, such treatment could sink them into bankruptcy. “I’m really grateful and lucky I could get the treatment. I feel bad for people that can’t because it’s very costly and insurance doesn’t cover it.”
The treatment didn’t stop Kobra from recording and releasing two albums, Prevail I and Prevail II, in 2017 and 2018, though she did have to return for an additional three weeks of treatment in 2017. She was only — finally — declared in remission in July of 2018.
Even so, some of the symptoms of Lyme disease can persist for years, even after successful treatment. And because of the often internal, subjective nature of these symptoms, Lyme disease has been sometimes called an invisible illness, leading some in the medical community has considered some of these symptoms to be psychosomatic.
“It’s brutal when doctors tell you it’s psychosomatic,” Kobra says. “My sister and mother also had Lyme disease, and in my sister, it was very neurological. She was bedridden in her early 20s.” She recalls a doctor speaking to a nurse outside her sister’s hospital room intimating that he didn’t believe in her condition. These stories are not uncommon, as Lyme disease remains a little-understood medical condition even in many medical circles. Historically, many infected with the disease have gone with insufficient treatment for years after not being taken seriously. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my family believing in me. Fortunately, we are all supporting one another.
Kobra’s extended experience did come with one small silver lining — it influenced and changed her lyrical perspective. “What I was going through really shaped the lyrics of Prevail I and II. Many of those songs are about a struggle. It was the first time that I became vulnerable and forthright with my lyrics rather than sharing a message through a story,” she says. That forthrightness carries over into the upcoming Evolution, her most direct and stripped-down record to date.
As of now, Kobra is experiencing no further symptoms, and Kobra and the Lotus are on tour with Sebastian Bach. The singer has no plans to take any other extended breaks or taking her own health lightly.
“All I know is I am better too now that I’ve been treated,” she says, adding “I wish there was more attention brought towards it so that we could do more research.” Kobra feels Lyme disease will be ignored the way HIV was in the 1980s until it reaches epidemic proportions. “I’m not the only artist out there that’s been public about it. I think changes are slowly happening, just like everything else.”
The range of Lyme disease-carrying ticks continues to expand. Meanwhile, she’s doing anything she can do to raise awareness about the vexing illness that sidelined her for so long and showed her the future direction for her band.
According to the band’s Instagram, the exchange appears to be all in good humor.
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