The month started out as all Octobers start — right after my birthday.  It was a good birthday that year. Despite being a few weeks after 9/11, life seemed relatively normal. It was the fall of my second year of college.  I got Godiva chocolates and dinner from my new boyfriend, a cell phone plan from my parents, other lovely gifts from friends and family.  My sister lived nearby in the Boston area.  We met my aunts and cousins for lunch and shopping that weekend.  It was a typical fun birthday. Then October came.

It started out as a headache.  Except it soon became the worst headache you could ever imagine.  Sharp, loud, searing, throbbing pain.  I was stubborn.  I stayed in my dorm room and took Advil.  Surely a bad headache would just pass.  Oh how naive I was.  The fever started slowly but quickly knocked me out.  I was very sick.  By the time I went to the college infirmary, I was 103.5 degrees.

The only number programmed into my new cell phone was my parents in Vermont.  I called them a lot.  I was very sick and very scared.  The infirmary nurse told them I was being difficult by not drinking enough fluids.  They questioned that perhaps I should go to a hospital for an IV.  She told them I should just drink the Sprite she’d been giving me.  Before my dad hung up he told her to expect an ambulance in 5 minutes.  My parents are nothing if not my biggest advocates.  The EMTs were shocked I was still in a college infirmary.

In the ER I got 7 pokes.  Six were attempts to get me an IV.  The seventh was a spinal tap.  It was the middle of the night, I’d had a fever and headache for days, and I had to lay perfectly still so a small Asian doctor could stick a needle between my vertebrae and into my spinal column to see if there was …wait for it…blood in my spinal fluid.  If I wasn’t a good patient for the nurse and her Sprite in the infirmary, I wasn’t a good patient then. In April of 2002 I would find out I had viral meningitis, despite the negative test resulting from that 7th poke.

For three days my tests came back inconclusive.  They had no idea what was wrong with me.  My case was assigned to an oncologist.  He performed a bone marrow tap.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of this test let me give you a quick how-to should you ever need to prepare yourself:

  1. Lay face down on  a mattress and expose your bare buttocks to a man you’ve never met.
  2. Picture that man feeling around your hip for just the right spot to drive a pencil sized cylinder through your skin and into your bone.
  3. Imagine this doctor standing up to jam a thinner needle through aforementioned cylinder to get a marrow sample.
  4. I am not sure you really understood step 3 — this step is not unlike a major league baseball batter taking a full swing at your bare shin with a wooden bat.  The burning, oh, the burning.  Not speaking from experience, but I think I’d prefer any other burning that could occur on one’s body over that burning.

Thankfully, I didn’t have cancer.  My heart goes out to those people that have to endure that test and then get the heartbreaking news that they have cancer.  I would gladly sign up for ten thousand spinal taps if it meant not getting a bone marrow tap again.

My case was re-assigned to a General Practitioner.  She had a severe, and I do mean severe speech impediment. Now, let me be very clear – I am not picking on anyone’s handicaps.  This illness just happened to be the most ridiculous series of events in my 19 and one week long life.  At this point in the dorm room/infirmary/hospital stay, I had been poked in nearly all my orifices, scanned head to toe, and drilled for oil bone marrow.

That said, when the General Practitioner walked in and asked if I had “waah-waah-waah-waaah-waaahmitted whet towaay?” I asked to be discharged against medical advice.