Tuesday, October 12, 2004


In Which I Move At Fever Pitch...

This is probably going to be a short one, because I have been feeling mighty sick this past week. I have the strangest immune system. Ever since I was a little kid, I would pick up the oddest stuff. At 5, I had Scarlet Fever, for Pete's sake (right at the same time that Mary, from Little House on the Prairie, went blind from the same disease. My mom banned the show in our house for a month). When I was a boy and we moved to the Midwest for a time, I was coming down with raging fevers every three months, including a memorable stay in bed for an entire month, while I burned my way to the very edge of the thermometer (the hospital confirmed 108, during what must have been one awful night for my parents, who drove me back home literally packed in ice and proceeded to carry me to the bathtub every hour for the next week for cold baths until the fever finally broke. The doctors warned there might be brain damage, but aside from losing most of my memory of that awful month, most observers would say I turned out fairly high-functioning).

Now I have two kids of my own, and I pick up absolutely everything they bring home, so winter is pretty much a state of congestion and looking like hell for me. This year, it's starting early: last Monday, I came to work running a low-grade fever. Only 99, that's okay to go to work and infect your unwary colleagues, right? Except, as my mom pointed out--when her ESP kicked in and she realized I was sick and called me at the office to insist I go home and drink a hot lemon, or whatever--my "normal" is around 97, not the standard 98.6 the medical profession foists on us, so for me (if you can follow my mom's logic for just one painful second) 99 is more like 100.

I resisted, because last week (well, most any week) was pretty crazy, but on Thursday, my body finally gave out, and I was slumped in my chair, head on my desk, ears buzzing. I went home and learned that sneaky fever had climbed to 102. So I skipped Friday too.

Now here it is the next week and I'm feeling mostly okay, but this fever just won't quit. Even with copious amounts of Tylenol, it's still barely staying at 99, so I'm off to the medical center for a white-blood cell count.

They always find such interesting things in my blood. About 13 years ago, after a magazine story brought me back to the very midwestern town where I had the 108 fever, I came home to find large welts forming on my legs. I was 23 and indestructible, and so ignored the welts, and the odd red lines that began running from my knees to my crotch. I only went to the doctor when the woman I was seeing at the time refused to share a bed with me, my lower section was beginning to look so hideous. So off I went to the doctor, who referred me to a toxicologist, who diagnosed me as suffering from multiple poison spider bites, with a raging infection (those red lines, you know) from letting it go for a week. "People have died from just two or three of these kinds of bites," he tells me, probing the 22 welts with more than a bit of wonder. "I can't believe you're still upright." I felt great. You know, not like Peter Parker or anything, but certainly not at death's door. An antibiotic shot in the ass solved those red lines and even the welts, putting my love life to rights within the week. Eventually, I learned that I must have been bitten by the same type of spider as a child (in children, the symptoms can be flu-like, but can result in "uncontrollable fever, seizure and coma." But did those swell Kansas doctors ever do a tox screen? Of course not! Granted, I had no large welts, just one tiny one on my lip, which was dismissed as a fever blister. Just a flu. Give him cold baths every hour and make him drink a hot lemon til he slips into a coma and dies), and not only survived the experience, but ended up the better for it because when my blood tests came back, it was determined that I had an extremely high resistance to the venom of this particular spider. In short, the raging mystery illness that almost killed me at 10 would ultimately save my life at 23. No kidding. They sent a dizzying amount of my blood to lots of places and I apparently got a write-up in some obscure toxicology journal (so you see, aspiring writers, sometimes it's possible to get published without even trying!). But what I was left with was the indelible impression that sometimes, being really sick can be an awfully good thing, even if it doesn't feel that way at the time.

That's what I'll be thinking about today, anyway, as they drain my blood yet again to see why I'm moving at this fever pitch.

From Somewhere On The Masthead


Just read this one (spider bites) and since no one else has deigned to leave a comment yet, I will (though it's certainly an odd one.)

(Yikes. I could have just written the damn comment by now.)

MY WIFE also has a low normal body temperature (in her case, 96.8), is also left-handed, and just last year had a welt on the side of her face from a spider bite from which she developed a fever and some discomfort. There you go.

Do you think it might be worth having the medical professin investigate whether left-handed low-temperature witty people with a flair for words naturally attract spiders for some reason? I believe this may have some validity, as I'm right-handed, have the "normal" 98.6, and usually display all the wit of your average knock-knock joke, and I have never been bothered with spider bites.

Later, probably much to your regret.
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