Long Friendships Save Lives

Anyone who has read my writing about chronic illness knows that I live with a congenital liver disease.  Every now and then it makes its presence known via severe abdominal pain or shaky chills and a fever that spikes to 103 or higher.  When these warning signs hit, I head for the hospital.  It’s a bit like living with the threat of of tornadoes.  And just as tornadoes have become sneakier, so has my illness.

I’ll spare you the narrative details of the build-up to my recent hospitalization.  Let’s just say that I spent a mildly feverish week in bed in May, followed by a few weeks of lower than usual energy.  Doctor visits and lab tests revealed nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, on Thursday, June 9, I felt absolutely yucky–dehydrated, nauseous, light-headed.  I thought I ought to alert someone of my condition, so I sent an email to a few friends describing briefly how I felt and saying that I was going to bed, but keeping my phone handy.

Linda De Beau-Melting, my ninth grade best friend, was sitting in her office at the University of Minnesota when my email flashed onto her computer screen.  She has received information like this from me over the years, but this time she noticed something odd:  I had misspelled “dehydrated.”  Linda and I first met in English class, and she knows I’m a meticulous speller.  So she dialed my number immediately.  She asked me a simple question, which I answered.  Then she asked me another, which I answered in gibberish.  For the first time ever, I had lost my language.  For the rest of the day and throughout the night, I groped for words but couldn’t see them inside my forehead where they usually are, let alone say them aloud.

Linda deliberated briefly about whether to call 911, but she didn’t want me to have to repair a bashed-in front door.  So she called my sister, who, mercifully, was home, and she and my brother-in-law came over and whisked me off to the ER.  I was, indeed, dehydrated; my blood pressure was dropping, and although most of my lab tests were normal, a blood culture grew two different bacteria.  As it turned out, a painless blockage in my bile duct had caused sepsis.

Enough of the gruesome details.  The remaining question is how to reward Linda for her vigilance.  I imagine her at one of those public ceremonies where the police chief hands out medals to heroic citizens who have pulled neighbors from burning houses or given CPR to toddlers who have fallen into backyard ponds.  I want to see Linda lined up between two stately German shepherds, her favorite breed of dog, who have shown bravery beyond their K-9 Corps training.

But in the meantime, I hope it suffices to say “thank you” and that I’m glad to be alive.

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