The next day I happened to have my annual ob/gyn appointment. My doctor reviewed the electronic notes from the night before and exclaimed, “You have hepatitis!” I took a cab from there to the office of my primary care provider, Dr. C., and en route, I yawned and all of a sudden felt a stabbing pain in my throat, which ended up lasting for nine days.
I went over everything with Dr. C., who told me that one of my liver enzymes (AST) was three times the top normal level, and the other (ALT) was nearly five times the top normal level. She said I should have more blood drawn so they could determine what kind of hepatitis I had: C, which you get from the blood of someone who has it; B, which you get by having sex with someone who has it; or A, which you get by eating the feces of someone who has it. (I said “feces” because it sounds even more disgusting than “poop.”)
Of course F. and I both had STI testing done when we got together, and at that point, neither of us had any kind of hepatitis. Well, that is not quite true. We did have testing done, but it wasn’t in advance of, uh, spending quality time together. I figured (stupidly) that since neither of us had had a partner for a while and neither of us had symptoms of gonorrhea or anything like that, STI testing was more of a formality. Wrong, wrong, wrong! One of us could have had a dormant form of hepatitis and given it to the other. Should I have occasion to make that mistake ever again, I won’t. I am grateful to have avoided catastrophic results.
Prior to the exchanging of fluids, there must be full STI testing and there must be the seeing, with one’s own eyeballs, of a printout of the prospective partner’s test results.
Now, normally when I’m ill, I contact everyone I’ve ever met to tell them all about it so that they can worry and shower me with affection and so forth. However, I wasn’t exactly eager to announce that I had hepatitis. Oh, presumably this was hepatitis A, and how you can get that is by eating in a restaurant where a kitchen worker fails to wash his or her hands properly after visiting the restroom. My doctor said hepatitis A has been going around and that if people washed their hands after going to the bathroom and did their own cooking, there would be less of it.
Another reason I hadn’t already told a million people that I was having all these strange symptoms was that I felt kind of self-conscious about being sick again. I’ve had so many medical things over the years, including cancer, that I felt worried about my friends just getting tired of the whole thing. I felt that maybe I’d better just not say anything unless I got a firm diagnosis of something really awful.
So I had blood drawn on my way home from Dr. C.’s, and three days later, she called to say what kind of hepatitis I had: no kind. I did not have hepatitis. At this point, I might have started my communications campaign, but now was way too tired, having to lie down after every small exertion, plus my mouth was still horribly dry, my throat was killing me, and I felt itchy from head to toe, various areas at various times.
Dr. C. had taken a closer look at the CT scan from the emergency room and detected a thickening in my colon, possibly a touch of inflammatory colitis. She said the lymph nodes along my GI tract appeared to be swollen. Meanwhile, the lymph nodes in my neck were definitely swollen and aching. She said to go have more blood drawn, and if my liver enzymes were even higher, I would have another CT scan of my abdomen, to make sure nothing had been missed, and if they were lower, I’d have an ultrasound instead. She said maybe it was a gallstone that had already passed, or it might be an auto-immune thing, or one of any number of “weird little things.”