[Note to my classmates reading this: I know this isn’t exactly what’s in your lecture notes. Shut up and smile. Then go back to studying Th2 cells, because we both know you don’t know them.]
[Note to my mom: don’t read this, you won’t sleep until Thanksgiving.]
Hi. My name is Nate, and I’m a medical student.
This week, my ninety-nine classmates and I are about to take the final exam for our second block. It’s called Microbes and Immunity, and can be briefly described as “how your body fights off infection, and by the way here are some examples of the thousands and thousands of different ways you can get sick and/or die.”
After learning about the normal immune system and its response to infection, we dove into bacteria after bacteria – fiftyish in all. I’m writing to tell you that I am most certainly going to die of a horrible and probably disgusting infection. It might be a bacteria, or a virus, or a brain-eating parasite, or maybe a worm. Probably a worm.
Friday afternoon was a particularly long day, and toward the end I developed a mild cough. Despite my lack of any contact with farm animals over the last few days, this was obviously the first sign of developing inhalational anthrax, which would most assuredly kill me via massive internal hemorrhage within 48 hours.
Astoundingly, the cough went away when I had a sip of water.
With my presumptive death sentence commuted, I went to dinner with my roommate. We ordered takeout hamburgers from a hole in the wall joint around the corner. They were delicious.
They were also obviously infested with E. coli. E coli is a pretty normal bacterium you can find in meat, and most of the time nothing happens when you eat it. Most of the time you get Happy E Coli. Unfortunately, sometimes when you eat it, you end up on the toilet for a long time because you ate Angry E Coli. Sometimes, if you have really bad luck, you get Evil E Coli (I’m talking about EHEC, for you futuredoctors out there).
Then you end up peeing blood and in a coma. And dead.
Miraculously, I survived my hamburger. As did Ryan.
When I woke up yesterday morning, I discovered an itch on my foot. I instantly realized that I had picked up hookworm, despite my location in a non-tropical climate. By now, the hookworm probably has climbed up my trachea (don’t ask) and headed south into my stomach, where it will grab on to my small intestine and start drinking my blood. (Twilight is still worse.) This is the hookworm zoomed way in, and it is my favorite picture ever because it looks surprisingly like Jaws:
I figured since I had a few years before I developed severe anemia and died of an iron deficiency, I might as well try to pass this exam next week. So I headed to the library to study.
Unfortunately, on the way to school, the man next to me on the bus coughed without covering his mouth. I have determined, using Medical Knowledge, that I am now Patient Zero for the novel “Bus Passenger” flu, which I can only assume has a 100% mortality rate.
But I’m not going to be infectious for another couple of days. So I went and studied anyway.
A few hours later I emerged, newly knowledgeable about disgusting fungus infections like blastomycosis (which causes a fairly disgusting hole in your skin) and histoplasmosis (which will grow an enormous tumor in your abdomen). Ryan and I walked home. Along the way, a mosquito bit me.
My mind raced. The possibilities were multiple. I could have acquired malaria. Or perhaps the mosquito contained microfilaria, worms that would migrate to my lymph nodes and clog the pipes. I’d end up with the gigantic legs and arms characteristic of elephantiasis.
Or maybe what I thought was a mosquito was instead a fly from a nearby stream, giving me schistosomiasis, which turns your liver into a backed-up sewage line so you swell up to Hindenberg proportions.
The probability of death from this weekend hovered around 100%.
I should probably make a doctor’s appointment. With an actual doctor.