Mono and Me

One woman’s courageous battle with the kissing disease

FOR WEEKS I’D HAD a sore throat, and I felt sleepy and lethargic. The random polling of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers as to what might be ailing me was proving frustrating and worrisome.

People offered various diagnoses like lumbago, scurvy, decrepitude, bubonic plague, distemper, and epistaxis. A gal on the bus even suggested that it could be “prostrate issues.” Indeed, in my past I had misspent many an hour laying down. Perhaps my lifestyle choices were coming back to haunt me.

Still, there were no easy answers. Is this what HMOs had wrought? That I could no longer trust the health-care services that my lay-friends were offering? I had no choice but to go to an actual doctor.

Dr. Kathy took my temperature and some blood samples, and as she felt my glands, I averted my gaze to give them some privacy. She wondered if it might be some sort of viral infection but only a blood test would tell.

Dr. Kathy leaned back in her chair, hands folded. “I think you should be prepared for the worst,” she said.

I tried to quell my panic. How serious was this?

“It’s not uncommon for people in situations such as yours to have to, well, make drastic alterations in the way they live,” Dr. Kathy continued carefully.

I silently and fervently hoped that this meant that I’d no longer have to work. I’d have special parking privileges and have to eat frosting all day for medicinal purposes.

“Give it to me straight, doc,” I said.

“You may have to live in a sterile environment—no contact with the outside world. Something like a plastic bubble, or a gated community.”

She handed me some pamphlets on plastic bubbles and places with names like Alabaster Hollow and Impregnable Haven. Trying to control my tears, I thanked Dr. Kathy and ran out of her office so quickly I barely managed to grab the latest issue of People magazine from the waiting room and stuff it in my purse.

The days passed and I was on pins and needles and other clichés as I awaited the results of the blood test. At last, the call came one day while I was at work. “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,” Dr. Kathy said gravely. “You have…mononucleosis.”

Surely I hadn’t heard right. “It’s sometimes called the ‘kissing disease,’” she added.

I slumped over my desk. Why, why me? Oh, how I wanted to scream and curse the fates but I had already received a written warning from my boss about screaming and cursing the fates on company time.

“The good news is that it’s not contagious through casual contact. Just make sure you don’t share eating or drinking utensils,” Dr. Kathy reassured me. “And avoid kissing, of course.”

Would this nightmare never end? I would have to cease my rampant kissing sprees. My days of accosting perfect strangers and making out with them at length were over.

My tears flowed freely and I crumpled to the floor, where I spotted an errant Whoppers malted-milk ball under my desk that had gotten away from me a few months earlier. As I popped it into my mouth, I wondered if this would be my last Whopper.

“Listen to your body,” Dr. Kathy urged.

But my body and I hadn’t been on speaking terms for years. We had had a falling out when it insisted on continuing my menses even after I had demanded it stop. After a very ugly confrontation, my body stalked out of the room, and though I ran into it here and there, we barely exchanged civilities.

“Oh, and stay off your spleen,” Dr. Kathy admonished. I had never felt so frightened and alone.