“I have a mosquito bite,” my friend tells me late one night over the telephone.
This common, rather picayune occurrence, which afflicts most of us ordinary mortals at diverse points during the spring and summer months, seems almost unworthy of pronouncement. A bee sting—especially one that G-d forbid causes an anaphylactic reaction—seems more meritorious of a mention. Maybe a small child would feel deeply offended by any invading predator, but since when do mature adults even exchange notes about banal, garden variety mosquito bites? If we were in countries besieged by malaria, Zika virus or West Nile virus I could understand my friend’s concern, but we live in the northeastern part of the United States!
Yet, melodrama is not my friend’s MO. She is the exact opposite of a drama queen (as opposed to me, for example). She underplays everything, impatiently brushes aside minor dangers and major obstacles threatening her existence, and never ever sweats the small stuff. She is positive, resilient, and brimming over with energy and resilience. The very fact that she’s even mentioning a mosquito bite sounds downright incongruous coming from her. In fact, alarm bells start to go off in my brain, and I stifle my yawn. She never complains, and she never recites her medical woes with relish. Most significantly, however, is that it’s January, and we are in the middle of an arctic blast.
“There are NO mosquitoes in January in New York City,” I tell her firmly. “They don’t survive the cold.”
“Well, this one did,” she says, sounding indignant that this lone survivor would have the impudence to bite her. She’s a very busy entrepreneur and doesn’t have time to be derailed from her tight schedule for even the slightest second. But wait a second, I think. Why should a mosquito bite derail her to begin with (which she says it has). What’s the big deal anyway? Mosquito bites might itch a little, but who makes such a fuss?
“Why are you making such a fuss?” I ask her.
“Because my foot has become very red and swollen and hard, and the patch of redness seems to be getting bigger. And it hurts. A lot.” I never once heard her say that anything hurt.
I sit bolt upright in my bed with an epiphany. “It’s not a mosquito bite,” I tell her. “It’s a spider bite.”
“Shtuyot,” she says dismissively. “There aren’t any spiders in my house. And anyway, New York spiders aren’t poisonous, are they? You haven’t been much help, thanks a lot. I thought you were a recovered hypochondriac and knew everything.”
“It’s a SPIDER BITE!” I shout.
“There are no dangerous spiders in New York!” she shouts back. “Anyway, I’m sure the pain will be gone by tomorrow,” she finishes.
The next day she’s in the local emergency room. The foot has swollen to alarming proportions, and redness radiates up and down her leg.
“Go to Cornell Weill,” she’s advised. “They have an infectious disease unit, so it’s best you go there. Honestly, we don’t know what you have.”
There she’s finally presented with a diagnosis that makes sense. “It’s cellulitis,” her husband tells me. She’s in too much pain to even speak over the phone. She’s admitted into the hospital, and they put her on an intravenous antibiotic drip for two days.
“It’s not working, “ her husband reports on the third day of her hospitalization. “They don’t understand why.”
“How high is her temperature?” I ask, because coincidentally, just at the exact same time, I am in bed with cellulitis myself, and this time around (I’ve had a few episodes in the past) my temperature peaks at 103°.
“Oh, she doesn’t have fever at all,” he says, surprised.
“No fever and she’s in the hospital on an intravenous drip? That doesn’t make any sense. Cellulitis requiring hospitalization is usually accompanied by high fever.”
I’m puzzled. But who am I to question the giants at Cornell Weill? When I hang up the phone I shake my head and tell my husband, “Her symptoms don’t really match the criteria for cellulitis. I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but I can’t help but believe it’s a spider bite.”