By Ann Sterzinger
The Doctor Who spin-off that speaks to the invincible community, or: How I survived a typhus coma without any competent medical help.
Almost a year after falling into a should-have-been-fatal coma due to complications of typhus (yes, the medieval/concentration camp disease; welcome to Los Angeles!) I celebrated my deathaversary last night by searching for confirmation that…
A. Typhus — that is, scrub typhus, the kind I had — actually CAN cause hallucinations, and I wasn’t just imagining all that shit, and…
B. It’s possible to survive that shit without major medical intervention.
According to the Indian physicians who have actually seen enough cases of this crap to have an informed medical opinion, A. is true. But B.? Not so much. If you’re so far gone you’re seeing shit, your next stop on the typhus bus is losing the use of your legs, and then you arrive at Grim Reaper Grand Terminal. Can you elude his Typhus Scythe?
Only if you’re fucking invincible. Only if you’re me.
For those who haven’t been playing along at home, last year my dumbshit landlord and/or roommate let my cat out in Lawndale, California, close to the epicenter of the LA typhus neo-epidemic; cat got fleas, fleas bit me, and a rash and a fever and a couple of office visits to incompetent physicians later, I fell into a bizarre waking coma.
Somehow these “doctors” were able to diagnose me with typhus, but were unable to look up typhus on Google and find the specific antibiotic that doctors in India have found to be effective — doxycycline. Instead they threw stronger and stronger versions of random antibiotics at it till they blew out my digestive tract, which was the beginning of the end.
Or at least, for YOU it would have been the end. For me it was the beginning of Fun with Invincibility and Extreme Pain.
I’ll spot you the leg that puffed up to quadruple size, ballooned and purple and nightmarish, from the initial insect bite, as well as the horrifying full-body rash that preceded the coma, since I was still somewhat coherent at that point. (No, for the chronically delusional imbeciles in the audience, a full-body rash has nothing to do with AIDS. If you don’t know what this refers to, you don’t want to know.) You might have survived that, despite the horror, and despite the fact that your feet felt like they were full of broken glass for months. So we’ll begin with the part where I could neither move nor sleep, eat, drink — or even cry out when my roommate started beating my cat.
Immobile and operating under the assumption that I was going to croak, I let YouTube grind away with random auditory distractions as my darling roomies let me lie in febrile paralysis for days, with no food or water — although the landlord DID come in to bitch at me about the rent being late.
He did not, however, offer to fetch my checkbook for me, which would have certainly helped his greedy cause more than simply bitching, if only I could have seen well enough to write the check.
Finally, a friend who was visiting from France found me in this condition. He removed me to an AirBnB, where after attempting to visit LACMA (I couldn’t walk, so that was short-lived) I fell into a state of complete unconsciousness.
So my friend spent his vacation taking me to the emergency room.
There, they found me so disoriented that, instead of attempting medical treatment, they threw me in the looney bin. The locked ward. The prison for crazy people, with security as tight as Alcatraz, except unlike a real prison, you’ve got no idea when they’ll let you out… fuck, I hate that place.
That’s where I eventually woke up… and began having the wildest waking dreams imaginable. I’ll help you imagine them.
But first, let me tell you how impressed you should be with my powers of keeping on keeping on; I have trouble believing it myself. Any ONE of my extreme symptoms — from my inability to focus my eyes (I couldn’t even read well enough to tell the stupid doctors to use doxycycline instead of throwing random antibiotics at it, as any fool who was able to actually read at that point could have used Google to do), to having visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, being disoriented, and becoming semi-comatose — would have killed or disabled almost anyone.
I was laid out flat for nine days. Then I was treated with group therapy and hospital food rather than medicine; the people who died from this shit got more help from modern medical science than I did.
Yet I walked away with nothing worse than a couple weeks’ worth of malingering delusion (it felt like I was on the last few hours of an acid trip and couldn’t get off the ride), and then maybe some memory loss (although that could just be the exacerbated ADHD symptoms thanks to the umpteenth layer of PTSD that was tacked on by yet another near-death experience).
This would explain why I enjoyed the Torchwood spin-off to the Doctor Who series so much.
The main character in the show, Captain Jack Harkness, is a bisexual intergalactic paramilitary playboy and close friend of the Doctor (OK, maybe I’m not quite that glamorous, but wait for the final clause:) who can’t be killed. Finally, a Doctor Who show that speaks to the invincible population!
Oh, Harkness gets smashed into bits in every way you and a team of TV writers could possibly imagine, and he suffers incredible pain. But he keeps on living. In fact, he lives so long that (spoiler… if you want to watch the series afresh, put your hand over the next mini-paragraph and skip to the cool screencaps…)
… after millennia of rescuing everybody and being exploded, he slowly morphs from a shallow, dashing hot-head into the Face of Boa: a floating, wise, omniscient head in a tank. Amusingly, the Face of Boa meets his obnoxious younger self several times thanks to the Tardis, but never lets on… he just lets himself suffer and grow till he knows all of time and space.
OK, so I’m neither wise nor a head in a tank yet, but I’m starting to suspect I’ll get there eventually. The tank part, anyway.
Because I’ve jumped from a second-story roof with no injuries, almost been shot by a police officer who was looking for someone else, survived a blood alcohol concentration that would have killed a cockroach (not to mention any other primate on earth, except maybe everyone else in Wisconsin, including my tag-team wrestling partner, Smacky the Clown, who died of slow liver failure) (oh yeah, I survived tag-team wrestling with a bunch of drunk 300-pound men and my own stupidity), and almost died in a thousand other even more embarrassing ways, on top of the typhus thing. (Edit: Oh yeah, I almost forgot that I got through a violent sexual assault by someone who seemed somewhat overly fond of helping me not to breathe.)
People think I’m kidding. Nope. I’m looking at the medical reports on neurological-level typhus and they’re all, “Patient became confused, onset of audio-visual hallucinations, developed semi-coma, was intravenously administered various life-saving miracle drugs, died anyway.” “Patient lost use of legs; was later able to walk with support.”
My report would have read: “After nine days semi-comatose, patient finally obtained food and water, albeit looney bin food and generic graham crackers. Started running around demanding release from mental ward 48 hours later. Declared self president of United States, attempted to escape in laundry cart, was found leading patient dance classes. Discharged because we got sick of her. Six months later she was fine.”
Zero percent of that is a joke, even though it’s funny as shit. All true stories.
One of my hallucinations in the psych ward was that President Trump got sick of his job, so he appointed a random woman (the one who happened to be having the hallucination, coincidentally) to be president in order to apologize for taking away Hillary Clinton.
I didn’t want the job till I remembered I had a deadly disease and the president gets the best medical treatment in the world. So I said to my imaginary interlocutor: OK, I’ll at least do it long enough to get rid of the typhus. Then maybe I’ll appoint my cat or something.
The mental ward happened to be right under the hospital’s helicopter landing pad, and I kept hearing the helicopter fly right over me. So I began thinking that if I sat in the right chair in the right position, I would be airlifted to an actual body hospital and treated before something worse happened to me.
Instead, they kept finding me and making me go to group. With typhus. Which they didn’t believe I had, so they wouldn’t let me see a medical doctor. They thought I was having a psychotic episode. When they finally let me see a doctor in reality, he took my temperature and was seriously pissed.
Most people would have died after such egregious medical neglect, and THEN wouldn’t they have had some shit on their hands?
Boyyyyyyy you fuckers got lucky. Next time you screw up that bad, it might not be the Face of Boa, and then where will you be? Not that I care; this is definitely a concern troll. Christ, I hate psychiatric nurses. When I first came to, I asked for a book to distract me from the pain. One of them gave me a condescending look and snarked: “Honey, I doubt you’ve read two books in your life.” I would have sat up and yelled “I’VE WRITTEN THREE OR FOUR TIMES THAT MANY BOOKS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU COUNT TRANSLATIONS, BITCH!” But I couldn’t sit up, or yell, so I just moaned till they brought me some crappy book. (And she was kind of right, in a way… I still couldn’t see well enough to make out the letters. So I had to lie back down and go on dealing with learning foreign policy shit. Something about building a bridge to Tarabinthia.)
I guess I can understand why the nurses were such cunts to me, since I was such a pain in the… eh, just kidding. Even a schizophrenic person likely has something physically wrong with their brain. Nobody sees demons on purpose to be a jerk. But most of these bitches respond to their immense $35-an-hour paychecks and the manifestations of mental illness with wanton cruelty.
I was pretty loud, but who could blame me? Harkness screams a lot, too. Aside from the ongoing pain and nausea, it was extremely strange and frustrating. I was aware of my deadly physical illness, even if no one believed I had it. And eventually I was totally aware of my surroundings, but they were overlaid by an exceedingly thick and hearty scrim of hallucinations. In hindsight, I can logically pick the two realities apart with ease— I was definitely in a mental ward, but I doubt it’s even legal to walk out of the White House just cause you’re bored and appoint some random immortal to be leader of the free world — but visually speaking, the hallucinations were more real than CGI, more real than dreams.
The idea for the laundry-cart escape stunt came from one of the other patients, who bought into my “I’m the president and I need medical treatment” shtick (half of which was true, and the other half seemed true — I mean, Trump was fucking standing right in front of me, whining about his job, just like the nurses, loud and clear as day— which is what made it so hard to talk my way out of this). When I heartily agreed with his suggestion, my fellow inmate was so thrilled his hospital gown almost flew up over his head. I think he was pretty proud that he was helping his country. As they rolled the cart across the hall, I watched till they left it alone, and then jumped on in. They were very cross when they found me in there.
“Madame President? You need to get out of the clean towels now.”
Apparently this delirium is caused by some sort of brain hemorrhage or blood coagulation, according to doctors who have seen a few of these cases, but it’s too rare to be sure. And I don’t seem to have any ongoing problems. You would think a brain hemorrhage would at least leave me with the occasional hiccough, but I’m no stranger than your average immortal these days.
There’s no love lost between me and the psychiatric pros, believe me. But trying to talk your way out of a psych ward when you A. Know you have a deadly physical disease, but B. Can’t stop the television from telling you that you need to sit in that particular green chair if you want Air Force One to pick you up and take you to the real doctor — that’s a new frustration that, as fucking funny as it was, I really didn’t need to have.
I mean, Christ on a cracker. Stop the “material,” please. I want to sit down in peace and write at this point in my life.
But something tells me I’m going to die another thousand times before I’m through. You know that “Oh no, not again” look that Captain Jack gets on his face right before he gets electrocuted by a robot or crushed by debris? I know it all too well.
If I were smart, I’d quit worrying about being jilted by “easeful death,” and worry more about my secret crush on chaos.
Author of NVSQVAM, DISASTER FITNESS, the ELEKTRA’S REVENGE sci-fi series, (Bk 1: LYFE out now) &the SEINE VENDETTA, book one in the Lisa LaRoche action series.