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A teaching moment: Disease

A student once told me about his chronic illness:

"I swear you remind me of one of the doctors from the hospital. I think I told you that before. You look exactly like this one dude -- he was an intern. He tried to help me.

"My hair is starting to grow back; you can sort of see the difference. It used to be all thin, up at the front, but now it’s starting to grow back. That’s why I did the dreads before -- because it kind of made it look all even, you know, but now I’m just letting it grow ‘til I can figure out what to do with it. You might not have noticed the difference, but It’s a lot better than it used to be.

"My face, too; it used to be so fat. I had to take all these steroids, so I put on weight, man. Especially in my face. I used to be about 170 before I got sick, but now I’m around 190, and I was even bigger in the hospital. The steroids do that to you -- put on weight. They did it to me, anyway. I"m trying to lose the weight. That’s why I’m not at lunch right now. I’m trying to get back to where I used to be.

"It snuck up. I was fine. And then I wasn't. Something wasn't right. We're kids; we're supposed to go outside, play football and video games. I just couldn't. I was always exhausted. Every move of my body felt foreign; it felt like the first time I'd ever kicked a football or shot a hoop. Every time, man.That’s when I knew something was wrong.

"My parents thought I was lying at first -- you know, when I started asking to go to the hospital.

"When I finally went, the doctor said I had meningitis. All throughout this, I was still going to school everyday, just like nothing had happened.

"It kept creeping behind me -- the disease, death. Like a snake in the bayou. One day I woke up blind in one eye. The nurses had to feed me and everything. One of them asked if I remembered her. Of course I couldn't remember. I was blind. Even though I couldn't see my room, I felt it. I knew I despised it.

"They said I had HLH. I bet you've never even heard of that, right?

"They had this thing, this machine, drilled into my chest ,where they could put something-or-other straight into my heart.

"They tried to get me a bone marrow transplant, but my mom and my dad were both the wrong type.

"So I went to see an herbalist. Ever heard of that? It’s a guy who only uses natural herbs and teas and things you don't see behind the pharmacy. He gave me pills he made himself."

"The dude said it would work after two or three weeks. Still nothing.

"The herbalist told me to stop using the meds the other doctors -- the ones with the stethoscopes and white coats -- gave me.

"Two weeks later it started working.

"I'm getting back to where I used to be."