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Why We All (Should) Hate Mononucleosis

March, 2010
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I am invincible. Okay, you got me, I’m not, but I use to think I was.

I thought I was able to handle family, friends, a social life, academics, sports and other leadership positions. My brain was working and the wheels were churning. Maybe somewhere during that time, my insides were attempting to punch their way out of my body. If they could yell, they were probably beating my insides with their little fists and screaming “JULIA! STOP IT! JUST STOP! We’re tired and beaten and exhausted!” And if they could, I probably wouldn’t have heard them anyway because of the fact that they are (hopefully) always trapped inside me. Thus, I continued to think I was Wonder Woman sans the outfit and awesome bullet-deflecting bracelets. I was determined to make everything in my life fall into place and nothing was going to stop me. If I had to, I’d take a nap on my Economics textbook (childishly hoping I would absorb the information during slumber) and jolt up an hour (or two if I was extremely exhausted) later, anxiously skimming the pages and remembering all the information I could. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the schedules, the activities or the homework that was going to make me start a beach bonfire and holler in joy as I danced a tribal dance and then dropped dead from exhaustion. Instead, it my downfall was due to Epstein-Barr.

No, Epstein-Barr is not the name of a foreign student who ended up sabotaging my pattern of life. It isn’t a teacher whose sole goal in life is to bring me down and then laugh about her diabolical success (which would be quite sad) in her dark and smelly classroom, but a virus. A virus that was maybe a million times smaller than my skin cell (please consult your Biology teacher). It wasn’t just evil, it was cunning. Instead of sneaking up behind me and stabbing me in the back, it left its mark here and there. It didn’t just pull back the curtains and attack me whilst screaming: “YOU’RE INFECTED!” Instead, the symptoms showed up slowly, like snails attempting to cross a finish line. My eyes were swollen but I dismissed it as the result of lack of sleep. My throat began to hurt and whenever I swallowed it felt like I was swallowing branches. Yet, I still dismissed the symptoms until I woke up with a lump the size of a chicken egg on the side of my neck. You can imagine my surprise when I stood in front of the mirror and wondered if a tarantula had decided to use my lymph nodes as her birthing site. Now, a normal teenager would’ve jumped up, believing they had come down with a foreign disease, and scurried off to their parents begging to be taken for a check up (that is in fact exactly what my brother would’ve done). Now, remember I, on the other hand, still believed that I was invincible.

Swollen lymph nodes? Are you kidding me? Unless little baby spiders start pouring out of my neck in the dead of the night, no way in the land of lemon trees and orangutans am I going to the hospital.’ Mind you, I had also discovered my monument of a lymph node during winter break and decided that there was no way some doctor with a stinky PhD was going to keep me in bed during my time off. I thought a bit of rest and some apples and kiwi fruit would do the trick. It did not. The day school started, I sat on the bus with a terrible headache. The moment I stepped into school, I felt like someone had decided to start a fire under the school (please don’t try to do this). My cheeks were flushed, I couldn’t concentrate in class and my mouth tasted like I had eaten a large Italian sub with extra onions and pepperoni and decided not to brush my teeth. I had to go through all that before I decided it was time to tell my mother that I had a large lump growing out the right side of my neck and felt like my cheeks could be used as a stove.mononucleosis-2

You can just imagine her reaction. She screamed, freaked, called the hospital and got me an appointment in a matter of five minutes. After two check ups, three blood tests and a terrible fever, I found out I had mononucleosis. This is when there is an abnormally high amount of monocytes in the blood. Still, I thought, what’s mononucleosis going to do to me? Unfortunately, I had let the lump in my neck alone for too long. Instead of it being little baby spiders ready to burst out of the womb, it was actually a huge lump of teeny tiny viruses using my neck as their sweet abode. These evil, awful creatures had also spread to and infected my liver. It was then that I had finally learned my lesson. Usually, most children end up having EBV but the virus stays dormant in the body for a long time. Sometimes, it never acts up. My terrible diet and sleeping pattern officially had my immune system in the dumpster, and that’s when EBV decided it would pay its little visit. I’ve been out of school for two and a half weeks and counting (that may seem all fine and dandy until the big piles of homework and unit tests start grinning evilly at me). I don’t ever get to see anyone. I’m not allowed to play contact sports in case I rupture my spleen (mind you, we’re still in basketball season and I miss my team terribly). I can’t eat spicy food. I have to take five different types of medicine, three times a day (and it’s not just the medicine itself that sucks, but the large burning hole it leaves in one’s wallet). I get tired easily in the middle of the day and now my parents are stricter than ever about me going to bed. Let’s not forget the part where my liver is infected and I was about a pinky finger away from having some sort of hairy cancer. Let’s all go tango now! No, mononucleosis is not fun.

Please, repeat after me. Mononucleosis is NOT fun. So please, let this be a lesson to you. Oh, sure. Ninety-nine percent of the students who read this will probably blow it off. ‘That won’t happen to me.’ Sure, that’s what I thought for the first 17 years of my life. This was, at best, the most eye-opening experience ever. It was as if I had jumped off a helicopter, getting ready for my parachute to open and then realizing I never even put the parachute pack on. Stupid and careless. Fine, don’t listen to me now, but you just wait.

mononucleosis-3So, in this essay, I have jam-packed a small, beautiful packet of lessons. All because I got mononucleosis. Let’s review. (Sure, you’ve heard these before, sure, I’ve heard these before, but they honestly didn’t matter until I got sick.)

-Don’t wait to tell your parents that you’re sick. I waited four to five days, thinking the infectious lump of a lymph node was just, oh, nothing. Nope, it was a cul-de-sac of viruses. And because I waited those seemingly unimportant four to five days, the virus spread to my liver. Thanks. I really needed that.

-Go to bed. Wow, how many times have we heard that in our lives? You may not be very happy when you hear your parents yell, “GET INTO BED RIGHT NOW BEFORE WE UNPLUG ALL THE ELECTRICITY IN THIS HOUSE!” (Which, unfortunately, has happened to me before), but it’s true. Your body really needs to rest from 11-2 AM, since that’s the time you’re body is cleansing and your liver is working to kick out all the nasty toxins you’ve been eating/drinking/breathing all day long. Give your body the rest that it deserves!

-Eat your vegetables. Now, it just sounds like I’m trying to be your parent. Trust me, I don’t and neither do you. But those fruits and vegetables really start to count when your body is decaying due to lack of vitamins and minerals.

-You will not, and can not pull off wearing a tank top and shorts during the winter. Unless you’re in sunny California, stop trying. Just because you don’t get sick now, it doesn’t mean you won’t get sick later. And who says a sweater doesn’t look nice. Stop focusing on the little things that won’t matter in the future, and take a look at the big picture. You know the picture of your body 20 years from now. 30 years from now.

-Stop sharing food. Haven’t your mothers/fathers/guardians taught you enough? Don’t share cans, straws, spoons, forks, sporks, insert eating/drinking utensils. I have no idea how I got EBV since I’m just passing around my water bottle like I’m playing hot potato. You can’t see the viruses, but they’re there and they hate you.

And thus ends this debacle of a rant against mononucleosis. Instead, I have stated every reason not to get mononucleosis. Some people are worse off than me and end up puking out their human organs. If not taken care of, there could be awful side affects. So, please, listen to me for once and take care of your body. We don’t need the teenagers of the world becoming flesh-eating zombies. That’s even harder to fight off than the EB virus.

By Julia Zhu

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