Immune Systemly Challenged

Welcome to the planet, baby Goldfish. Image from

Health is something I’ve been blessed with, but at the same time, I haven’t had a lot of. I’m generally not poorly, but when I get sick, I get sick.

When I was an infant, I had pneumococcal meningitis, an infection that causes swelling and irritation of the membranes (meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord. Humans kind of need our brains to live and I had a bacterial infection eating away at mine. Not only that, but the main treatment they used way back when I was a babe was penicillin. I’m allergic to penicillin. I nearly died. I did die, but they brought me back. I was in a neonatal intensive care unit in one of those terrarium boxes for weeks on end. My parents could only see me through a glass window.

Welcome to the planet, baby Goldfish. Image from
Welcome to the planet, baby Goldfish. We all live in terrariums. This one is yours.
Image from

Somehow, I was sprung from the box eventually, weighing half of what I did when I was born. It was a very good thing I was such a fat baby. I was designated a “miracle baby” the year I was born. I was in the newspaper along with my pediatrician who pretty much single-handedly saved my life. She hardly left my side the whole time I was in there. The doctors didn’t know what side effects I’d have yet since I was only a few months old, and newborns aren’t particularly renown for their hand-eye coordination. I have partial deafness in both ears, particularly my right ear, and I suffered from migraines all the way through my childhood, but that was the worst of it.

Well, that and my immune system is all messed up from the meningitis. It really pisses me off whenever someone comes into work sick since that invariably means that I will get sick. And, like I said, when I get sick, I get sick. Someone will come into work with a mild cold, I’ll get it and I won’t be able to move for two days.

My immune system goes into shutdown mode–only essential functions–just to handle a common cold. It’s annoying since I have to take days off of work for a sissy cold everyone at work has had already so they know it’s just a sissy cold. When I start a new job it’s even worse, since I’m exposed to a whole new batch of germs. Most of the time, employers think I’m playing hooky. I have to explain the whole meningitis/immune system/people really shouldn’t come into work sick crap all over again. The upside is that, even though I am knocked on my ass, it’s usually over pretty fast.

In high school, I got a case of mono. I didn’t move, eat or drink for a week. The only sustenance I could manage were Popsicles. I lived on those things. I hate them now.

Gross. image from
image from

I remember trying to make it from the couch I was permanently ensconced on to the bathroom one day, a distance of roughly fifteen feet with a turn. I couldn’t make it. I passed out and peed myself in the hallway where my mother found me hours later. I had a ridiculously severe case of mono, but it only lasted a week. Some kids who got the same case of mono from the selfish patient zero who showed up to school with the plague had less severe cases, but it left them feeling crappy for months.

I got pink eye every six months like clockwork when I was a kid. Twice a year, I was pulled out of school or sequestered from polite society for a few days because it is highly contagious. I had it so often that I could self diagnose and just use the same eye drops I used last time since they hadn’t expired yet.

Inexplicably, when I was about fifteen, I just stopped getting it. I have had pink eye less than half a dozen times in my adult life. It could be because, as a kid, I got into the habit of washing my hands every time I touch my eyes. I react to someone nearby saying they have pink eye the same way other people would respond if I told them I had a hungry rabid mama bear who I taught to use sub-machine guns in a flimsy cage behind them while they’re holding her cub. If someone three miles away has pink eye, I will get it.

When I don’t get knocked on my ass by something, it usually comes back to haunt me. For example, I had a very mild case of chickenpox as a child, which turned into a very severe case of shingles a few years ago. My right side from armpit to waist was covered in rash and blisters. Shingles comes from chickenpox, but it’s different and worse.

The worst chickenpox has to offer is itchiness and generally feeling bleh. Shingles gives you bleh, plus the added bonus of feeling like you’re being stung by a jellyfish all the time forever (or at least three weeks). If you’ve never been stung by jellyfish and have no frame of reference, think of being stung by a hundred bees or needles or bees with needles mounted on them all at the same time, all in the same place, all the time. It is an in your face, throbbing, stinging kind of pain, which is an unbearable kind of no fun. The pictures on those links are making me a little queasy.

I am one of the few people under retirement age to get shingles. From the link: there are “1.2–3.4 cases per 1,000 healthy individuals, increasing to 3.9–11.8 per year per 1,000 individuals among those older than 65 years.” Yay me. At least that’s one thing I can cross off my list of things to do when I turn 65 (fingers crossed).

And that’s how it goes. I am generally healthy until I’m completely not healthy at all. I am taken down for the count by something that would hardly slow another person down. I don’t get sick; I get sick. It stinks having an immune system that was so abused early on in life that it can’t do much to help now. I get weird ailments. I get illnesses that people my age shouldn’t get. I become comatose from the common cold and my immune system just shrugs its shoulders.

While most of you have immune systems that are like the battle of Verdun with protracted trench warfare, mine is like Hiroshima and Nagasaki–quick, mass destruction. I try not to be too hard on my immune system. It’s been through a lot. It’s doing all it can. Besides, it’s the only one I’ve got.