Hi, Kari. I did read Hillenbrand’s memoir of her illness when it ran in the New Yorker, and found it both fascinating and, in certain elements, familiar. My illness was pretty different, though; I had a bit of fatigue, but not the crushing kind that overtook Hillenbrand. My symptoms were mostly restricted to joint pain, swelling, and immobility. Whatever it was I had, my doctors never were able to pin it down; most of the classical signs of both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis were absent, but one major clinical indicator (the anti-nuclear antibody test) was always elevated. That indicator remains borderline-high to this day, but what it indicates is far from conclusive; it suggests an auto-immune issue that could well someday resolve into lupus, or it could be a lingering nothing. Lupus would explain a whole lot of other health weirdnesses I’ve dealt with over the last several years — the apparent attack of appendicitis that was unaccompanied by fever or elevated white cell count, and that they thought for a while might have been ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; the blood clot in my leg two and a half years ago that came out of nowhere, unprovoked by long flights — but they won’t be able to diagnose that unless I get a whole lot worse. As long as I’m healthy (which I am, extremely so, all these weird health crisis moments notwithstanding), I’m happy to let sleeping dogs lie.

Interestingly, on the un- and mis-diagnosed disease front, the stories that have over the years sounded to me most like my own experience have been the stories of folks who’ve been diagnosed with MS, only to have their symptoms clear up when they have their silver-amalgam fillings removed. The argument is that the mercury in silver-amalgam fillings can leach into the bloodstream, and that, in some particularly sensitive folks, it will trigger auto-immune responses. As it happens, while I was in the midst of being treated for the mystery disease, my dentist discovered that the chemistry of my mouth had caused all of my silver-amalgam fillings to begin breaking down, and so he took them all out and replaced them with composite fillings. At the exact same time, my rheumatologist finally began to pull out the pharmaceutical big guns, and prescribed me anti-malarial drugs. I’ll never know which of the two did it, but within a couple of months, my symptoms started rapidly receding.

So go figure. The marathon was about five years after I’d gone into remission, and was a great declaration, mostly to myself, that I was better than I’d been before I got sick. Now, watching forty begin to loom on the horizon, I’m feeling the need for another such declaration of the “getting better all the time” variety. We’ll see how it goes…