Considering how drunk I got that night and the next day, it was a good thing that I didn’t have hepatitis. I’m sure the sheer volume of what I ingested would have had me well on my way to a transplant. But at that point I really didn’t care. After the last few weeks, I really needed and deserved liquid therapy.
We’d had made plans months before to join some friends for a weekend on Helgoland, a quirky little island with a troubled past in the North Sea. I was still recovering but again I didn’t care. Escape sounded great. So the next morning we were up and on our way. I waited until we were on the train halfway to Hamburg and almost through the first bottle of wine I’d packed, before I finally told Oliver about the test results.
He was surprisingly calm about it.
I don’t think you have anything, he said, pouring me more wine. He then reminded me about the exhaustive tests we’d taken in preparation to move to China. The Chinese government had required tests and immunizations for just about any and every disease in the modern world. Even if I’d caught hepatitis C recently, he said, they would have caught a childhood infection for hep A. He was also pretty sure we’d both been immunized for hepatitis, although which one was hard to recall. Something else was wrong, he said, maybe a test was tainted.
I relaxed a little and then made it just in time to get sick in the restroom. Two months of not drinking can really lower your tolerance.
The doctor called and confirmed it the next morning. Negative for both strains. Turns out the hospital had several positive hepatitis results come in that day, something that was almost unheard of and apparently was causing a bit of a commotion. It seemed possible that the tests had been tainted. The hospital was looking into it. Either way, she said, you don’t have anything else wrong with you.
You’d think that this would have been the end of it. That’s certainly what I’d thought. But it was only almost over.
I know, I know. Enough already! How much can I milk out of this story? But bear with me just a bit longer.
Three weeks later. Life had sorta kinda returned to normal. I was back on track physically and feeling pretty good again. Then, coming home from working in Munich, I found a card in the mail from the local health department. Written boldly across one side, for anyone to see, were the words: Hepatitis Diagnosis.
I was sure I was fine, but just like driving up to a DUI checkpoint when you’re sober, for a moment I was mentally reviewing everything again in my head. This was done right? I’d been given the all clear? They’re not taking back my negative diagnosis are they?
What the hell was this?
The card was an order for me to report “immediately” to their office for an investigation into my hepatitis infection. I was officially on the books as an infected person and they needed to find out where I got it and they also had to be sure that I knew how to live with my new chronic infectious disease without becoming a Typhoid Mary. If I didn’t comply promptly, I was threatened with quarantine and/or incarceration.
I read the damn card twice and then tossed it on the kitchen table. I uncorked another bottle of wine and was well into my glass, with one ready for Olli when he walked in the door. This time I didn’t wait and told him immediately.
“We are way past funny at this point,” I said, handing him the wine and pointing to the card, making it clear that this was in his hands. I was done talking to people and trying to stay polite.
Oliver checked again with the hospital that my test results were unchanged. There had been some sort of human error that had contaminated many test results that day. But the health department had been promptly informed about my all-clear status. They had no idea why the card had been sent. But you know, bureaucrats, they’re probably behind on their paperwork.
I’m pretty sure that the next phone call he made, bright and early the following morning, was really therapeutic for him. He’d been a supportive passenger throughout everything that had happened, a process that now spanned over almost two months, but this had been hard for him too. Although what happened had affected both of us, it had all happened to me and he’d had to watch. It had all been out of his hands. There had been nothing he could do to fix it or make it better. Still an engineer at heart, this must have been particularly tough for him to accept.
So when the woman at the health department picked up the phone that morning, he fixed her. And good.
I only felt a momentary twinge of sympathy for the person on the other end of the line as I listened to Oliver unload. Then I moved on to appreciate how well he’d crafted his verbal attack on their incompetence, encompassing angles I would never even have thought to include. Not only did he point out the unacceptable tardiness of their response to grossly inaccurate information, but also their lack of confidentiality by sending a postcard that could have been read by anyone and may well have branded me as the plague in our neighborhood. Lucky for them I wasn’t diseased or by now, three weeks after the (false) diagnosis, I could have already taken down half the town.
I think he made quite an impression. I know I was impressed. It also felt like a release. Oliver unloaded a lot of bile on a unfortunately deserving recipient, who probably wouldn’t forget that chat for a while, and I felt relieved.
This chapter, at least, was finally closed.
And now we could move onto the next problem: What now?