A few years ago, a young woman waited patiently to be seen in our office after hours. She was a patient of one of my colleagues, but she couldn't wait for their scheduled appointment; she needed to see someone right away.It's not funny, but I'm laughing. Well, laugh at this. The doc contintues,
"I'm worried I have Lyme disease," she said. "I have all the symptoms. I think I need to be treated."
"But you have AIDS," I said.
"I'm tired and weak and I have fevers and sweats. I've lost my appetite. I can't think straight. I'm losing so much weight!"
She had seen a TV news report on Lyme disease, and then she had checked the Internet. All her symptoms were right there.
"But you have AIDS," I said. "And you don't want to take meds. That's why you're feeling so bad."
"I'm really scared about Lyme disease," she said. "I really need to get treated."
"If you want to be scared, how about that untreated AIDS of yours?"
We looked at each other. It was an impasse. The fact that logic was on my side mattered not at all: evidently the real was just a little too real for her. How much better to find another illness to be scared of, obsess over, get treated for, get rid of.
Eventually she coerced my colleague into testing her for Lyme disease and treating her despite negative tests. Then she decided her symptoms might actually be due to a brain tumor, instead. And so it went, until she died of AIDS.
I did not say: If you want something to be scared of, how about the drug-resistant Klebsiella that is all over this very hospital, an ordinary run-of-the-mill bacterial strain that has become so resistant to so many antibiotics that we've had to resurrect a few we stopped using 30 years ago because they were so toxic.
That Klebsiella is one scary germ. It's in hospitals all over the country, and by now it's probably killed a thousandfold more people than the avian flu.