The fever started on a Monday morning in June. By Friday, I woke up in a bed at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with yellow skin, an inflamed liver, a dull pain in my stomach and a doctor offering me morphine.
A rotating cast of specialists, residents and medical students began streaming past my bedside as I cowered under a mass of towels and blankets trying to hide from sunlight that was causing my head to throb. Their best guess was that a gallstone was causing bacteria to build up in my bloodstream.
A surgeon recommended a procedure to clear any blockages, sort of like a “Roto-Rooter,” he explained, a tad too cheerfully. Then my temperature spiked to 104. If some sort of medical device snaking through my insides could bring relief, I wanted it, now.
Just six days earlier, my wife Rachel and I had celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary watching a dance performance in Harvard Square, less than half a mile from where I lay. Now—after a week of sweat-soaked nights, a full-body rash, episodes of vomiting and violent, shaking chills—Rachel stood anxiously by my bedside, helping me pry my wedding band off my swollen finger as I prepared for surgery.