We spent the next six months at Goddard, where I didn’t find any more needles but did discover some good excuses to leave my husband and begin a cross-country odyssey in a Volkswagen van with my daughter and a fifty pound bag of brown rice. Eventually we divorced, I remarried, went to law school and put my short-lived drug-addled time behind me, just mentioning to my doctors if queried that I had once long ago possibly, maybe, perhaps, contracted hepatitis.
And so I did, as it turned out. What’s more, unbeknownst to me or my doctors I never really got rid of the virus, and it coursed through my body doing damage for the next 43 years. Back in 1970 when I got sick, a diagnostic test for hepatitis C did not exist and was not developed until the 1990’s. And because the disease, once it has finished its acute phase and segued into a chronic condition, often does not produce symptoms, even the medical profession was blind to the widespread nature of infection and consequent liver disease. My own family doctor certainly was. I recently reviewed the last five years of my annual exam charts and found carefully noted each time, “possible hepatitis far past”, with no follow-up.
I discovered that I was infected with the hepatitis C virus by accident. It all began in 2007, when incidentally (I had a precautionary MRI screening of my lungs) the radiologist noted an enhancing area on my left kidney. For those who are lucky enough to not know what that means, bad, possibly cancerous cells show up differently on scans and are said to “enhance” when exposed to chemicals. My family doctor was on vacation, and his partner who knew next to nothing about renal issues advised me to have my kidney removed immediately, apparently unaware that is no longer the recommended procedure anywhere in the free world.