My best friend is a loyal West Highland Terrier named Oscar. When my parents first brought him to the high-rise condo in Chicago where I lived at the time — it was love at first sight. However, I never could’ve predicted that my furry friend would play such a pivotal role in my healing process as I recovered from the life-threatening disease I later developed from the STD my ex-boyfriend infected me with. My dog has had a better understanding of my illness than anyone including my own treating physicians. I’ve experienced a medical miracle during my recovery that I truly believe Oscar is responsible for. He saved my life.
When doctors diagnosed me with meningitis at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on October 8, 2012, I had little comprehension of the seriousness of my illness. (Tests later proved that I had herpes-meningits and it progressed to meningoencephalitis.) My failure to understand my grave situation partially had to do with the fact that my brain was so swollen that it was difficult for me to process information. After my ER doctors received the positive test results for meningitis from the painful spinal tap they administered on me, everyone in the hospital seemed to panic except me. The hospital staff members quickly threw medical masks on and immediately quarantined me. As the chaos ensued, I sat in my hospital bed and thought it would be hilarious to post a photo of my friend and I wearing medical masks on FaceBook. I also came up with the brilliant idea to call my hair salon to make a hair appointment to get a Brazilian blowout as I was hooked up to an IV from my hospital bed. When you’re staring death in the eye, posting funny photos on social media and making hair appointments should not be a priority. I was out of my mind.
The day after I was released from Cedars-Sinai I went to my hair appointment thinking that I’d be back at my office working long hours again in just a few days — as if I had come down with a bad cold or case of the flu. No big deal. When I arrived at 901 Salon in West Hollywood it finally began to sink in how incredibly ill I was. I collapsed on a couch in the waiting room, passed out and when I awoke I proceeded to cry hysterically. The pain I felt in my brain was unbearable. The pressure on my head from the disease was so extreme I thought I was going to die right there in the salon. People stared at me in horror and all I could think is that everyone at the salon must’ve thought I had a Britney Spears or Amanda Bynes kind of mental breakdown.
When I left the salon I could barely stand up straight. I had severe vertigo, a migraine, extreme photophobia, nausea, dizziness, fever and blurred vision to name a few symptoms. I only had a ten-minute drive home but I had to pick up my medicine from Walgreens. When I arrived at Walgreens, I felt so sick that I thought I was going to pass out again. I was at the drive-thru window and I snapped at the pharmacist to get my prescriptions as soon as possible. I not so eloquently tried to explain to the poor man that I’m normally not a hostile person and my attitude was simply a direct result of the extreme pain I felt. The pharmacist gave me a look of grave concern and gathered my medicine swiftly. I raced home in record time. As I rode the elevator to my second floor apartment, I could feel the vomit coming up my trachea. I spent the next few hours hunched over my toilet projectile vomiting. It was a horrific sight reminiscent of the vomit scene straight out of “The Exorcist”. When I finally finished puking, I literally crawled to my living room and looked at my cell phone for the first time that day. I had several missed calls and text messages from concerned friends and family members. My friends and family were outraged after I told them I went to the salon that day. My mom insisted that I fly home to Chicago so my family could take care of me since it was clear that I was totally incapable of doing so myself.
My friends drove me to the airport the next day. When we arrived at LAX they offered to get me a wheelchair. I said absolutely not! I believed I had everything under control. Once I got to the security line it dawned on me that I barely could handle the task of standing in a line. When a line moves, you move. My brain was too swollen to understand the latter. I didn’t know how to move with the line. So when the line moved the people around me had to remind me to walk. I couldn’t understand why I had forgotten how to do such a simple task. After I went through security, I went to the bathroom. I proudly walked straight into the men’s room. I saw the sign that read “men” and the male figure on the sign but that had no meaning to me. Once inside the men’s room, a bunch of businessmen relieved themselves at urinals. They looked up at me in confusion. Unfazed, I just stared back at them with curiosity and checked out the size of their dicks. Finally, one of the guys said, “Can I help you with something?” I glared back at him and giggled. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t supposed to be in the men’s room because I’m not a man! I do not have a penis. I laughed out loud and walked outside. Instead of feeling terrified that my brain was too damaged to know what bathroom I belonged in, I thought I was absolutely hilarious! I had just seen a bunch of strange dudes holding their cocks — move over Kathy Griffin! During the next several months of my recovery, I walked into a men’s room almost everyday.
When I got to my gate passengers were in line boarding my flight. I sat in a chair right in front of the ticket agent and watched in awe as people boarded the plane. I was fascinated beyond belief – as if I was witnessing Jesus Christ himself walk on water. I was so intrigued with the passengers boarding their flight — I could’ve spent all day at the airport observing this phenomenon. The problem was that I almost did just that. After all the passengers had finished boarding, the flight attendants began to close the gate. As this happened, I just calmly sat in my chair and didn’t flinch. Luckily, a flight attendant walked up to me and asked me if I was on that flight. I confidently said,” Yes!” She gave me a suspicious look and then instructed me to board quickly.
When I got on the plane everyone was already in their seats with their seatbelts fastened. That’s when I realized I had almost missed my flight. I got in my seat without incident and within minutes after we took off, I realized it was going to be the flight from hell. As the plane soared to higher altitudes the pain to my head got increasingly worse. I popped painkillers like a crack head but it didn’t put a dent in excruciating pain I felt in my swollen brain. I literally cradled my head in my hands the entire flight and rocked back and fourth just like Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in “Rain Man”. I was certain that everyone on the plane was whispering about me. When I peeked at the passengers around me, their faces looked distorted like the way Charlize Theron perceived evil human beings in “The Devil’s Advocate”.
When I arrived at O’Hare airport in Chicago, the painstaking ten-minute walk to my mom’s car felt like a marathon. She was waiting in her VW station wagon with Oscar. Usually when I hop in the car I screech “Snuggle Bear!” and pull him on my lap for hugs and kisses. I nicknamed Oscar Snuggle Bear long ago because he loves to snuggle and he looks like a little polar bear. However, this homecoming was not so happy. The second I sat in the car I began to cry. I tried to explain to my mom how much pain I was in. I needed to lie down in a bed as soon as possible to relieve the unspeakable pressure I felt in my head. Snuggle Bear gave me a look of concern and hopped on my lap. I saw the sadness in his eyes. He knew immediately that his best friend was deathly ill. He gave me kisses the entire car ride home as I cried and rocked my head in my hands. Normally Snuggle Bear hits me with his paw in the car for nonstop tummy rubs but this trip he didn’t do that once.
When we got home I immediately crashed in my bed and remained there for weeks. I remember how concerned I was to be home so ill because I didn’t want to disappoint Snuggle Bear. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run, play and scratch his tummy all night like I always do when I return home. I also worried that I wouldn’t receive the proper rest that I so desperately needed because bullheaded Snuggle Bear never allows me to sleep much when I’m back. In the past he’s barked in my face early in the morning until I give in and get out of bed to play with him. This trip, he didn’t wake me up once. Snuggle Bear understood the severity of my illness. He knew that my brain required a ridiculous amount of sleep to heal. Instead of pestering me to play, he quietly remained snuggled up by my side. Snuggle Bear even forewent his nightly treat routine for me some nights. Every night he hits my parents up for treats before they eat dinner. However, on some of my worst health days he didn’t leave my side not even for one of his beloved doggie treats.
I’ve made several trips home to Chicago to receive medical care over the past two years. After my lawsuit against my ex for giving me my disease went public, I lost my job as a columnist the same day. That’s when my health took a huge turn for the worse. I fell into a deep depression, struggled with horrific PTSD and found myself back in the hospital four times the next few months for a variety of different health problems ranging from a tooth infection to pneumonia all stemming from the toll the herpes-meningitis and the stress had taken on my body. On top of that, I had a broken heart. I was shattered to discover that my illness stemmed from an STD that a man I had deeply loved had infected me with. It felt like he jabbed a knife straight into my heart.
Then the day my lawsuit went public my boss, who had also been a good friend, told me that the company didn’t want to be associated with herpes. She coldly told me that I was not allowed to say I currently worked for the company in any interviews I did about my case or disease. She asked me to lie about my relationship with the company and I felt no choice but to resign. It felt as if she had taken the knife my ex had stabbed me in the heart with and twisted it over and over again.
I had nightmares almost nightly and some of my worst nights I woke up terrified and covered in sweat. Thankfully I was home for a lot of those really bad nights and Snuggle Bear was there to comfort me. He always woke up when I had a nightmare and immediately gave me kisses and snuggles. The betrayal I felt lead me to a dark place. His devotion, love and loyalty healed my wounds. On my darkest days, he gave me the light and love I needed. Snuggle Bear proved to me that the entire world could turn their back on me but he’d still be by my side. To this day I still struggle with several medical problems. Whenever I have a bad day with my health Snuggle Bear knows and takes on my pain. When I’m under the weather he always gets ill too even when I’m in Los Angeles. My parents can gauge the status of my health from day to day just based on how Snuggle Bear is feeling. One of the biggest miracles of my health occurred more than a year after I fell ill. The herpes-meningitis and menigoencephalitis left me with a ton of vision problems including floaters and extreme photophobia. The floaters and photophobia made it impossible for me to function. It’s extremely painful for me to drive around sunset, attend a concert at night, drive at night – all bright lights feel like daggers slicing through my eyeballs, skull and straight into my brain. When I talk to people it’s also hard for me to focus because it looks there are dozens of flies swarming around their heads.
A neurologist told me that if the floaters don’t go away by the one-year anniversary of my meningitis diagnosis, they probably never would. The doctor said it would just be my new reality for the rest of my life. By the anniversary of my illness I was devastated because I still saw floaters and had a slew of other terrible vision and health problems. In addition to that, optometrists told me there was nothing that could be done for my vision problem because my eyes were fine – it’s my damaged brain that caused all my vision problems.
Two months later, Snuggle Bear ironically struggled with his own vision problems. His vet decided he had no choice but to remove Snuggle Bear’s left eye. He had developed a bad cataract and his eye couldn’t be saved. Right after my poor Snuggle Bear got his eye removed, the floaters went away in my left eye. This contradicted what the doctors had predicted. It was nothing short of a miracle.
As the late James Garner said in “The Notebook”: “Science only goes so far then there’s God.” I truly believe Snuggle Bear gave up his left eye so I could have one eye function better. My dad says Snuggle Bear was a gift from God to get me through this dark period in my life. During my voyage through the gates of hell I’ve been blessed to have a furry angel holding my hand the entire way through. Without his love and support, I wouldn’t have made it to the other side.