Infectious Mononucleosis: An Absolute Nightmare

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

This past Winter was the hardest term of my college career. I was sick from day one, and I perpetually seemed to be battling some type of cold. Being so sick so often was not normal for me at all, and deep down I felt like there was an underlying reason for it. In January, I went to SHAC three times in one week. Over the course of the term, I was tested for strep and had my blood drawn three times. I was tested for thyroid antibodies, deficiencies, and inflammatory markers. All of my blood work was normal. In fact, my CBC (Complete Blood Count) never even indicated I was battling an infection.

In January, I was also tested for mono and it was negative. Infectious mononucleosis (mono) is a common viral infection with no cure other than rest and time. It’s known for causing a fever, an enlarged spleen, and swollen lymph nodes. The recovery period often includes debilitating fatigue and weakness that lingers for weeks. It’s practically unheard of for a monospot test to be negative after 1-2 weeks of being symptomatic, and when I was tested I’d been exhibiting symptoms for three full weeks.

I had felt how weak and exhausted I was; I knew something was wrong. Without a diagnosis for what I was experiencing though, I didn’t feel valid in expressing my concerns and I didn’t want to come across as dramatic. In March, I was still sick and I decided to visit SHAC yet again. This was right when SHAC started COVID-19 precautions, but I had never worried that I was actually sick with the coronavirus. 

When the doctor asked about my symptoms, I caught myself saying, “Well I’m still staying as active as I was before I was sick.” But that wasn’t really the truth. When I swam, I could barely move my arms through the water. I was so weak that I could barely squat the 45-pound bar and was winded after three reps. If I didn’t nap once a day, I would feel the consequences of it in my energy levels the following day. For a couple weeks in February, my lymph nodes were so swollen that at one point, it hurt if something brushed my neck. I shared this with my doctor, and it may have been the information that convinced them I really should be tested for mono again.

That monospot test came back positive. After eight and a half weeks of going crazy trying to figure out what was happening to my body, I finally knew. In retrospect, everything made sense despite not having a classical case of mono. I realized how I had normalized my continual suffering because I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting to “just a cold.” I had continued swimming, lifting, and playing Ultimate frisbee. In doing so, I had unwittingly caused myself to relapse again, and again, and again. I’d also put my spleen at risk of rupturing by engaging in a contact sport. I know my body better than anyone, but I let the fear of outside judgment stop me from listening to it. It’s important to remember that a textbook-perfect model is often used in diagnoses, but an actual textbook-perfect case is rare.

Now, I’m feeling nearly 100% recovered. Beyond a couple lingering symptoms, I’ve regained my strength and am back to my usual active self. I’m grateful I never had to move home to recover from mono (which is pretty common), and I continue to live on campus despite the ongoing pandemic. The whole experience has made me value my health more than ever.

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