Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

April 18, 2001:
Oh Gosh, McCosh
The trials of ailing student

By Kate Swearengen '04

Dear Mimi and Poppa,

Don't get sick on this campus, that's all I have to say. Three weeks ago my throat was killing me, and the soreness wouldn't go away, no matter how many tablespoons of Robitussin I took. I went to McCosh to see if I could get a strep test, but the nurse said that nothing was wrong with me. I went back a couple of days later and pleaded for a second opinion, offering to forfeit one of my 10 free visits to the McCosh shrinks for a strep test. Well, I didn't get a strep test, but when the nurse took my vitals, my resting pulse rate was 129. I tried to explain to her that 129 was a perfectly normal resting pulse rate, considering that I was emptying a 12-pack of Diet Coke every two days and taking No-Doz when I wasn't nursing a cup of coffee. She wouldn't listen, though, and so I ended up meeting with a doctor, who diagnosed me with bronchitis, prescribed an antibiotic, and sent me in for an EKG.

An EKG can be compared to a successful night on the Street, in that the procedure is conducted while one is shirtless and on one's back. The similarities end there, however, since an EKG also involves being slathered with electrode jelly and zapped by an electrical current. My EKG results revealed an elongated QT ratio, which meant that I had official license to miss a week's worth of crew practice. It also meant that I had to meet with a cardiologist.

"Your appointment with the cardiologist is Friday," the doctor at McCosh told me. " And I don't want you to consume any soda until after you talk to him. Do you think you can go three days without caffeine?"

"No," I told her. "I'm already getting a migraine. Can I at least have half a can?"

"Three sips," she said. "And under no circumstances are you to go to crew practice. A long QT interval can be serious -- the first symptom is often sudden death. I assume you've read about all those college basketball players who fall over dead in the middle of practice."

"Don't feel bad," the nurse chimed in. "Lots of people have heart conditions. Look at Dick Cheney."

"Dick Cheney?!" I said. "Dick Cheney weighs four hundred pounds."

"But he's an incredible man," the nurse told me. "He's had quadruple heart bypass surgery, and he's going to be one of the most active vice presidents in history."

I wanted to tell the nurse that it was unfortunate that Cheney's activity did not extend to the exercise bike or treadmill, but I restrained myself.

On Friday I went to a local cardiologist, who told me that he couldn't wait until men's lacrosse season started. He asked me if I had dated any of the lacrosse players (I hadn't) or if I had classes with any of the lacrosse players (I doubted it). Then he told me that I would have to get another EKG, but that, instead of lying down, this test would be administered while I was running on a treadmill. Within the first two minutes of the test, I had sweated off most of the electrodes, and so for the rest of the test I had to run with the doctor and his two assistants clinging to my chest.

"According to these results, you have an elongated QT interval," the doctor told me. "But it's probably nothing to worry about. You know those doctors at McCosh -- every time an athlete sneezes, they get worried that he's going to drop dead and sue. You're cleared to return to practice."

So I went back to practice, and a week later I heard from my doctor at home, who told me that the elongated QT interval had been caused by the antibiotic that the doctor at McCosh had prescribed for my bronchitis. Enraged at the faulty diagnosis, I complained to my friends at dinner.

"That's nothing," Liz told me. "When Allison got sick and went to McCosh, they told her that she had contracted malaria. It turned out to be the flu."

So, Mimi and Poppa, if I ever get sick again, I'm going to make like the Shah of Iran and flee the region for medical treatment elsewhere. Hope you all are doing well.



You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu