“Mom, I think I have frostbite!”

February 1994

After The Diminutive Russian and I split up, my heart was broken. I was 20 years old and had moved down to DC for a guy who started out as a bad boyfriend and ended up even worse. I spent the next month, going to class at GWU, dancing on the platforms at The Vault, partying a lot, and dating one of The Diminutive Russian’s friends.

Alexei personified Russian Hotness — 6’4″, blond hair, blue eyes and a body that could have been crafted by sculptors. Alexei also had quite a diversified portfolio. Sometimes he modeled, sometimes he worked as a bartender at The Vault, and sometimes he dealt pot.

Alexei was nice and uncomplicated. I don’t mean to imply that he lacked any abstract thoughts. But, after my intense relationship with The Diminutive Russian, it was refreshing to date someone who didn’t seek drama or evoke angst.

Alexei was up in NYC for a modeling gig, when ice storms began to rage through DC. The Mayor closed the whole city for a week so my friend, Bex, and I were holed up in our apartment. I felt incredibly tired and thought that I had gotten frostbite from the bitterly cold weather since I couldn’t feel my feet. “Please send me some good snow boots,” I asked my Mom.

The ice storms started to abate over the weekend, but I still couldn’t feel anything in my feet. In our infinite wisdom, Bex and I tried to wake my feet up. We poured hot water and cold water on them. Bex tenderly rubbed my tootsies with lotion. I even banged them on the coffee table. Nothing! Now and then, when I got up from the couch, I would fall, and call to Bex like that old lady in the Life Alert commercial, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

On the 14th, I was home, feeling quite out of sorts and waiting for Alexei to call to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day. Bex had gone out to dinner with her boyfriend, and they came home to enjoy “dessert” in her bedroom. I tried to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. So, when the phone rang at midnight, I was wide-awake:

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Alexei exclaimed.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” I replied with a little less enthusiasm.

“I just got in from New York. Want to come over?” he asked.

“I don’t know…I’m not feeling that well…it’s late,” I commented.

“I want to be with you. I brought you chocolates from New York. I have a bottle of Dom chilling. I came back tonight just so we could be together on Valentine’s Day!” he explained.

I was so exhausted, but I did want to see him. And, I felt like I would be more motivated to go to school and Student Health tomorrow, if I was already at his place. I got my things together, and as I changed into my outfit, I realized that my legs were really cold. From below my knees, they were like icicles. And, I was walking so slowly. Maybe this wasn’t frostbite? Maybe I had an orthopedic problem or something?

Twenty minutes later, I arrived at Alexei’s house, and knew that I didn’t feel like myself when I turned down a glass of Dom. He had brought me a candy bar and a single red rose, which made me smile.

We moved into the bedroom, and as tired as I was, I wanted to have sex. I also kept thinking to myself that I needed to make sure that he didn’t touch my legs below my knees. They were so cold that I worried he would wonder if he was having sex with a corpse!

I sat in a meditation position, facing him with my butt resting on my feet. My arms were stretched out behind me and I arched my back as much as I could. I shifted positions a few times by swiveling from side to side, but managed to move my legs as one unit. After we were done (or more accurately, after he was done since I was too tired to orgasm), we went to sleep. I remember that he made some comment about how cold my legs were. I just laughed and said, “It’s freezing in here!”

The next day in class, I noticed that my hands were numb and that it was tough for me to write. I had promised my Mom that I would go to Student Health, and one of the guys from school offered to walk me there.

A nurse at Student Health said that it was neither frostbite nor orthopedic. She thought it was neurological and gave me a referral form. As I checked out at the front desk, a Student Employee said,

“You look really tired. One of these doctors is right upstairs. Why don’t you go up and make the appointment before their office closes so then you can go home and go to sleep?”

That made sense to me so I walked upstairs, holding on to whatever wall or table I could. When I got to the receptionist desk, the secretary gave my referral form to one doctor who suggested that she show it to another doctor. Lucky for me, that doctor had a cancellation right that very minute!

I don’t know if you believe in miracles or blessings from above, but I do, and the events of that February afternoon remind me of why. As it turns out, the doctor who received my referral form from Student Health and offered to do a consultation right then and there was one of the experts in this area of neurology. From the one line on my referral form that said “tingling in hands and feet, difficulty walking,” she knew what was wrong and pretended to have a cancellation so that she could see me asap.

Within a few hours, I had a spinal tap and was admitted to the hospital with something called Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). I didn’t have frostbite. I was going paralyzed!!! Guillain Barre starts in your feet and hands and works its way inward. The majority of people arrive at the hospital with almost total paralysis, and it can be life-threatening if it reaches your lungs or heart. For you history buffs, a 2003 study believes that FDR had Guillain Barre, not polio.

GWU is a teaching hospital so doctors kept coming into my room to ask me questions.

“When did you last have sex?” the doctors inquired.

“Last night,” I replied.

“But you couldn’t feel your lower extremities?” one doctor asked.

“So? It was Valentine’s Day and I’m dating a really hot Russian model!” I explained.

[The doctors in the room just stared at me with wide eyes and said nothing for over 30 seconds before someone moved on to a different topic.]

Yeah, I really said that. What did I have to hide?

It took a while to get my strength back, but thanks to GWU Hospital and Physical Therapy, I did. And, yes, I know how lucky I am!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Alexei visited me in the hospital and came to my house quite a few times while I was recouping. A nice, uncomplicated guy was just what I needed at this time in my life!

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