The Yuppie Flu

My first exposure to Epstein Barr was when my friend’s older sister became very sick. It took a while to find someone who could help her. This was the first time I heard of an integrative doctor. It was 1987, and so many people were ill with this virus, especially professional women with demanding jobs, it was dubbed “the yuppie flu.” It made a brief flash in the news, and then scientists dismissed it as probably psychosomatic and it wasn’t heard of again.

The public may have seen it brushed off, but that didn’t make it go away. I watched my friend’s sister whittle down to emaciation, too tired to leave her bed. A stunning girl who had been life of the party was now in a perpetual bad mood, easily angered. I remember sitting in the back of her BMW, she grumpily driving us license-less kids someplace. She pulled out of the garage, her bony hands turning the wheel. She sighed, her words thick with frustration as she said she felt like “a dirty dish rag.” I was around twelve at the time, imagining what that must feel like. I had experienced fatigue and brain fog since childhood, and mornings were most difficult. But it wasn’t debilitating. Not at that time.

I asked my friend what was her sister doing to get better? Taking Centrum vitamins, she said. And she was on a special diet and medications treating a Candida infection, too. She received intravenous vitamin treatments. I don’t remember what else. What I do remember is that she got better. She was cured. She went on to marry her college sweetheart, birth three sons, and had enough energy to be a very involved, hands-on, fun, stay-at-home mother. The kind who volunteers to dress up in silly rental costumes for special events at her kid’s school. Her angry self had disappeared with the virus. She was now all smiles, a vibrant, sunny wife and mother who clearly enjoyed life.

Fifteen years later, I was a young professional with a demanding work schedule, and the annoying fatigue that plagued me throughout college was no longer alleviated with caffeine. I suspected I had the Epstein Barr Virus and it was responsible for the exhausting chronic flu that was wiping me out. My career was slowly slipping through my fingers as I was increasingly finding it difficult to get to work, and do my job. When I asked my primary care doctor to test me for the virus, he shrugged as if it was inconsequential, but agreed so I’d stop pestering him. His reaction shocked me more than the results.