span style=”font-size: 120%;”>The whole thing played out like a bad remake of “Outbreak.” It was a new viral-themed thriller reimagined by the likes of the “Scream” series’ Wes Craven. The unlucky cast was comprised of at least 28 of my friends, my friends’ friends and a host of complete strangers, all punished for their drinking and debauchery. And instead of Dustin Hoffman and a cute (but deadly) monkey, there was me. I played detective to Hoffman’s Army colonel, and I played patient zero to the monkey’s disease-carrying carcass.

Jess Cox

Now all that isn’t exactly true, but the real story is just as strange. This past Saturday, a party at my house was the springboard for a good amount of pain and suffering. Besides my unexplained stab wound and the mound of poop that appeared on the bathroom floor in the morning (don’t ask), a quarter of the guests left with a little surprise waiting for them two days later – a nasty bout of stomach flu-like symptoms. The ailment, which had one victim “puking like a fire hose” and another feel as if he had “hamsters crawling out (his) ass,” sent a handful of students to the University Health Service and the University Hospital’s emergency room.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I spent a good chunk of time in the ER waiting room. I actually wasn’t ill (remember, I’m playing the part of the disease-proof monkey), but I was there nonetheless – paying respects to my sick friend and feeling a bit guilty.

But I was also there for more selfish reasons – I wanted to find out what the hell was going on. I wanted a gazillion tests to be administered and epidemiological chart to be made. I wanted the doctors to tell me that it was the beer or the bathroom or the flip cup or some horrible keg stand that made everyone sick.

My inner-Nancy Drew had me calling every person at the party I remembered (and also the ones I didn’t remember), seeing if they were sick or if their friends were. As Monday and Tuesday wore on, the list of victims grew longer and longer. I started feeling sick (call it hypochondria) and also started asking any question that would help solve the mystery: What time did you get here? Did you drink keg one, two or three? Where exactly did you stand at the flip cup table?

Needless to say, my untrained questioning came up with basically nothing – so I turned to the experts.

After coming home from the ER, even before the numbers started getting astronomically high, I plopped down at the computer and searched for agencies like the ones that get a lot of airtime in “Outbreak”-like movies. Michigan Department of Community Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. Even the World Health Organization. I wanted my own personal Dustin Hoffman.

I eventually decided that my first call would be to the UHS. WHO probably wouldn’t care about a southeastern Michigan keg party gone horribly wrong. After being shuffled around from clinical nurse to secretary to another secretary and then to the medical director of UHS, I got my chance to talk. I told him everything I knew, was scolded for sharing cups and overall dirty behavior during flu season, and was then forwarded along to the next relevant organization.

Later, I talked to a representative from the University’s Occupational Safety and Environmental Health Department, which is supposed to investigate foodborne (or beerborne) illnesses and/or health disasters in the making (think the Norwalk epidemic from two years ago). I sang the same tune for her, was scolded again and then was told to sit tight. The rep seemed just as baffled over the cause of all the sickness as I was.

As of now, no one really has pinpointed the source of this mysterious and virulent malady. Whether it’s food poisoning, regular ol’ poisoning or a freak strain of stomach flu, I’m at least relieved that everyone seems to be recovering and no one else is getting sick.

I can already tell the ending of my low-budget thriller sucks: There’s no magic antidote, no hero or heroine and certainly no conclusive answers to what, why or how. Tomorrow, I’ll probably visit my local unfriendly liquor-store owner to warn him of potentially hazardous kegs and wait for a phone call telling me nothing new. Tomorrow, I’ll also feel a little bit of the Nancy Drew inside me die.

Go can be reached at aligo@umich.edu.

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