A couple of weeks ago, I did something that made me vaguely uncomfortable: I let a total stranger stick a needle in my arm and pump me full of a mysterious, amber-colored liquid. I wasn’t in a hospital. It felt incredible.
First, a bit of back story. Back in 2015, I got really, really sick. After surfing with a tiny cut on my arm, I developed an infection that quickly turned into something dangerous. With a fever hovering around 105°, an arm so swollen that it resembled a soggy plastic bag full of mayonnaise, and no medical insurance (at the time, I was just a silly Canadian that refused to pay America’s insanely high medical premiums), I turned to my aunt for help. She spent more than a decade as a lead surgeon in various Los Angeles emergency rooms, so I trusted her judgment. She’s also my aunt, so she’s genuinely got my best interests in mind. After draining roughly a half-pint out of my elbow, she looked at me with concern. “You have to go home to Canada,” she told me. “It’s either staph or vibrio, and you should be in a hospital.” Since that was basically out of the question unless I was prepared to be in debt for the rest of my life, I refused, much to her dismay. Then she did something I thought was strange. As well as prescribing a course of antibiotics, she gave me an IV drip of vitamin C. Not just a little bit–she dumped about a year’s worth into my veins in just over an hour. Afterward, I went back to my house, lay down in bed, booked a flight to Canada for the next day, then promptly had something that resembled a seizure. Turns out it was probably something called a Herxheimer reaction. Herxing, as it’s known, takes on a variety of forms, but it occurs when “injured or dead bacteria release their endotoxins into the blood and tissues faster than the body can comfortably handle it.”