Q Fever! Medical Humor & Satire

June 14, 2000 | Volume 1, Issue 1

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Medical Student Identifies Cluster of Mysterious New Illness

Public health authorities puzzled

BUFFALO, NY—Public health authorities held a press conference earlier this afternoon to discuss the identification of a disease cluster in the small town of Skaneateles, approximately 80 miles east of Buffalo.

The illness, characterized by intense constipation, joint aches and pains, mood swings, and ankle swelling, was identified by Andy Fishback, a first year medical student at SUNY-Buffalo, who recently returned to the town for Thanksgiving.

"When I came home, my mom had a bunch of our relatives over," said Fishback, 21. "All of a sudden it's like.whoa! All my uncles and aunts and grandparents are basically coming up to me and saying their back hurts, and they haven't had a decent bowel movement in three years, and their ankles get swollen if they eat potato chips, and I'm thinking: nobody was mentioning any of this stuff before I went away to med school."

Fishback alertly notified public health authorities, who are in the process of conducting an investigation. While the outbreak was initially thought to be confined to Fishback's relatives, constipation and occasional ankle swelling have now been identified in over thirty town residents, the majority of them over the age of 60.

Fishback agrees that the mystery illness is not restricted to his relatives. "As a for instance, the other day I went to the Hasty-Mart", he said. "Mr. Olafson, who owns the place, comes up to me and starts asking me how med school's going. I say OK, and all of a sudden he starts telling me about this huge hemorrhoid he has. I don't remember him having any health complaints when I was in his store over the summer, and I was in there a lot."

Fishback, who has now done a total of eight weeks of course work in basic physiology, histology, and anatomy, is certain that he would not have been able to identify the disease cluster without his recent medical training. "It's like, two months ago, I was basically not a health professional at all. None of this stuff would have registered with me," he said.

The New York State Department of Health, which is continuing to investigate the illness, has praised Fishback for his acumen. "We didn't know who we were dealing with initially," said Department Commissioner Antonia C. Novello. "But I think when the investigators got up there and saw that he was wearing a SUNY-Buffalo Med Class of 2004 windbreaker, it became pretty obvious this guy knew what he was talking about."

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