I always thought an urban myth was just some story people made up and then spread around like a norovirus on a cruise ship.
An urban myth was nothing that actually happened to a real person. Like cooties, for example. Did you ever worry for a minute since you were in the third grade that catching cooties could happen to you? Neither did I. Until they did.
It all started when we were airborne traveling home from a postcard-perfect trip on the Danube River from Prague to Budapest. We had just settled in for the long haul from Europe to Seattle when suddenly I felt very cold and started having chills.
At first I thought the plane had really good air conditioning, but when my shoulders started convulsing, I knew something wasn’t right. Nevertheless, I decided to buck up, wrap a blanket around me and deal with it.
That worked for a while until the chills subsided; then I felt like my whole body was on fire. My husband, John, and I both reached for my forehead. It was clear I had spiked a significant fever.
My first thought was, “Oh, my God, I’m going through The Change!” I had recently read all about “Manopause” and if it was going to happen to someone, it would be me.
So there I sat, like the last glowing ember in a campfire, feeling solidarity with all my female friends of a certain age. I considered asking the flight attendant whether it was hot in here or if it was just me, but I figured he’d heard that one before and would show no mercy.
Then the chills came back. I thought sure the captain would announce that we had some unexpected turbulence coming from seat 10B, but clearly he didn’t care.
After another little spike of fever, I started feeling pain and tenderness in my groin, and after careful inspection in the spacious airplane toilet, I noticed that my normally invisible lymph glands on the left side had been replaced with a silver dollar-sized lump.
Through some miracle, I survived the rest of the flight and made it back home only to discover two little pustules on my upper left leg that were not there before.
Not wanting to scare myself, I focused only on positive thoughts like how I’d be able to get around just fine with one leg and that it would take me no time at all to get used to a prosthetic. John shared my concern (all except the amputation part) and suggested I go to urgent care the next morning.
I recounted the whole tragic episode to the doctor and explained how I had just gotten back from Eastern Europe. He took a look and decided it must have had something to do with the hair follicles on my leg.
My mind immediately flashed to the likely newspaper headline: “Tacoma Man Dead Due to Hairy Legs.”
When I told him I had recently visited the thermal baths in Budapest, he theorized that a little ecoli or some other bacteria entered my body through a micro-abrasion in my skin.
“What the hell?” I exclaimed internally. Thousands of people go to those baths every week and I’ve never heard of anyone catching cooties from the “healing” waters.
The doc gave me two kinds of antibiotics and sent me on my way. Eventually the swelling in my lymph glands went away and the pustules disappeared, but I am forever scarred by this incident.
For my next trip, I’m thinking my only choice is to wax, shave and pluck every single hair on my legs before I enter a public hot tub and/or wear a full body rubber suit.
I may not blend in with the locals, but at least I won’t have to explain that I am living proof that cooties are not an urban myth.
Ted Broussard is newly retired after working as a counselor and administrator in community and technical colleges. A downtown Tacoma resident, he is one of six reader columnists writing for this page. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org