As the weeks went by, the newness of college wore off and homesickness settled in. I worried about Oma. I missed my family. I liked Lacey, Ian and Breanne well enough, but it wasn’t the same as spending time with my old friends.
Every time I saw a girl with long black hair I thought of Alicia. We talked on the phone and texted, but it wasn’t the same. Whenever I saw the Japanese exchange student, the only Asian on campus, I couldn’t help but think of Quan. We were still “friends” on a few different social networking sites, but I thought it would seem desperate and lame to get in touch with him.
Mom and Kirsten called and left messages, but after the second week of classes I seldom returned their calls. I figured the best way out of the homesickness was to cut ties to home and plunge myself completely into campus life. I participated in as many activities as I could, but still felt lonely. At least the Elkie Hi kept me from feeling like an outcast. Still, I only knew Lacey and Breanne well enough to call a friend. Everyone else seemed to be great pals with one another already. What was wrong with me that made it so hard to have more than a few friends?
When I finished the antibiotics prescription, I returned to the health clinic. The lump was slightly bigger, slightly more tender. I’d been feeling more tired than normal too. This time I saw a different doctor, who confirmed that my temperature was still elevated, but not quite high enough to be classified as a fever.
Another prescription, more instructions to return if no change. Not the birthday present I was hoping for. Normally my birthday was the best day of the year, but this year was different. How I longed to celebrate it at home with Mom’s famous chocolate-orange cake and my favorite chicken and dumpling dinner. I longed for the salty air of the beach, the bright lights of the city. Even a traffic jam would have been a welcome sign of home.
One day a week from Halloween, I pulled my down jacket tighter around my body as I left Warner Hall and headed down the hill for my follow-up visit to the clinic.
“Giselle!” a male voice called.
I turned and panicked at the sight of red hair and a dimpled smile approaching. Which twin was it? “Uh, hey there, uh… Mr. Finley,” I said as he caught up to me.
“Mr. Finley? It’s Rhys,” he said with a wink. “Don’t worry, it happens. My brother and I should probably start wearing name tags or something.”
“Sorry about that,” I said as we started to walk together.
“Really, it’s no problem. But what’s with the coat? It’s only 50 degrees. If you’re that cold now, how are you going to survive an Ohio winter?”
“Guess it’s my California blood,” I said. Or was my fever really that high?
“Well, that’ll thicken up soon enough. Here’s where I turn,” he said when we reached a fork in the sidewalk. “Where are you off to?” he asked.
“Oh right. You asked us to pray for your follow up visit last night. Hope they figure out what’s wrong with you. Stay warm, California girl!”
Minutes later, I sat shivering in a flimsy gown in the examining room of the clinic. Why were doctor’s offices always freezing? And why did I have to get undressed when the problem was on my neck?
The lump had definitely grown, and was increasingly painful. Was it something worse than an infection? My mind swirled with horrible possibilities.
Before my worries got any more out of control, the doctor knocked and entered.
“Hi, Giselle. I’m Doctor Swanson. Let’s see what we have here.” She ran her hand under my jaw. I winced as she pushed on the tender mass. “Did you finish the script for Keflex that Dr. Smith wrote for you the last time you came in?”
“Those are some pretty powerful antibiotics. Have you noticed any improvement?”
“Not really. If anything, it’s gotten bigger.”
“Let’s have you lay back for me. I want to palpate your internal organs, check to see if there’s anything else unusual. Tell me again, when did you say you first noticed it?” Dr. Swanson asked as she continued the exam.
“The first week of school … so, a little over a month ago?”
“A month and a half.” She flipped through my chart. “Hmmm … you still have a low-grade fever.” Suddenly she stopped and re-read something. “I just noticed that you said you had your wisdom teeth out in August. I wonder why Dr. Smith didn’t make the connection. It could be an infected socket.”
I remembered the day I had my wisdom teeth out and the oral surgeon’s instructions to swish with salt water. I knew I’d slacked off on that. But the pain wasn’t in my mouth. “Why would an infected socket cause this lump on my neck?”
“I’m not sure, but what we’ve tried so far hasn’t worked. It’s a possibility worth investigating. You’ll need to find a dentist or oral surgeon to open it up and clean it out. Dr. Foster down the street can probably take care of it.”
“How do I contact him?”
“Judy at the front desk can help you make an appointment. I’ll write you a stronger dose of Keflex. Come back and see us for follow-up when you finish it. I’d bet anything you’ll be as right as rain by then.”
I nodded grimly. Another oral surgery wasn’t at the top of my wish list, but if it might end this pain and fatigue, it would be worth it. Judy explained the situation to Dr. Foster’s office and got me squeezed in for an appointment at the end of the week.