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Catch a Case -- creative nonfiction by Isabella Dail

I woke up in a hospital room, surrounded by wires and doctors, to find myself the star of a real-life mystery. Growing up, I had immersed myself in detective novels, envisioning myself in the role of the brilliant inspector. I imagined myself uncovering clues from cobweb-covered books and deftly demolishing seemingly ironclad alibis. I would be the one to gather the unnerved suspects in a room and explain my brilliant deductions before triumphantly identifying the murderer.

In eighth grade, however, I became not the detective, but the victim. The crime? My body suddenly began to weaken, as if with a perpetual case of the flu. On vacation, I was abruptly bombarded by nausea and dizziness, waves of burning heat and glacial cold rolling spasmodically over my body. In school, nausea and exhaustion would lead me to collapse on my desk, unable to complete any work. “I’m really starting to worry about her,” I heard my mom whisper to my dad after my fourth breakdown. “This can’t just be a regular virus, right?”

My parents brought me to a neurologist’s office in search of answers. In a bright, florescent lab that smelled like medical-grade hand sanitizer, teams of clinicians scrutinized me, trying to separate clues from red herrings. Nurses tested my sweat patterns, pricking my skin with electric currents like a thousand biting mosquitos. They studied my fluctuating heart rate by placing me on an inversion table, causing me to stumble out of the lab in a tunnel of dizziness. They stuck wired adhesives to my forehead and scalp until I looked like an alien from a low-budget science fiction movie.

After the evidence was examined and the many infectious suspects interrogated, little could be concluded. The clues stitched a pattern of unsuccessful diagnoses. A blood test proved the mono hypothesis not guilty. The potential culprit Lyme disease was disregarded due to little evidence. Even more illnesses were accused, and they all received the same verdict: innocent.

Overseeing this process was the detective himself, a man whose disheveled appearance and indifference towards his patients were, I hoped, marks of his inherent genius. I stared at his tufts of white hair, springing from his head like wires coated in snow, as he flipped through test results and made small grunts of comprehension. He prodded my forehead, asking me to describe again the odd numbing pain coursing from my ribs into my left shoulder.

I felt almost excited when he called my family in to deliver the results of his investigation. He stood in front of us, hands clasped before him, exuding professionalism. “You’ve got a condition called POTS Syndrome,” he said curtly. “Your nervous system doesn’t work well, so all the blood pools in your legs.”

I waited, breathless for more.

“No one knows much about POTS,” he continued, “and there’s not much in the way of medication. You won’t be cured. If you’re lucky, you might grow out of it in 10 years. Beyond that, I’m afraid you’ll have to learn to live with the symptoms.”

His stoic eyes roamed around the room, refusing to settle on the horrified faces of his audience.

“In the meantime, try this.” He slapped a bottle of electric blue liquid into my hand. “This is Pedialyte. It’s got salt in it, which might help with the symptoms. I’m afraid that’s really all I can do for you, though. The nurse will be in shortly.”

Frozen, I watched the door close behind him. I could hear the clock ticking on the wall, and the smell of sanitizer burned my nose. Hesitantly, I took a sip of Pedialyte and nearly choked on the combination of artificial sweetness and bitter, aggressive salt.

I realized then that this wasn’t a mystery novel—at least, not the type that I had read. The case may have been solved, but there was no triumphant justice. The criminal continued to run rampant, while the detective packed his bags and left to study the next victim. Long after the detective’s departure, the story’s other characters sat together in motionless silence, mourning their loss and worrying about the future.


Isabella Dail is a high school Junior from Northern New Jersey. Her work has won Scholastic Gold and Silver Keys, and she has been published in Rare Byrd Review. Isabella is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Kitchen Sink Magazine, a digital publication that promotes diverse literary voices and media. She also advocates for global youth literacy through book donations and writing workshops. In her spare time, Isabella loves reading poetry anthologies, learning French, and avidly consuming iced coffee. 

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