Life-threatening, but curable, illnesses

As a plot point for a story I’m writing, I need one of my characters to have been in the hospital with the very real fear that she might die. I would prefer this to be due to an illness, not an injury. I would also prefer that it be something curable, not just treatable, so cancer and HIV/AIDS are out. I am looking for suggestions of just what might have put her in such a condition.

Some facts which may be useful:
-This character is a 22-year old British woman. She lives in modern-day central London and frequents London’s nightclub scene (she is a DJ and musician herself).
-She is well-traveled, mostly due to touring with her band.
-She has the bad habit of not being particularly attentive to her everyday needs–sometimes she will forget to eat for a day or two because she’s too busy. Because of this, the other person I asked for advice on this plot point suggested blood poisoning, but a bit of research I’ve done suggests that blood poisoning due to neglected injuries is rare.

Thanks for any help and apologies if this is in the wrong forum.


Bowel obstruction, kidney failure, appendicitis, diabetes, MRSA (which can lead to sepsis), ruptured ectopic pregnancy, cysts (abdominal, ovarian, etc.), asthma…

But it’s never lupus.

Many cancers are curable.

There are more than a few types of cancers which are now completely curable - depending on what stage they’re caught in. Also, it takes a while to determine what stage, the cancer is in, so it could strengthen the suspense. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is around 90% curable if caught early.

Blood poisoning is very dramatic, and while not that common, not unheard of either. I had a student limp into class one Monday. When I asked her what happened, she’d cut her foot on Friday, and now there were red and black lines on her foot. You better believe I got that kid to the school nurse and then to a doctor. Pronto!

A few more, just off the top of my head:

  • anemia
  • pregnancy (not an illness, but definitely a condition)
  • necrotizing fasciitis (allows you to disfigure your character, if you’re looking for that)
  • gallstones (skipping meals would allow bile to build up in the gallbladder. Next meal with any significant amount of fat? Pain city.)
  • “walking” pneumonia (same pneumonia the old folks get, but a younger person gets and stays sick and doesn’t realize how serious it is)
  • tuberculosis (totally believable in a large city, especially with antibiotic resistant TB).
  • any number of parasites

Hope that helps.

I got *really, really *dehydrated once.

Flesh-eating bacteria.

Toxic Shock Syndrome, maybe.

:eek: I often skip meals unintentionally. I’m glad I don’t have a fatty diet.

I second meningitis. MDR (Multi-drug resistant) Pneumonia is also great. Tracey Kidder writes about it in Mountains Beyond Mountains. It was also something of a scandal in the US a few years ago when a guy who knew he had it flew to France with it. It’s like MRSA for your lungs!
Also, you are more susceptible to it if you have poor nutrition, and it’s easy to catch it you have contact with lots of people, especially those from eastern bloc countries.

I think this is the best option, personally. Especially if she neglects her needs and pays no attention to her body.

Natalie Cole was recently hospitalized with Hep C and I just read a blurb about a musician (I can’t remember his name) who is currently touring after nearly dying from it.

The thought that came to me before finishing the OP was sepsis(blood poisoning). Not sure what research you came across indicating it’s very rare, but it is certainly a potentially fatal malady that can be cured.



Black Plague.

Intusseseption of the bowel. A singer had this a couple of years ago and it caused some pretty drastic problems.

Appendicitis is always a good one. Very dangerous and very curable with surgery.

My husband had cellulitis last year and was extremely sick with very high fevers. I don’t think it would be common in young non-diabetics, though.

My dad almost died of pneumonia because it was ‘just a bad cold and why should he see a doctor for a bad cold?’ I saw him at noon and got this story. By 8pm, he was in the emergency room, his heart stopped while the docs and nurses were prepping him for IV fluids.

My mum almost died from listerial meningitis, because she thought it was just a bad stomach bug. She ‘died’ three times between being injected with a massive dose of anti-biotics and having that dose take effect.

I know two people who almost died from animal bites (dog and cat) that developed into sepsis. They figured the swollen, painful, pus leaking wounds would just ‘get better’ without antibiotics. Both ended up in the hospital after friends/family found them unsconcious.

If your character isn’t actively taking care, just about any minor infection could develop into something potentially fatal.

Jim Henson died of pneumonia that way. He thought it was a cold, IIRC.

Well, MRSA isn’t that common either, but it can certainly strike “young non-diabetics”, as can norovirus (put me in the hospital for a week in 2005 and took me months to fully recover), meningitis, and various other not-common but serious diseases.

Cellulitis in the young and healthy isn’t common, but it’s not impossible, either, particularly for someone who tends to ignore health problems until they’re major.

For that matter, snake bite or jellyfish encounters can also create serious, life-threatening problems and might make sense if the young person is athletic, adventuresome, or is just on vacation in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

He did too. I’d forgotten that.

And, Broomstick. My kid also ended up in hospital with norovirus. Apparently such a violent reaction means her (and your) environments are so hygienic that natural immunity hasn’t been gained.