"Life changes in the instant—the ordinary instant." —Joan Didion

My shoulders felt achy. Normally, I could do several massages in a row at Canyon Ranch, go to the gym for a couple of hours, and still have plenty of energy left over for the Bellagio. But on one Thursday in July 1999, I was wiped. When I got to my third client, it took so much energy to massage him. I kept thinking, Man, this guy is draining me!

I left work early. The second I got home, I put on a white tank and crawled into the one place I've always escaped to when I'm sick—my parents' cozy king-size bed. They had a TV in their room, which meant I could at least watch while I lay there. Mom took my temperature. It was 101. "You don't look so good, honey," she said. I shrugged, sank my head deeper into the pillows, and dozed off.

It must be a twenty-four-hour bug, I thought. I can probably just sleep it off. The following morning, Friday, my whole family was planning to leave town for an event. Dad had started running these big Harley-Davidson motorcycle rallies, and there was one scheduled in Brian Head that weekend. "You should stay here and rest," said Mom. "Maybe you can come up later if you're feeling better." I wanted to go. The rallies felt like huge reunions, since my whole extended family would be up there. But by the next day, I still felt like crap.

"I hate leaving you," my mother said as she got ready that Friday morning. It was only seven o'clock—and she was heading off for some early appointments before swinging back home to pick up Crystal and then going to Brian Head. Dad had already driven up. "Mom, don't worry about it," I groaned. "I'm sure I'll be fine. As soon as I feel better, I'll just meet you guys there." A friend was driving up that afternoon—so I was planning to just ride up with him. As reluctant as my sister and mom were to go ahead without me, I reassured them I'd soon be feeling better.

I wasn't. Over the next two hours, I became sicker and sicker. Around noon, I made my way from my parents' bed and into the bathroom and threw up. From the road, Mom called to check on me. "How are you?" she asked. I went, "Aagh! I feel like I'm dying," which is pretty much how you do feel when you have the flu. "Try to drink some water," Mom said, sounding concerned—but probably reminding herself of my tendency to be dramatic. "I'm sure you're dehydrated. And if you feel like you need to go to the hospital, then go. I'll send your cousin over there to check on you."

Michelle and Aunt Cindy had been the only family members who hadn't gone up to Brian Head. Back in bed, I wrapped myself tightly in a bunch of blankets and tried to make myself comfortable. About an hour or so after closing my eyes, I felt the need to wake up, but when I tried to open my eyes, I couldn't. Over and over I tried, but the exhaustion overtook me. I fell into a deep sleep.

Out of nowhere, I heard a sound. My eyelids shot open. "Amy, get up and look in the mirror," this voice said. Who is talking? Startled, I sat up in my bed. "Amy," I heard again, "get up and look in the mirror." Is someone in the room with me? The words sounded like a mix between a voice and my thoughts. As soon as I sat up, I realized something was really wrong. I had zero strength, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was dizzy. When I stood, I couldn't feel my feet; they were numb, that feeling you have when a body part falls asleep. In the dusk light, I glanced down at my feet. They were purple. Oh my God. I then looked at my hands, and the same thing: purple. I looked in a mirror near the bed. What I saw still frightens me.