Saturday, March 24, 2007

West Nile Virus - Should I be afraid or not?

A couple of years ago West Nile Virus (WNV) was a big thing in the news. Every new case that was reported was a big deal. People were talking about it and there was a big buzz (no pun intended). I remember looking at the statistics for WNV and thought to myself, "Hey, this doesn't look too bad... 80% of the people that get infected don't even know they had it. Or it shows up as the flu. Big deal."

I grew up with mosquitos. I've been bitten by them hundreds and thousands of times. I've never gotten sick by a mosquito before. So I thought I was safe. I wasn't in the high risk group for WNV, so who cares. Right?

Where I live, the summer days are hot and it cools off nicely in the evening. It is cool, but not so much that you need a coat or sweater. I enjoy going outside and looking at the moon and the stars with my wife. I enjoy feeling the warm summer wind sweep across my face. It is a great opportunity to sit on my front porch and look south and look for shooting stars, aircraft, and satellites. It is a great opportunity to sit and think. A few mosquitoes weren't going to get in my way of a little enjoyment. And I'm not even going to bother with the bug spray. When I'm done outside, I don't want to clean up. I just want to jump in bed and go to sleep. And so I went outside and enjoyed the moon, the stars, the gentle breezes, and the occasional mosquito bite or two.

Well, one Saturday mid-August 2005, a couple of weeks after the birth of my son Mike, I really didn't feel too good. My head hurt a little bit and my stomach didn't feel right. I felt a little barfy, but not so much that I actually wanted to, well..., barf. I felt tired and run down. Near the end of the day I checked my temperature, and sure enough, I had a fever. It wasn't too bad. It was around 100 degrees F. So I took some drugs (Tylenol or Motrin) and went to bed.

Next day, same junk. Didn't feel too good. So I spent the day just taking it easy. Same symptoms as the day before. Monday, same crud. Didn't go into work. Tuesday, same thing. Again, no work. Go to the doctor and he informs me that I have some unidentifiable virus going on, probably the flu. The flu was going around at that time and some of my kids had been sick. So I thought it was my turn to get sick. No big deal. Wednesday I stayed home and felt quite a bit better. Thursday I go to work and I'm fine. I thought to myself that whatever it was, I was glad that it was over.

Friday I go to work. I work in an office and I don't move around much. I get up and walk around and my joints, especially my pelvis is really sore. Hurts like heck to walk around. And now the muscles in my legs start to twitch. You want to know how they twitch? You ever seen a horse twitch its muscles to get rid of flies and such? Well, that's what my legs were doing. Little zones in my legs were twitching uncontrollably. I was thinking that this was weird. And my legs and pelvis hurt! They hurt to the bone. At the end of the day I go home and my temperature is back up again. Dang!

Next day (Saturday - one week since my symptoms start) I decide to go into the doctor. My regular doctor isn't in. So I see the guy on-call. I tell him my symptoms. He says to me, "I'm concerned about some of your symptoms, especially the pain that you have in your pelvis. Pelvis pain can be a sign of prostate cancer........" Oh great. Cancer. He checks and "Looks good to me!!" So he sends me on my way. No other diagnosis. I still feel like trash. I have all my previous symptoms, plus the leg twitches and a bigger, more impressive fever too. Almost as if whatever I had before came back with all its uncles, cousins, nephews, grandparents and decided to have a party in my body at my expense. (And you thought you were done being sick.....)

Sunday comes. I feel like trash. Legs hurt. Muscle twitching has moved up into my back. Fever is in the 102 - 103 range and doesn't go down below 100 even on drugs (Tylenol AND Motrin together). Absolute and complete loss of apetite. I feel sick to my stomach. Something isn't right. My wife takes me to the ER at the local hospital. They draw blood. They give me an IV. The doctor and nurse think I might have WNV as I have some but not all of the symptoms of the sickness. Ask me about menengitis symptoms several times and thankfully I don't have any of those. They run some tests and nothing comes back abnormal. They said that they will send my blood in to get tested for WNV because they can't test for it at the hospital. Has to be done at an outside lab. They said that I should call back on Wednesday or Thursday to get my results. I thought to myself, "Good freakin' heck! Wednesday or Thursday!?! That's like forever."

Monday/Tuesday. No food intake, only liquids. Popping Tylenol every 4 hours and Motrin every 6. Writing down on a piece of paper when I took my meds so that I don't accidentally OD. I am getting weaker. It is hard to get up. When I do get up and walk around, I stumble around. I am not very coordinated. Fear starts to set in. Am I going to die? Is this how I'm going to check out of the world? And what the heck do I have that is making me so stinking sick? My legs and body still ached incredibly. I seriously contemplated giving up and not fighting any longer. The thoughts of my wife raising all of our kids by herself helped me to not give up. I decide to not give up and to fight.

Tuesday/Wednesday. I get this impression that if I want to live (and not die) that I need to eat food. Without food, my body will only get weaker and I will die. With food, I will be able to give my body engergy to fight this sickness. I am still incredibly nauseated and I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat a thing. I get up and force myself to eat. I start by gagging down 1/2 cup of applesauce. I start eating a little bit of food as much and as often as I can stand it. I eat 1/2 a slice of toast (no butter). This is my absolute lowest and sickest point in this whole time. Fever still raging (102 - 104 range) and I'm getting real tired of being sick. Will this ever end?

Wednesday: Call the hospital to find out WNV test results. (Note: If you have WNV, they can't do anything for you. You have to tough it out. But at least you know what you have.) Hospital has not sent in the blood to be tested! Oops... They remedy the problem and submit the blood for testing. Will need to wait a few more days.

Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday: I get progressively better. Fever still there. Pain still there, but I don't feel as bad as I did earlier in the week. Each day I feel a little tiny bit better than the day before.

Monday - Labor day: Fever finally breaks. Still feel very week, but at least I'm not running a nasty fever. Legs still hurt incredibly.

Tuesday: Get a call from the county health department. I am informed that I tested positive for WNV. I go and visit my doctor. We discuss my WNV confirmation, symptoms, etc. He gives me Percocet for the pain in my legs. I take the Percocet at night so I can sleep. It only lasts for about 4 or 5 hours max.

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday: Stay home from work. Sleep a lot. Still weak from being sick, but each day I feel better and stronger.

Saturday/Sunday: Go to church for the first time in about 4 weeks. It is good to be out of the house.

Monday: Go back to work.

So, I ended up having a fairly significant case of West Nile Virus. I was the 15 or 20% that had some significant symptoms. I have a new found respect for the illness and I do not venture outside after dark, unless I have some DEET on my body. So, what did it do to me? Well, I lost 20 - 25 pounds of weight. I would say most of that was muscle mass. Prior to getting sick, I was able to get off the floor without any assistance just by using my legs. After I got sick, I had to have help, or use my arms to pull myself up. Before I got sick, I could run. After I got sick, I could not run. Period. The first time I tried, I about fell on my face. It took me about 6 or 7 months before I could jog/run again. The problem is that I could not move my legs fast enough to run. My legs aren't as strong as they were before I got sick, but I would say I'm back to 85 - 90% of my original strength. I don't know if I'll ever get the other 10 - 15% back. At this point, I'm just glad to be alive.

Should you be afraid of West Nile Virus? I would not fear it. But I would suggest a healthy dose of respect. You can't live your life in fear. If you lived in fear of catching something all the time, you would never leave your house. And do you really want to live like that? Personally, I don't. Last year, I didn't go outside after dark to watch the stars, the moon, and the airplanes. It was too close to being sick. This year I will probably go out, but I will put on some DEET. I've thought about purchasing a mosquito trap, but those things are expensive.

If you want to read some WNV survivor stories, please go to . You might be a little more careful with how you deal with skeeters in the future.

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