WASHINGTON, April 15, 2014 —On a Monday morning last December, I was doing some research on the internet for an upcoming article when I noticed a headache that seemed to start at the top of my neck and engulf my entire head. Not one given to headaches, I paused for thought but dismissed it.
As each day of the week passed, the headache remained but dull and seemed to give way to ibuprofen. On Friday, it became worse. By early Saturday Morning, the headache remained but a bit more intense, so I lay own for what was to be a short nap.
Upon awakening, I had no clue what time it was or if it were day or night and the headache was now pounding along with a pronounced fever, accompanying upper neck pain and heavy sweat. Living alone, there was no one to ask for help and the phone was not visible, so I concluded it was night.
The next awakening was again at night but which night was unclear. The phone was still not visible and my dog, Dogbark, was still alongside me. I could only remain conscious for a short period as fever, and fatigue forced me into unconsciousness.
I did have time to ascertain I was not suffering a stroke because the headache was ‘global’ or encompassed the entire head. A stroke would, more often than not, signal pain in one brain hemisphere or the other and I was not showing additional signs of stroke.
However, my primary concern was garbled speech but I only had time to harbor that thought momentarily as I fell into unconsciousness again.
Dogbark was gone at this time but upon awakening a third time, was back on the bed indicating she had jumped off and on the bed without my knowledge and being a light sleeper, I knew I was more than simply sleeping. I also knew I was in trouble but could do little about it.
My final awakening revealed it was daytime and the fever was gone. I noticed my clothes and bedding was soaked in sweat and I was incredibly thirsty.
I checked the computer near my bed to find it was Monday morning. I had missed the entire weekend and the Washington Redskin football game and other activities. Not only that, but the rear door was open meaning Dogbark had ingress and egress at will and probably jumped off and on the bed multiple times with me unaware.
I was still speaking in the native language of East Toad Strangle or some such undiscovered country and I knew it. I also knew I could not hold a thought or think quickly and needed rehydration.
With weakened legs, I managed to get a glass of water which my stomach quickly rejected.
It seemed I journeyed in time from a reasonably well-centered psychotherapist to a 6th grader, perhaps by unwittingly feeding the flux capacitor on the professor’s Delorean.
Monday was a bit of a puzzle when I fed Dogbark and slept some more. Tuesday was spent lying prone and not getting out of bed because motion created instant nausea and painful dry heaves.
Wednesday better and I made an emergency doctor’s office visit where I was diagnosed with West Nile Virus, meningitis and encephalitis or swelling of the brain.
West Nile Virus (WNV) is an East African zoonotic (from non-human to human) transferred contagion carried by, yet again, mosquitoes and I am the kind of man that feels nothing of mosquitoes while everyone around me is slapping themselves silly.
I didn’t feel this mosquito either.
80 percent of infected humans feel no symptoms at all (subclinical), and there is no cure. Treatment is for symptoms only. One must recover on their power of individual constitution and health of the immune system.
There is no vaccine for WNV and mosquitoes that are carriers usually prefer birds over humans but some mosquito somewhere thought me a tastier meal.
A victim of WNV becomes symptomatic after a 2-15 day incubation period and mosquito bites are so ubiquitous and problematic, West Nile Virus Encephalitis (WNVE) is now the most common cause of epidemic viral encephalitis in the U.S.A.
Studies show victims of WNVE can take 60-90 days or more to recover from reduced executive or higher level thinking function and I can attest to this as fact. To think of an appropriate word or a name and sometimes messing up wording was a common experience which is unfavorable for a psychotherapist and writer.
It took me a couple of months to write, speak and think relatively clearly and the aftermath has left me a bit slow in the use of med-speak or psych-speak when called upon to be particular. Headaches remain but are subsiding.
The worst after effect was a depleted immune system that did not have time to recover so when I cut my foot in January of this year, it took 90 days of various antibiotics to stop the resulting disease from spreading throughout my body. A simple toe laceration had me visiting a surgeon to determine if the toe was lost.
Happily, it was not and the ‘little piggy’ stayed home and infection finally stopped ravaging my system.
The death rate for my age group and type of WNV is 3-10 percent so I am happy to have survived as is Dogbark, who probably cannot understand why she was not fed for three days.
As a lesson for all, be sure to apply DEET, sunscreen and any insect repellant when necessary and if you live alone, keep a phone by the bedside at night.
As for me, I am by far more active than most at age 60 and not ready to wear a medical singling device that permits me to cry out “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”.
Or am I?
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer.