It Was A Hell Of A Bite

Author: C.L. Harmon
Category: Interesting | People
Date Published: August 17, 2018

How A Mos­qui­to Can Change Your Life


The fol­low­ing sto­ry is one that I felt com­pelled to write for a cou­ple of rea­sons. The first is sim­ply because it’s an incred­i­ble sto­ry about sur­viv­ing when all of the odds appear stacked in the oppo­site direc­tion. The sec­ond is the rea­son that caused the first. I think most would agree that we have an unusu­al­ly wet sum­mer in Okla­homa. Rain brings stag­nant pools of water which unfor­tu­nate­ly bring mos­qui­toes. Although most bites from these pests are just itchy annoy­ances, there is a dead­ly threat swarm­ing amid those annoy­ing pests. We at Unique­la­homa feel that the fol­low­ing sto­ry will help shed light on this dan­ger­ous threat and hope­ful­ly prompt our read­ers to take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves dur­ing this sum­mer sea­son.        –C.L. Harmon

Unique­la­homa is about unique, hence the name. That term can cov­er many dif­fer­ent aspects from peo­ple to places and events. On occa­sion, it can even involve an expe­ri­ence. After hear­ing of a man who death cod­ed five times in a ten month peri­od, I cer­tain­ly thought that a unique expe­ri­ence had occurred. I was intrigued and decid­ed to find out if it was true and, if so, how it hap­pened. Nathan Johns relayed a sto­ry to me that is not only almost unbe­liev­able but extreme­ly unique in Oklahoma.

Imag­ine going from a com­plete­ly nor­mal life with a wife, one-year-old son, and busi­ness to a state of chaos that brings you to the edge of death with­in a mat­ter of days. Johns lived, died and lived again and can tell us exact­ly what this is like. A tiny seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant pest would prove to be the largest obsta­cle he has ever faced. A sim­ple mos­qui­to bite would change his life for­ev­er. Dur­ing a back­yard activ­i­ty with his son in 2012, Johns was bit­ten and con­tract­ed West Nile virus.


He lived in the 71st and Sheri­dan area in Tul­sa at the time and it was lat­er deter­mined that the cul­verts with­in his neigh­bor­hood har­bored the dead­ly mos­qui­toes when the cul­verts held stand­ing water. The City of Tul­sa did spray to keep the pop­u­la­tion down, but it’s impos­si­ble to kill them all, Johns explained. A month lat­er, Johns became irri­ta­ble, lethar­gic and weak. This prompt­ed him to go to the hos­pi­tal where he was mis­di­ag­nosed with gas­troen­teri­tis and sent home. By the fol­low­ing day, he was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing from his high fever and began to become immobile.

Again he was mis­di­ag­nosed dur­ing his sec­ond trip to the emer­gency room. Due to his low­er extrem­i­ties becom­ing par­a­lyt­ic, the doc­tors believed he had Guil­lain-Barre syn­drome, a rare dis­or­der in which the body’s immune sys­tem attacks the nerves. Weak­ness and tin­gling in the extrem­i­ties are usu­al­ly the first symp­toms, and so it seemed a plau­si­ble diag­no­sis. How­ev­er, while treat­ing Johns for this, test results came back that showed he had West Nile virus, which is dif­fi­cult to diag­nose due to the long ges­ta­tion peri­od after the bite cou­pled with the delay in the man­i­fes­ta­tion of symp­toms. Because there is no cure for the virus, hos­pi­tal staff could only mon­i­tor his vitals and offer sup­port­ive treat­ment at this point and keep him from dying from the symptoms.



A short time lat­er his brain began to inflame from encephali­tis, and that was just the begin­ning. He then began suf­fer­ing from Acute Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­tress Syn­drome (ARDS) which occurs when flu­id builds up in the tiny, elas­tic air sacs in the lungs. This con­di­tion alone has a 85 per­cent mor­tal­i­ty rate, Johns said. At this point, he had been trans­ferred to a long-term facil­i­ty after hav­ing been revived twice from death. The doc­tor in charge of his case decid­ed that induc­ing a coma due to the pletho­ra of issues Johns was hav­ing. As time passed, that same doc­tor informed Johns’ moth­er and wife that due to the brain swelling in com­bi­na­tion with the oth­er health issues, Johns was most like­ly going to be “veg­etable-like” and die soon. Not trust­ing the doctor’s eval­u­a­tion, his fam­i­ly request­ed the coma-induc­ing med­i­cine be stopped. He rec­om­mend­ed John’s be “unplugged” from the res­pi­ra­tor and let nature take its course.

How­ev­er, the doc­tor was wrong, and when he awoke, he was able to iden­ti­fy his moth­er and still appeared of a rea­son­able mind. That doc­tor was imme­di­ate­ly fired from Johns’ care team and the pul­mo­nolo­gist who had been treat­ing Johns took over the case.


“This doc­tor was an amaz­ing man. He saved my life. He called me his mir­a­cle patient,” Johns said. In addi­tion to all of his oth­er issues though and in spite of his con­tin­ued men­tal health, Johns’ heart rate began to beat rapid­ly out of con­trol. The new doc­tor moved him from the care facil­i­ty back to the hos­pi­tal to get his heart rate under con­trol. The doc­tors even­tu­al­ly stopped his heart and revived him to reset the rate. At this point, he is com­plete­ly par­a­lyzed and on a ven­ti­la­tor to breathe. Doc­tors believed his periph­er­al ner­vous sys­tem was erad­i­cat­ed at this time.  This sys­tem con­sists of the nerves and gan­glia out­side of the brain and spinal cord. Because it was not the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem that was com­pro­mised, Johns was still able to feel the pain of his mus­cles seiz­ing and atro­phy. He said that he wished he would not have been able to feel any­thing at that time. Due to him being unable to move, he blinked his eyes to com­mu­ni­cate using cer­tain num­bers of blinks to rep­re­sent let­ters of the alphabet.

“I was very, very mis­er­able and frus­trat­ed at this time, but I didn’t want to die. I want­ed to be here for my son,” Johns said. He does admit think­ing dying would be bet­ter for his fam­i­ly. For­tu­nate­ly for him, his con­di­tion caus­ing him to be out of the realm of con­tin­ued cog­ni­tive thought kept him from focus­ing on all of the neg­a­tiv­i­ty that was sur­round­ing him. At this point, Johns was tee­ter­ing in no man’s land between the liv­ing and the dead.

“I was hav­ing vivid images. I real­ly thought for a time I went to hell,” he said. Johns fur­ther explained that there were sev­er­al repeat­ing dream-like sce­nar­ios that occurred, but not sure if those were hap­pen­ing dur­ing the brief sec­onds when he was dead or dur­ing moments of extreme­ly high fevers. He describes beings attempt­ing to “destroy” him while he is trapped in his bed. He describes it as being tied to real­i­ty, but still feels as though he is not actu­al­ly in the scenarios.


“My recu­per­a­tion was extreme­ly grad­ual, and I couldn’t do any­thing for myself when I first left the hos­pi­tal,” Johns said. An exam­ple of his con­di­tion at that time would be his inabil­i­ty even to hold a pen­cil. The first sign of hope that things might be get­ting bet­ter was his abil­i­ty to move his big toe on one foot. With a friend’s inge­nu­ity, Johns began using that toe to change the chan­nel by tap­ping it in one direc­tion while still in the hospital.

His con­di­tion began to improve slow­ly, and he was even­tu­al­ly dis­charged from the hos­pi­tal after ten long months. How­ev­er, he was still con­fined to a hos­pi­tal bed at home. With months of phys­i­cal and occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py, he was able to regain some mobil­i­ty and strength. How­ev­er, the dam­age was done, and he would nev­er ful­ly recov­er includ­ing his diaphragm which makes it dif­fi­cult to breathe at times. Many of his mus­cles have nev­er ful­ly recov­ered, and this makes it impos­si­ble to stand from a sit­ting posi­tion if he is not posi­tioned in cer­tain angles and heights. Also, he can­not pull him­self up from the floor if he falls since his arms and legs no longer have the strength need­ed to do so.


I thought a fit­ting way to end this sto­ry would be writ­ing about Johns’ atti­tude. While many would feel as though they had been robbed of the life they had, Johns feels that focus­ing on what he no longer can do serves no pur­pose. He accepts that life is not fair and though his con­di­tion can be “frus­trat­ing,” he has a choice to make the best of life. Each day he choos­es to look ahead and not behind, to focus on his fam­i­ly and to believe in his future…and this is some­thing that not even death could take from him.

C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


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Live your life as though you chose every negative thing that has ever happened to you. And you chose them because you wanted to prove that there is nothing you can't conquer and overcome to live life on your terms. - C.L. Harmon
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