How A Mosquito Can Change Your Life

CL HARMON

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.

A BACKYARD PEST

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.

 

THE GRIM REAPER VISITS

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.

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

“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.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

“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.

FINDING PEACE IN FRUSTRATION

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.

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