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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