Anyone who has put their faith in the hands of a doctor, waiting for word on a loved one, knows how it feels when hope and fear collide.
Julie Cox got word from her husband’s doctor at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. He had the hospital chaplain with him.
“He came in, and he told me he thought Mike had 24 to 48 hours to live,” Julie said. “So I went to Mike and I told him, ‘You promise not to leave me.’”
Michael Cox remembers the conversation — mostly his wife talking to him, and him thinking to himself, “What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere.”
Twenty-four hours later, Michael was more responsive; 24 hours after that, he was even better. Julie and the couple’s three adult children were finally convinced he was on the road to recovery.
Contracting West Nile virus
Life was more than good when Michael, 77, contracted West Nile virus in summer 2018. Michael and Julie had just moved into their home at The Bridges about a year prior. He spent his days walking the dogs and playing golf.
Nobody expects to contract a disease like West Nile virus — even outdoorsy folks like Michael. He has no idea where he received the fateful bite:
“It was nothing catastrophic that occurred is the way I look at it,” he said. “I got a mosquito bite somewhere. That’s it.”
Symptoms can be dormant for a few days with West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease, which most often presents itself in the form of encephalitis (what Michael contracted) or meningitis. Only about 1 in 150 people infected with WNV experience these central nervous system disorders.
Eight out of 10 people experience no symptoms at all; and about one in five people develop fatigue, weakness, body aches, headaches, diarrhea or other symptoms — which can last months.
For Michael, he began to feel profound exhaustion, unusual for him. He would come home from playing golf and collapse in bed. He had experienced a similar equine disease before and had experience the same symptoms, so he went to his doctor.
Before Michael could even find out what was causing his symptoms, Julie says he became unresponsive one day. His fever, a low-grade fever for about four days prior, spiked to 104 degrees. He was unable to even focus on his wife’s face. That’s when they rushed him to the hospital.
“I don’t remember any of that,” Michael said.
For about two-and-a-half weeks, his condition worsened to the point of seizures.
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain and can result in coma, numbness paralysis and more.
Michael experienced severe weakness, some paralysis and was mostly unable to focus, which he laughingly said showed at the time in his text messages to his family. He spent roughly five weeks in the hospital, rehabbing, seeing physical therapists, until he was finally released.
Michael is typically positive, always with a good sense of humor. He says that’s what helped him recover.
He set goals for himself when he was in the hospital. He decided he’d push himself in a wheelchair by a certain date. He did it. He decided he’d walk with a walker. He did that, too.
Michael, who spent a long career in media, said he interviewed a high school coach one time, who would tell his athletes, “What the mind conceives, the body achieves.”
He remembered that line while he laid in a hospital bed, knowing he would get out of there if he set his mind to it.
“It’s a decision process,” he said. “But in my case, I’m kind of an adventurer to a certain degree. I thought, ‘Alright, I can’t walk. I can’t play golf, but I want to be able to function like I used to function.’”
So he made an adventure out of it. The hope was to see how fast he could get better, never questioning whether it would happen.
“There are so many people who just immediately adopt that victimhood,” he said. “They give in to complaining and feeling sorry for themselves.”
He said those people are far less likely to recover like he did. Michael estimates he has about 90 percent of the abilities he had before contracting West Nile virus. A lifelong golfer, he shot a 37-40 in nine holes before he went down. Now, he’s shooting a 42-44, only having lost his long drive on par-5 holes.
What comes with that attitude, though, is still living life without fear it will happen again. He and Julie have hung bug zappers in the house; but he’s not afraid of going outside or contracting another disease. He just keeps moving forward.
The CDC recommends people protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves, installing or repairing screens in the home, using insect repellent that utilizes DEET, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Department of Public Health and Environment recorded eight cases of West Nile virus in humans in 2018.
Justin Tubbs is the managing editor for the Montrose Daily Press.