I can now officially confirm that I am ’unofficially’ the first person in Orange County stricken with Enterovirus D68.
I'm writing this report from the same Orlando hospital where I was admitted last Friday, October 17th.
I have been placed in an isolation ward. I sit alone, on my hospital bed, where sticky tabs and wires monitor my heart rhythm, an IV drip runs cold into a vein in my arm and I continue to breathe oxygen through the assistance of a thin, green tube connected to a shiny, metallic wall plate.
I'm powering through hospital food, trying to recall where I've placed my urinal bedpan, wheezing, coughing and going through episodes of extreme sleepiness and sober awareness. I'm missing contact with my wife and kids, my friends from work and my dog. I even miss my dog.
I knew that last Friday, October 17th, was going to be unique because I felt my body waking up prior to my already-early 2:30 AM alarm. I felt the nagging chills of a fever.
No amount of hogging the blankets would satisfy my chills.
I stumbled to the bathroom; fumbled through the medicine drawer and found the family thermometer.
It was bad.
As a two-time cancer survivor, that kind of fever is not acceptable. Compounded with the fact that I lost my infection-fighting spleen in one of those cancer battles, I knew I had no choice but to get to the nearest emergency room.
Fortunately, in spite of my delerium, I was able to safely drive to the local neighborhood hospital and quickly find the ER.
Within moments of stumbling into the ER, I was peppered with questions about West Africa and whether or not I've been traveling in recent days. The ambient noises of the ER fell quiet as other staff and patients considered the possibility that Ebola had just walked in off the streets of Orlando.
While Ebola was quickly ruled out, the doctors knew there was something about my case that warranted additional care - high fever, high heart rate, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing.
The emergency docs ran a series of tests and screenings for a variety of respiratory infections, ruling out Flu A, Flu B, SARS, whooping cough, MERSA and others.
But, the test did return a positive response to the Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) screen.
Perhaps you recall EV-D68?
It was all the thing until Ebola became the bigger thing.
Now, with all the federal, state and local resources being set aside for Ebola care, there is little interest and few resources remaining for EV-D68.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is not even confirming local tests for EV-68D except in pediatric cases. That is why I have an official 'unofficial' diagnosis- the hospital says I have it and there will be no additional tests to confirm it.
So, outside of what will surely be an impressive stack of medical bills and a few lingering PTO challenges, I will have little to show for my place in Florida medical history.
And I'm over it.
My fever was under control within the first two days, by Sunday.
But the bloodcurdling-coughing and associated pain continues to this day, a full 8 days later.
Every person that enters my hospital room is required to dress in isolation gear - a face mask or shield, head cover, neck-to-floor gowns and rubber gloves. To be clear, they are wearing that gear for their protection, not for mine. Their task is to provide me the treatment I need with out further spreading the infection to others.
I'm told that the gear the medical staff wears with me WAS the Ebola gear.
In accordance with CDC guidelines, the hospital has now upgraded their gear for the greater Ebola fight.
I will surely never know how or where I got the infection.
People can be carriers of EV-D68 without ever showing symptoms, which greatly differentiates it from the spread of Ebola in which the disease can't be spread unless symptomatic.
Because EV-D68 is a virus, there is no treatment for it other than to ride it out and to treat the symptoms.
As you might imagine, spending more than a week in an isolation unit makes you feel very ... isolated.
I didn't plan for this.
I didn't clear this with my boss or family first.
I didn't know that this would be the beginning of an indoor adventure in healthcare.
I am looking forward to getting my appetite back, enjoying food again, being able to hug my children and my wife, and of course, getting back to work.
Until such time, remember to wash your hands… like… 1000 times a day.