Friday, July 4, 2014

The Phone Rings

4:20pm EST,  30 June 2014 

The phone rings…
Lab- “Mister Straw?  This is the York Hospital lab.  Mister Straw, how are you feeling?”  

So, typically, in the US, it’s been my experience that personal medical news flows pretty much just between you and your family doctor.  You’re sick- you go tell your doctor.  Your lab tests are in- your doctor calls you to discuss the results.  That’s how it goes.  So, for the lab, itself, to bypass protocol, it raises an eyebrow, to say the least.

Me- “Uh, okay, I guess, thanks.  And you?” 

Truthfully, I had not been doing all that well.  Bad headaches and increasingly bad fevers had been part of my nightly routine for the past 9 days.  However, I figured the person on the other end of he line knew that things weren’t going well for me and might have a name for it now.

Lab-Well, mister Straw, we have some more test results and we’re going to need to see you soon.”

Back to the hospital?  Ugh.  Didn’t I already do that?  Besides...   Read More...

...didn’t they realize that the US was playing Belgium in a World Cup soccer match at that very moment?  Sheesh.

Lab- “Mister Straw, please remain available.  I’m going to call your doctor right now and they will make arrangements for you.”

So, I sat back down with my sons, Joe (19) and Sam (15), and a couple of their friends, to continue watching as much of the soccer match as I could before getting the call.

You see, the previous Thursday, under the guidance of my doctor, I went to the emergency room for a battery of tests, all while quarantined in sealed room.  This is what happens when you tell medical professionals that you recently returned from years living in equatorial Africa and that you’re not feeling well, now.

My illness started when I began to feel some aches and chills at a wedding celebration the previous Sunday afternoon, just 4 days after stepping off the plane from Africa where we’ve been living for the past six years.  We left the wedding, returned to the home of our friends who are hosting us; I bundled up, took some meds, and went to bed.  A similar event had happened about a month previously, in Cameroon.  I woke up the next day, and it was pretty much gone.  This time, however, three days passed and things were getting worse.

So off to the ER where they took several vials of blood, chest x-rays, CT scan, poking, prodding, and, the icing on the cake, a spinal tap (not pleasant).  Throughout that day, I had started to perk up a bit and was thinking that it was all just a really severe sinus infection- something that the CT scan had indicated too.  However, the docs weren’t convinced.  They did rule out being contagious, and I was allowed to get to another room where they set up and IV and pumped me full of stuff that would deal with the probable culprit- parasites.

I was discharged with a prescription of doxycycline, and told that the lab results would be coming out in the next several days.

The phone rings again…

Doctor, “Mister Straw?  This is Doctor Farabaugh, a colleague of your doctor.  Mister Straw, how are you feeling today?”

Man, these people keep ask me how I’m feeling.  This must not be good at all.

Me, “Um, I’m hanging in there.  You?”

Silence on the line… then some shuffling noise.  I imagine him completing his google search of the name of the exotic disease that comes from the depths of the rainforest of the Congo River Basin in Africa.

Doc, “Um, yeah, ah, Mister Straw?  We got some lab reports and we’re going to need to see you soon.  Um… if you had to go now, how soon can you be to the hospital?”

This is like being a homeowner in Kansas and getting a personal call from a tornado expert asking you how much time it might take you to grab Toto and get in the cellar.  Better look out the window, right?

Me, “I’m like 5 minutes down the road”

Silence… more shuffling noises.

Doc, “Okay, mister Straw.  We’re going to make arrangements for your arrival there and I’ll call you back when they’re ready to receive you.”

Within an hour and a half, Alace and I were in a room at the York Hospital in time to watch the last 5 minutes of the soccer match where our US men’s team fought hard, but lost to Belgium. 

We learned that my positive test result was found in the fluid taken from my spinal tap (glad that
counted for something!).  I have viral encephalitis. Something triggered a dormant virus in my body and now it was in my head, multiplying away with the potential to move from severe headaches and fever to more serious things- confusion, damaged sight, dizziness, brain damage, Bell’s palsy, convulsions, and even death.  The virus continues to multiply and the body’s immune system simply can’t keep up.

The treatment?  For the next 10 days, I’ll have drugs delivered through an IV every 8 hours for about 2 hours each.  This drug, acyclovir, will stop the virus from multiplying and allow my body’s immune system to catch up and destroy the virus.

Today, at 7am as I write this, I have completed 8 treatments.  Only 22 to go!  Kindly, they have found a way to allow me to leave the hospital (hopefully today) and do the remaining treatments at home, under the supervision of a visiting service.  To do that, they put in a more permanent IV line (a “PICC”).

There’s been a good amount of cabin fever for the last 2 and a half days, but it’s been broken up by some surprise visits from friends and family.   Also, the staff at York Hospital is very friendly and helpful- they have really perfected the “cranberry and ginger ale margarita” here.

I’m hoping that today is my independence day from this room and I hear the news that we are able to head home.

I need to say this, too.  If this virus had decided to swing into full effect back in Africa, I would have most likely been diagnosed with malaria.  When that treatment didn’t show results, who knows how long in the process it may have gone before it became evident that I needed a medical evacuation to South Africa or Europe?  I have not heard of spinal taps being done in our region of Africa. 

So, with this sobering thought in mind, I am thankful for how things have happened and point to the sovereignty of God who is “large and in charge” no matter if things go our way or not.


  1. We are so very thankful for God's perfect timing...although this was a lousy homecoming!

  2. In America all because 2 people feel in love and got married and you were able to get the medical care you needed. God directed, I think so!

    1. Getting home in time for the wedding was key timing! God is in charge!

  3. I agree with Nancy-- thankful for God's plan and timing! May God guide the health care providers, and you heal quickly....all for His Glory.

  4. Thanks for the post Steve. Even with a serious subject you made me laugh (How are you and grabbing Toto!).
    Hope you can get out a little and praying for you all.

  5. Glad you are on your way to feeling better! God's timing is pretty amazing...