West Nile Virus - A Balanced Perspective

by Henna Armbruster & Johnnycat
August 27, 2002

Have you been following the stories about the West Nile virus? Unless you've been living under a rock for the last month, it's been almost impossible to miss them. Even I, being confined to a wheelchair in my trailer home with poor television reception, no air conditioning and electricity that only works three days out of the week (at best) have been following the reports, as has my best friend Johnnycat. I don't get any news channels, since I only have UHF and still then only six of those channels come in clear enough to watch. I have home shopping, a different kind of home shopping, a televangelist station, a station that only airs reruns of Supermarket Sweep, another channel of Supermarket Sweep, and spanish home shopping. Thankfully we still get to keep up on our news when my nurse stops by on Thursdays to change my diaper, air out the house a bit and stock my refrigerator. She brings me her old newspapers after she's done with them, which is usually a week or two late but Johnnycat and I are still grateful for whatever we can get.

Reading all the stories about people and animals getting sick and dying from West Nile has gotten me quite worried for myself and my best friend. They say the disease is carried by mosquitoes, like malaria, which makes it hard to protect yourself here in the rural Louisiana summer when it's hot and humid and the mosquitoes are literally everywhere. When you live in an old trailer home with windows that don't close tightly, no screens, and a good chunk of your roof missing, you kind of just get used to the fact that mosquitoes are going to bite you and eventually you stop fighting it. I barely feel a mosquito bite anymore. Sometimes they drink for so long they can't even fly away when they're done; they just kind of walk off like drunken penguins into the cracks somewhere and probably pop. It's a hot, excruciatingly lonely and difficult life, but luckily my medication keeps me asleep for most of it, so I shouldn't complain too much. The more blood the mosquitoes take the less I have to keep me conscious, which helps matters a bit. The universe balances itself out.

So being that there are mosquitoes everywhere around here and that isn't going to change anytime soon, when I started to read stories about deaths from West Nile, I became very frightened. At one point I thought Johnnycat might have it, since one of the symptoms is reported to be lethargy and he has hardly done anything but sleep behind the couch the last couple weeks. My nurse keeps insisting he's dead, that might be part of it, but I don't know. Something is eating the food out of his dish every night. If it's not him, I don't know what else it could be. I can see what I think are mouse skeletons on the floor by the stove, but I don't think mice would eat cat food.

Like I said before I forgot what I was writing about, the stories in the paper had me frightened for awhile. But then I tried to put things into some perspective. Here in Louisiana, we have a problem with Lyme Disease too since deer ticks are everywhere. I haven't been out of the house in a few years, but last time I was the state license plates even read "the deer tick state" across the top. It's not the best image to project, in my opinion, but worlds better than the "Home of Poverty" license plates they had when I was a girl. So, up to last week's date, West Nile has killed about 20 people nationwide. Every year, Lyme Disease kills thousands. But somehow West Nile is much more frightening to us. I don't know. Maybe because it's new so it's got everyone's attention, or maybe when the paper doesn't have enough stories about missing children or bombs blowing up in Israel, they like to use sensational filler about a disease that strikes less often than the lottery jackpot to fill in the adspace they can't sell. Either way, the chances of either me or Johnnycat contracting the West Nile virus are so slim that it's just as likely Fabio will jump off the cover of the used paperback I'm reading, take me in his arms and make sweet love to me right here in my wheelchair. If I'm going to dream about something that will never happen to me in a million years, I'd rather fantasize about having a man to love and hold me than worry about dirty mosquitoes with West Nile virus.

What I really want to know is, why is there never any disease that actually kills mosquitoes? When I was in elementary school and I still had my legs, I knew a girl who thought she was a vampire and was into drinking blood, and she died of like eighteen diseases just two months after I met her. Yet mosquitoes suck nothing but filthy blood for thousands of centuries and somehow manage to be as fit and healthy as Greg Louganis. Why don't the mosquitoes ever get sick?

And why is America more concerned with this than they are with a wheelchair-bound woman who is so poor she hasn't eaten anything but Spaghetti O's and Tampico for five years. I don't have any working plumbing and the bathroom is caved in anyway, so I sit in my own urine and feces for six days at a time until my government nurse comes to change me. Why doesn't America discuss THAT over dinner? I guess I'm not as important as that person who just got bitten by a mosquito and died. I'm not as lucky, either.

But somehow this misfit soul still manages to roll out of bed every morning and into her wheelchair and face each and every day head on. Johnnycat and I may never have made the front page of USA Today, but in my house we're both American heroes. I even made a little sign to say exactly that, and I put it up on my wall and pasted my favorite picture of Johnnycat and me onto it; it made us smile. The very next day my nurse threw it out when she was cleaning and told me not to do it again.

I'm going to end this column now since I can feel my pills kicking in and I'm getting a bit drowsy. Or is it just depression? I can't tell anymore. It doesn't really matter. I am awfully thirsty.

Henna Armbruster and Johnnycat hand-type their columns on a vintage Smith Corona and submit them to divisiontwo via US  Mail.

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