Can you play with West Nile when you catch it?

Ah, fresh air. Standing outside the house with Dinah Jane one pleasant evening recently, I took a deep breath. And inhaled at least three mosquitoes.

“Oh, brother,” said I, “let’s get back in the house before we catch West Nile!”

“What’s West Nile, Nana? Can we play with that when we catch it?” she asked.

Her questions startled me. Not until then did I realize that the Beans have little understanding of the Preacher’s ongoing struggle with neurological West Nile Disease. We’ve moved past the 2007 invasion of what we called “the pirates” and seldom name it in their presence. Life is full, God keeps sending daily strength, and our blessings far outnumber our troubles.

But perhaps it’s time to explain to the little ones just why their grandfather can’t run and play like many other men his age. Not even the oldest, nine now, remembers when the Preacher could chase a ball, shingle a roof, swim a hundred lengths, climb down into a cave or slam a shuttlecock over a net. If he could suddenly do those things, I think the Beans would welcome them – but perhaps they’d also miss the grandfather they know and love now.

To them, Gampa is the grey-haired, bearded mountain of a man who gives them rides on his walker. The gentle giant who quietly slips from the room when they get too noisy. The Candy-man who adores giving gifts and watching kids’ shows. The man who stays home while Nana goes to work, and takes frequent naps.

Of course, he does far more than that. That’s the kid’s eye view. And that’s how they love him. How we all love him.

The media has begun reporting the beginning of this year’s West Nile statistics, along with the usual warnings: Eliminate standing water. Stay inside between dusk and dawn. Wear repellant. (And no, Tiger Balm and Listerine and other quack suggestions are no substitute for Deet). But nothing warns better than a personal story.

The Preacher, then 54, contracted WND in 2007. He spent six months in hospital, battling his way back from encephalitis to sensibility, from paralysis in three limbs to limited mobility. Except for our faith in God and supportive family and community, we could not have endured the upheaval the mosquito injected into our lives. I wrote a book, (West Nile Diary) about our journey – a journey that carries on, as WND-related complications move his health into a slow downward spiral, just as the long-term research indicated it would.

As we’ve kept track of media reports on this pirate, we’ve noted that a greater percentage of people – almost half – who become ill from WND, manifest its worst form. In 2007, the neurological form only affected a small minority.

Please don’t take mosquitoes lightly. The bug still kills more people than anything else worldwide. In our case, life goes on. We thank God for what remains and count our blessings.

And yes, Dinah Jane, we do play – even with West Nile.


Every so often we need reminding how it all came down…this Huntley Street Interview was taped in 2009, shortly after the publication of West Nile Diary. It’s in two parts –