by Nat Roers
Many of you may know me from the morning and noon broadcasts on WLTX. I'm Nat Roers, the annoyingly happy brunette that's infiltrated your living room for the past 8 years- until recently that is. Some, granted not many, of you may be wondering where I've been for the last couple of months. Well, that's why I'm writing this article. I've been miserably ill with a virus I think would be quite promising in the art of biological warfare- mononucleosis.
I'm notorious for not wanting to share anything too personal about my life. My boss, who is probably vigorously shaking her head in agreement right now, can attest to that. But since I've been sick, I've received so many heartfelt wishes, emails, and messages that I am going to make an exception. You sharing your personal struggles with me made me feel not alone when I really needed it and I am writing this article for you. I am writing this article for anyone on the web searching this topic. I am also writing this article for doctors and others in the medical community so that they may be further educated on how differently this virus, which is typically seen in children, can affect adults. Hopefully by reading about my somewhat atypical and horrid journey with mono I can finally "pay forward" the kindness you have bestowed on me. I hope by spreading this around, the article not the bug, that others will not have to suffer as long as I did. Please pass this link on to anyone you know suffering from similar symptoms and to anyone you know in the medical community.
When I was a teenager, I had my first go-round with the virus known as mononucleosis. It's a common infectious virus that typically affects young adults. It is transmitted orally and is usually characterized by fever, fatigue, and a sore throat. Yes, it's called the kissing disease. Let's take a moment for the less mature crowd to get out their snickers and fabulous witticisms ....
OK, good. Now, I can't exactly attest to what I was doing as a teenager, but being a happily married woman, I can promise you I've only been kissing one man for the last ten years of my life. Where did I contract the virus this time? Your guess is as good as mine. It can stay dormant in your system for years and reactivate- or maybe I was just lucky enough to inhale particles of a cough from some random passerby on the street. However the difference in how I might have acquired this virus each time is not nearly as drastic as my reaction to it.
As a teenager, I vaguely remember having a sore throat. I still went to school, worked as a waitress, and even performed in a three-month-long run of a local theatre production. I always thought it was silly how people fussed about it. It was no big deal. Let's fast forward 18 years to the BIG DEAL-
People over the age of thirty do not commonly come down with mono, but when they do, the symptoms and recovery time can bemuch more dramatic.
This past May, I started feeling a little "off". I really didn't know how to explain it and I didn't tell anyone about it. I saw my general doctor and she tested my thyroid and hormone levels. Everything came back fine. She asked if I was stressed. I had been working pretty hard- what parent isn't? She suggested I "chill out" a bit. So, I spent the next week at the community pool after work, did some yoga, took some extra vitamins, etc.
Two weeks later, I spent a family weekend at the beach with friends and felt this horrible "detached" feeling all weekend. Not wanting to ruin anyone's time, I didn't mention it. When we got home on Sunday, I had what can only be described as the world's worst panic attack. I was shaking, sweating, hyperventilating, and my heart was beating out of my chest. It lasted for hours! I called out of work and went straight to my primary doctor on Monday morning. She prescribed me an anti-anxiety drug and sent me on my way. I didn't feel strong enough to go back to work for a couple of days, but when I did go back the real fun began. I started having these attacks while I was on the air! I've had this same job for ten years and that's never happened. It really threw me for a loop. I'd be smiling and talking, but what the audience didn't know was that to me the whole room was spinning and I felt completely out of control.
I returned to my primary in tears. How was I going to be able to hold down my job if I was having panic attacks on live television? She suggested I seek counseling and gave me an antidepressant and heavier anti-anxiety drugs. For weeks, I took them and silently suffered as things only got worse. Was I cracking up? Did I have a nervous breakdown and not know it? I didn't think I was depressed. Can you be depressed and not know it?
This stressful time, as I found out much later, was my body's reaction to the incubation period of mono. Yup, the virus hadn't even "bloomed" yet. It takes four to six weeks for mono to fully develop. People over the age of thirty will often claim to have terrible bouts of anxiety, depression, and brain fog during this time. I've noticed from multiple chat forums on this topic that young adults don't normally seem to suffer from any of these symptoms.
Not only did the attacks start happening nightly, but other things started happening to my body throughout the month of June that were so upsetting, I didn't share them with anyone. I kept telling myself (as I'd been told by doctors) that it was all in my head. On July 4th, I had such a severe attack during the middle of the newscast that I left the set and had a friend/co-worker take me to the hospital. My body was shaking uncontrollably, my nose felt like it was going to gush blood, and my mind was oatmeal. I was dismissed after a few hours with a diagnosis of being "dizzy." They did note I had some extremely low blood pressure and potassium levels, so I figured a hypokalemic state was to blame. I increased my potassium intake and tried to shove it out of my mind. By this time I was dangerously close to using up all my paid time off for the year- so I really wanted to stay at work.
Shortly after my hospital visit, I saw my old primary doctor and got a physical done. I saw my current primary doc again and had more blood tests done. Nobody could find a thing. I'm pretty sure they even tested me for mono, but mono can take a long time to show up on a blood test! Towards the end of July, I was an emotional and physical mess. I had panic attacks and would be dizzy all day long, would sleep all day and still fall asleep on my way to work, had heart palpitations, nausea, and insomnia. I would wake up in the middle of the night and run to the bathroom and dry heave, followed by sweating, then chills. A rash like rosacea had developed on my face and another called livedo reticularis on my leg. I started losing a drastic amount of weight. I also started having back pain and really strange cognitive problems. I couldn't remember basic words. The most frightening experience was when I was making the bed in our guest room one day and forgot how to put a sheet on. I stood there and cried for fifteen minutes. My husband and I were beginning to get really worried. This was getting out of hand. What was wrong with me? Our poor son was asking, "Why doesn't Mommy play with me anymore?" It was a living nightmare.
Everything came to a head at the end of July. I was falling asleep on the road to work again and was actually sticking my head out the window at three in the morning in an effort to keep myself awake. When I got to the station, my body just wouldn't work. I mean, it physically would not work. I slept on the sofa in our green room for three hours. Scared to be alone, I waited for my boss to come in and she took me home and really drove home the need for me to find out what was wrong.
I was on a mission- an aided mission. Quite a few family members came to stay with us over the following weeks to take care of me and drive me from doctor to doctor. Physically, I couldn't walk more than a few steps without falling down. My blood was taken so many times that my arms had bruises on them. The only thing one doctor found was a low aldosterone level. This can signal adrenal problems. Yes! We were on the right path! It could be adrenal! The only problem? There are not enough endocrinologists in the area and they couldn't get me an appointment until October. That was over three months away!
My family and I were beside ourselves! Something was seriously wrong with me and nobody could see me until October?! Through relentless determination, OK more like shameless and obscene begging, I was able to get an appointment to see a specialist two weeks later. Every day was excruciating. The attacks at night had gotten so bad that I could only imagine a seizure or stroke were the next step. I was terrified to be alone. When my appointment day came, I was up at two in the morning waiting. I was there when the doors opened at eight. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the endocrinologist was testing me for cancer! I thought I was there for adrenal insufficiency! Secretly I had been worried, but to see it on paper! Oh my! I went home and waited for the results. There was a lot of crying, yes. What's even more sad? When the results came back negative, I was actually disappointed. Did I want cancer? NO! I wanted to know what was wrong with me. I needed a treatment plan, yet still nobody could tell me. I wanted to be in hospital so badly, but I thought they'd just send me home like before. Every single time a doctor sent me home, I bawled. Certainly that would be the night my body would give out. I didn't want to die! I felt like a helpless animal and wondered how people could just send me home to suffer like that. Wasn't this America? Were we allowed to do that to people? I seriously didn't know the body was capable of feeling so much pain for such an extended period of time. I honestly believe there were more than a few days in August where I really should have been hospitalized.
As if this wasn't enough...
Like I said before, I was out of sick time, so I had to apply for short-term disability. Guess what? Not easy when you don't have a diagnosis and no positive blood test for anything. Now, on top of everything else, I was going to have to worry about how to make the mortgage. Contrary to popular belief, morning anchors aren't rich. Maybe in New York, but not here. We're in the middle-income tax bracket like everyone else, baby.
It had now been over three months since the onset of my symptoms. I developed strep throat, a sinus infection, and a bronchial bug and went to see one of my many doctors to get antibiotics. He tested me for Lyme disease when I was in there. While I waited for the doctor to come in, I actually heard one of the employees in the office laughing at me in the hallway. As far as everyone was concerned, I was suffering from "hysterical woman" syndrome. Nobody believed me anymore. That quiet moment for me, hearing that employee repeating something I had said and laughing with her co-workers was one of the most humiliating moments in my life. I was sick not deaf. If you work at a medical practice, you should really know how much your voices carry in those buildings. We hear everything you say.
I suppose that doctor tested me for mono that day too. Maybe it was one of the older tests I'd taken. I wasn't keeping track anymore. When they called me at home the next week to tell me I had mono? Excuse me for being crass, but in one of my more honest moments in journalism, I'll tell you the truth- I wanted to flip every person who had treated me the bird.
I was the happiest person to be diagnosed with mono ever! I cheered and called family members. It was SO NICE to finally have an answer- to know I wasn't crazy- to know I wasn't dying. I've gotten past the anger at my physicians, not over the two grand out of pocket it took to finally get the diagnosis, but over my anger. You see, the "normal" symptoms of this virus are, like I said before, fever, fatigue, and sore throat. Minus the fatigue, I never really had any of those.
This virus is crazy different in adults!
Since my diagnosis, I've searched the web and found stories from thousands of adults who suffered like I did- with the exact same symptoms! Some people with these symptoms have taken over six months to recover! They've lost their jobs. They've lost their trust in medicine. Please, please, please know you are not alone if you have these symptoms. If you are in the medical field, please share this with your co-workers so that YOUR "mystery diagnosis" patient may not have to suffer as long as I did. The emotional pain of not knowing is far worse than anything else. If this helps one person, I have done my job. A job I am lucky to have since my employer knew me long enough to believe me when I told them something was physically wrong.
Where am I today? It's been about four months since the onset of my symptoms and I'm just returning from work after six weeks on disability. I have bad days/hours and good days/hours. From what I've researched on the topic, this seems to be pretty normal. I'm just keeping a positive attitude and hoping that in a few months my good days will start to outnumber the bad. Unlike the peak of my illness, a bad day isn't horrible. A bad day for me now consists mostly of fatigue and nausea. It's a slow recovery, but it's going in the right direction. There's not much on the web about mono in adults or the recovery time. I really had to dig. I certainly hope this article can give reassurance and hope to someone searching this topic. You will get better, but it takes time. To everyone that reads this and discusses it, thank you for helping me pay it forward.