I should be asleep. But I bolted out of bed, restless, driven and obsessed. How did I end up in the middle of this maelstrom, and where is it headed? I did not choose this disease: It chose me. The story unfolds. A drama. A Robin Cook novel. Only this time it is real. The patients are real. Their illnesses are very real. Dr. K from Clongen calls me and says: "D These are the sickest patients I have ever seen. They look barely alive." I know. One has spirochetes swimming in plain view on a slide made of his blood. Others have blood swarming with mysterious bacteria. Most are young people struck down in the prime of life. They fumble for words which do not come. Their thoughts are scattered and lost in the fog. They get confused and disoriented. Their muscles are weakened and no longer support their weight. Their bodies are consumed with pain. Mysterious shooting pains. Muscle pains. Joint pains. Strange sensations, numbness and tingling and loss of sensation and balance afflict them. Strange fevers and drenching sweats punctuate fragments of disordered sleep. Unbearable headaches without relief. A slow, creeping, silent plague wanders the earth. The silence is deafening. Medical journals flow to my office daily. Nothing. The same list of banal illnesses and therapies is paraded out week after week. There is no mention of this strange and mysterious plague which is eating away at the fabric of so many lives.
Like all good novels, this story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Where do we stand? First chapter I suspect. It has all the trimmings of a medical thriller. There is a deep mystery. A terrible disease is disabling and killing people in plain sight and yet no one seems to notice (or care?). Just like in a Robin Cook novel, unexpected and unassuming protagonists emerge unwittingly, swept up in a drama which they did not seek. And despite this, these unlikely protagonists are compelled to see this thing out. Politics and egos obscure a search for truth. There is a foreboding sense of a deeper conspiracy. Danger signs are everywhere. Yet the protagonists trudge through the mine field laden terrain. The plot unfolds daily in unexpected ways. We turn the pages of this crazy novel, caught up in a world of swirling spirochetes, blood parasites, mysterious bacteria and a spreading dreadful plague. A nail biter. A page turner. Yet unlike a Robin Cook novel, this one is real. Hang in there: we are still in chapter one.