I tend to do one week mountain treks every summer with friends. Mountain huts in Bulgaria are not the most pleasant places. They are often old, dirty and under maintained. But they are placed on unique places in the nature. Combine that with good company and misery and dirt are not that noticeable.
However, 3 years ago these miserable conditions played bad joke with me. I got a virus that is very unusually to get at my age (30yr old) - Cytomegalovirus.
It all started when I got back home from the mountain with low temperature - 37.1-37.5. So far so good, slight flu, will be over in few days. 2 weeks in and it was not over. Went to doctor. Started fly like medication. 3 weeks in and same thing. Got worried. Went to a more doctors. No success, 4 weeks in and still same condition. At this moment I got really worried. 1 month I maintain 37.5 temperature non-stop. On top of that, at this time I have a 1 year old child at home.
Finally I landed to the right doctor - Dr. Gerdzikova in Torax. She noticed that my liver is in dire straits and sent me to the right tests and they showed Cytomegalovirus. I didn’t know what that was but am experienced enough to know when shit is serious by the confused looks of a 60 yrs old super experienced doctor.
Go straight to the hospital for infectious diseases.
That’s what she said and then I felt my legs get shaky. Unknown virus for me, urgency, hospital for infectious diseases. Damn, first time I experience fear for my health and confusion in the same time - “Does it have to happen to me?”.
I went to the hospital and they made all kind of tests, especially for liver related metrics. All metrics are through the roof. I wanted to go home but they said no. They got me in a care unit for 2 weeks so that they could treat me and watch my condition. First time, I stay in a hospital for more than 1 hour.
As time passed by, I read a lot about this weird virus. It turns out that most kids (~90%) get it at young age. At this point they don’t have symptoms and they even don’t know they have it. Then they get immunity for life. Even some adults get it but they are asymptomatic or the virus surfaces for a few days as slight fever.
I was one of the very few adults that get it and have symptoms for a long time. It turned out that my case is that rare that an independent laboratory paid 300E in testing to study my case for scientific purposes. None of the doctors, I talked with, had seen 30 year old healthy adult sick of Cytomegalovirus with symptoms for weeks. So, first take away - If something is small chance, it does not mean it is not happening to you. Chances play a funny game. And talking about chances…I had the chance to be best man of two very good friends of mine. I missed that because I got that weird virus and was sick in the hospital and messed their wedding in the last moment. Sorry Kaloyan and Branimira.
The reason, I got it and had symptoms for weeks was attributed to weak immune system. They even tested me for AIDS. Negative result but I shitted in my pants in those few hours till results came out I must tell you. Doctors just didn’t get it how an young healthy adult can get the virus and be symptomatic for weeks. How could an immune system be so weak?
So at this time I started to get the picture. I got the virus in the miserable and dirty mountain huts. But why my immune system was so weak that didn’t cope with it? I was healthy, I was doing sports, I was normal weight. Not quite. You can look healthy on the outside but not be healthy inside.
As I said above, I had 1 year old kid back then so I was very sleep deprived and if there is one thing that “kills” me is lack of sleep. So when I could not sleep, I went running in the morning. “At least do something useful, some sports”. Bad idea. When your body is under stress, don’t stress it anymore. Sport is not healthy under any circumstances. When you lack sleep, fix that first, do sports later. On top of that, my diet was not quite healthy. I can say that sugars under different form (fruit, pastries, sweets) were a big part of it and sugars mess up the body really bad. They cause inflammation even if no symptoms on the outside are present. On top of that I felt tired as I hadn’t had restful vacation for a long time.
This was the second take away for me - Doing sports and looking healthy does not always mean good health. This was a major wake up call for me. Weak immune system opens the door not only for Cytomegalovirus but cancer and all other nasty diseases.
The virus went away after another 3 weeks (actually it never goes away, just does not cause trouble). And guess what the medication was - rest, sleep and good food. No medicines at all. There is no cure for Cytomegalovirus, the best cure is good immune system. This was my third take away.
After I improved, I had to eat a special diet for some time till my liver improved. 3 months or so. So this virus had quite of an impact on me. It also had quite a psychological impact too. I started fearing viruses and dirt. I didn’t eat at public places, I was avoiding people. I started seeing germs everywhere. For about 6 months I didn’t eat at a public place, because I didn’t know how did they prepare the food. I got more anti social as I didn’t want to go to restaurants and bars and pubs and gather with too many people. But that is a slippery slope and has to be managed early as it can get out of control. There is no escape from germs and viruses. Try to escape them fully and your life will degrade substantially. Be cautious and avoid the big risks but avoid fear too. Fear of the invisible = bad life.
The best game in town regarding germs and viruses in my opinion is avoid big risks and pay attention to body signals. A few very important things I realized/read during my long hours of thinking about the whole shit that happened to me:
- Good sleep is essential.
- When tired, rest. Take vacation, postpone the deadline, don’t deliver. Disappoint others. When you end up one month sick, you will miss the deadline too.
- Find way to have inner peace and happiness. No recipe for that, have to figure it out for yourself.
- Avoid sugars and processed food at all cost. Croissants on a sunday morning, soda with dinner, ice cream while walking in the park, pastries at Christmas, sweets when nervous, fast food, pop corn at the cinema. Avoid that shit as much as possible. I know it is hard but they inflame the whole body. Sneaky poison.
- Build muscle mass. Muscles are essential for health. Cardio is kind of fine but resistance training trumps cardio many times over.
So, when I look back, my experience 3 years ago looks quite similar to the COVID-19 situation today. We should be cautious, no doubt about that. Chances may be small to get it and you may be fine. But you never know, it may be you that end up in ICU. Avoid the big risks as big gatherings inside and always have good hygiene. However, from personal experience, I must tell that fear is not a way to go too. One has to find the balance. Not everyone can and many are irresponsible. But we can’t save people from stupidity.
Life is full of risks and we should learn how to navigate them and mitigate them. Vaccines are also a risk if you wish, a measured one. We cannot fear risks as like I said for me fear of the invisible = bad life. Can we find balance and learn to live with the virus responsibly? I am optimistic we can. What other choice do we have, to lock down till we find a medicine? What if we don’t. What if we find one but there is another virus next year and the year after. Small chance but I don’t buy that for small chances any more. Time will tell but I believe the only path forward is for us to care for the vulnerable as much as we can, have good immune system, good hygiene and be responsible.