After six months in a hospital bed, it's hard to describe why home feels good.
But as Bob Matthews sits in a green chair in his living room, he knows this is where he wants to be.
“There's nothing like being in your own home with your own family,” he said.
Matthews, 77, has spent the past several months recovering from West Nile virus. After contracting the virus in June, he was paralyzed, and at one point, doctors thought he might not make it.
Last year, Oklahoma saw a record-breaking number of cases of West Nile virus, with 178 confirmed cases reported to the state Health Department. Of that, 30 people died, more than any previous year.
West Nile virus is contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito and is not spread through human-to-human contact.
State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said there is no way to know whether this spring and summer will bring a worse West Nile virus season.
“It would be foolhardy for us to make any sort of firm projections on that,” Bradley said. “It just seems to be this cycle where, we had an outbreak in 2003, and then it was relatively quiet for three years, and then we had another larger outbreak in 2007, and then we went four years with relatively low activity, and then it rebounded with a vengeance in 2012.”
Bradley said although there seems to be a pattern, it is important to remember that West Nile virus is present each spring and summer, not only during the outbreak years.
Before 1999, West Nile virus was found only in the Eastern Hemisphere, in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since 1999, more than 30,000 people in the United States have been reported as getting sick with West Nile virus, according to the CDC. Last year's West Nile virus epidemic broke records not only in Oklahoma but also nationwide.
Older adults are more likely to develop the most serious complications associated with West Nile virus, including high fever, headache, coma, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to the CDC. These symptoms can last several weeks, and neurological effects might be permanent.
Among the Oklahoma residents who contracted West Nile virus last year, residents' ages ranged from 1 to 93, according to the state Health Department. Of those, 42 percent were 65 or older.
Of those who died, 83 percent were 65 years or older.
Bradley said the consequences of West Nile virus can be devastating to people's lives.
“They may never recover fully, and if they do, it's quite a long path to recovery, and they learn a new meaning of patience and appreciating the small improvements and advancements they make,” she said.
There is no cure for West Nile virus, and the recovery period can be slow. Matthews hasn't yet regained his ability to walk, but he has no plans of giving up.
“Healing is slow, and that's the one frustration,” he said. “As this came on overnight, you expect it to go away overnight, and it goes away when it determines, not when you want it to. Everyone says I'm made a lot of improvement, and that I will be walking. With them saying it, I'm going to do it, I guess.”
The shortest stay that anyone in Oklahoma had in the hospital for West Nile virus was one day. The longest was 119 days, according to the state Health Department. That doesn't include time that people spent in rehabilitation hospitals, though.
Matthews came home in January after spending about six months in the hospital and skilled nursing facilities. It was just too expensive to stay. Each month in a skilled nursing facility cost about $20,000.
About three weeks after he came home, his daughter Keri Collins, her husband and their two sons moved in to help Bob Matthews' wife B.J. with his care. Along with them came two dogs, cats and a boa constrictor that stays in what the Matthews' grandsons have dubbed “Creeper Cove.”
B.J. Matthews feels blessed to have the help of her daughter and her family. They help each other with things like operating the electric lift, which can be difficult to maneuver with the home's carpet.
“They've given up their lives for us,” she said.
The family has learned a lot about navigating through Medicare. For example, they wanted to get Matthews a medical air mattress to sleep on. The mattress would be better for Matthews to sleep on, for his recovery involves a lot of nerve pain.
But to qualify for the bed, Matthews had to first develop bed sores, or pressure ulcers.
“A bed sore doesn't happen over night, so he had to be uncomfortable for a period of time for those to develop in order to qualify for the bed, which has made a huge difference,” Collins said.
It's one of many of the family's stories about the system. But they're not alone in their fight. They have each other, and they repeatedly thank one another for that.
“You deal with what you have, and be grateful that you have support,” B.J. Matthews said. “I thought the other day, what if they lived overseas or if they lived in another state? What on earth would we have done without this family?”
Contributing: Bryan Painter, Staff Writer