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Adult-Onset Measles: My Five Days In Intensive Care
Did You Have Measles As a Child?
I was told I was a blessed child, with no exposure to measles, mumps or chicken pox. I continually had severe colds and the usual influenzas. When I accepted a temporary hospital admitting position in a large County Facility, I never dreamed my life would be in danger from exposure to a virus I should have had as a child.
The job was tough and traumatic; I worked as a ward secretary in Labor and Delivery, often seeing things no lay person would choose to expose themselves to. I saw babies born dead, little teens from Mexico having babies (sometimes for the second time), and numerous episodes of pain, vomiting and other unpleasant side effects of the epidurals. I hung in there until the day a woman with advanced measles was admitted without the usual precautions. I was exposed to her for at least twenty minutes as I took her vital information and clipped it to the appropriate chart. I was later told we both should have been masked and the patient put in isolation.
Weeks passed. I suddenly noticed I felt weak and chilled, as though all the blood had been taken suddenly from my body. I also looked rather pale and clammy. I have a history of severe blood sugar drops, so I brushed it off. Then the flulike symptoms came: fever, headache and general misery. I went to an emergency room, feeling a vague sense of doom. The Doctor labeled it as a virus and told me to go home and rest.
Days passed, and I woke up violently ill, vomiting dark red blood into the toilet. I was alone and had to call a cab to get to the Kaiser emergency room. The admitting staff took my vitals and immediately hooked me up to a cardiac monitor, breathing mask and an I.V. to restore my chemical balance. They were surprised, it seemed, by my symptoms. Someone asked if I could have toxic shock or sepsis. No one present had seen a case of adult measles and everyone seemed rather puzzled. Purple welts appeared on my face, as though I had survived a house fire.
I was isolated in a very nice, private room and hooked up to every imaginable device. My heart was racing and weak and I looked like death. I weakly whispered that I had been exposed to many patients at the County Hospital, and that I was afraid I had measles, as I had heard it was invading Riverside County.
The Center for Disease Control was called in, and rounds of interviews had begun. The welts had spread and even invaded my internal pelvic area. When I received a diagnosis of measles, a nurse calmly mentioned that I was lucky, as the patient who had been hospitalized in my exact room recently died from complications. This was not very cheering, but I said nothing.
Four more days passed as the antibiotic drip in my arms did its work, and slowly I started to keep food down and recover. I still looked like a white mask had been painted over my face, but some of the angry welts were slowly dissipating. (Photos of my condition were taken for the Kaiser Medical Library to educate doctors as to the appearance of adult onset measles.)
Recovery from a medical trauma can be slow, and I was on disability for several months, recuperating on my best friends couch. I later was told to due the hospital for negligence, but no attorney I contacted was excited about taking on the County Hospital. I instead received a small settlement from an insurance claim, in the amount of 2,000.
The best was yet to come. Since my county insurance had actually expired at the time of my hospitalization, the bill was almost 15,000. Garnishments forced me to later declare bankruptcy which would make my credit rating a train wreck, to say the least. My advice to adults who have not had measles? Get vaccinated.