LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The warnings about West Nile virus became all too real for a Livingston Parish family. Robert Whiddon is the first person in the Baton Rouge area to be diagnosed with the most serious form of the disease in 2018.
"This was frightening, very frightening," he said Friday from his home near Independence and the Tangipahoa Parish border. "I realize now what it could have done to everybody had I not made it."
It was after a Father's Day crawfish boil when he realized something was very wrong. "I felt extremely tired and when I walked a little ways, I was out of breath and I felt depressed," Whiddon said.
An ER doctor said it might be a reaction to the crawfish and sent him home with antibiotics and steroids, but Robert quickly became more confused and disoriented. His wife, Joyce, found him smoking an imaginary cigarette.
"He came and sat back down on the couch and he was drinking an imaginary Coke, and my son-in-law looked at me and said, 'Something's not right,' and I said, 'No, something's not right,'" Joyce said.
She called an ambulance and followed her husband back to the emergency room. The diagnosis was eventually confirmed, and Robert spent a week in the hospital getting fluids and pain medicine. "When they told me I had West Nile, I passed out right after that," Robert recalled. "And I do remember my last thought was, 'Oh my God, I'm gonna' die. This is the end of it.'"
About 80 percent of West Nile cases go undetected. About 20 percent show flu-like symptoms and eventually go away. Less than one percent of cases get as bad as Robert's. "It makes me glad to be alive. It makes me realize just what I do have with family support," he said.
Like many people, the Whiddons never worried about bug spray. "It's in the kitchen cabinet. It's in his truck. I just honestly don't think about it," Joyce said.
It's safe to say their minds have changed. "My thoughts on bug spray is use it," Robert said.
The long-term effects of Robert's illness are yet to be seen, as it's only been one month since his diagnosis. Some long-term effects can include fatigue, memory problems, weakness, headache, joint pain, and balance problems.
The Whiddons' home is now full of abandoned projects as Joyce hopes for a full recovery.
"He's sweating, he's exhausted, and he actually still gets pretty confused," she said.
But they both realize the ending to his story could have been much worse.