"I think I'm losing this battle," the 58-year-old man told his wife one Saturday night nearly a year ago. While she was at the theater — they'd bought the tickets months earlier — he had to crawl up the stairs on his hands and knees to get to bed. Terrible bone-shaking chills racked him, despite the thick layer of blankets. The chills were followed by sudden blasts of internal heat and drenching sweats that made him kick off the covers — only to haul them back up as the cycle repeated itself.
"I need to go to the E.R.," he told his wife. He'd been there three times already. They'd give him intravenous fluids and send him home with the diagnosis of a viral syndrome. He would start to feel better soon, he was told. But he didn't.
This all began nine days before. That first day he called in sick to his job as a physical therapist. He felt feverish and achy, as if he had the flu. He decided to drink plenty of fluids, take it easy and go back to work the next day. But the next day he felt even worse. That's when the fever and chills really kicked in. He was alternating between acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but the fever never let up. He'd started sleeping in the guest room because his sweat was soaking the sheets, and his chills shook the bed, waking his wife.
After three days of this, he made his first visit to the Yale New Haven Hospital emergency room. He was already taking antibiotics. Several weekends earlier, he developed a red, swollen elbow and went to an urgent-care center, where he was started on one antibiotic for a presumed infection. He took it for 10 days, but his elbow was still killing him. He went back to urgent care, where he was started on a broader-spectrum drug, which he had nearly finished. Now his elbow was fine. It was the rest of his body that ached as if he had the flu.
But at the hospital, his flu swab was negative. So was his chest X-ray. It was probably just a virus, he was told. He should take it easy until it passed. And come back if he got any worse.