By Sue Moore
The weather is getting warmer in these parts of Michigan which brings on more than sunshine: It’s the harbinger of West Nile virus. Although only one percent of the population contracts it, Tracy Glocheski found herself in that tiny minority in 2012 while residing on the south end of Austin Lake, near the swamp on Mandigo Road.
The virus is spread by mosquito bites. She doesn’t know exactly when she was bitten but it took over eight weeks for doctors to pinpoint the cause of her near-paralysis. She and her husband were visiting friends in Allegan when symptoms began.
Her legs were moving uncontrollably. They were like jello, she explained, describing the first symptoms. Then she began to have a seizure, “like I was outside my body looking in,” she said. Her husband, Steve, drove her to the hospital in Allegan. They got lost on the way and had to call an ambulance to pick her up.
The emergency medical technicians kept quizzing her about drugs she might be taking. She hadn’t taken anything and couldn’t convince them of that. Her fever was 104.7 on arrival at the hospital. They were able to stabilize her with ice blankets and then discharged her, still not knowing what had caused the problem.
At home she couldn’t walk. Bright lights hurt her eyes, but her family doctor couldn’t find what was causing her aches and pains. Next it was on to a neurologist and by that time she couldn’t see or move or even turn herself over. It was going to take four weeks before she could get an appointment. Her employer, Tom Cole, at Cole Automotive pulled some strings so she could see a neurologist who fortunately had seen a lot of viruses while serving in the Navy. He knew what to test for and called her the next day with this: “I’ve got good news and bad news. We know what it is, but there is no cure for West Nile virus.”
She was told it would take time and the right medications to control the symptoms.
Glocheski began the long road back to getting well. She was able to return to work in 2014 at Cole Automotive, electing to take a position with Cole Krum in Schoolcraft selling automobiles. She had started in sales in Kalamazoo after being laid off in 1999 from Gateway Recovery Services. She grew up between Mendon and Three Rivers, graduating from Mendon High School.
She wondered why she didn’t see many women selling cars and thought she could make it in what was perceived to be a man’s world. She has succeeded, she said, because she listens to the customer and tries to give them what they need and want in a vehicle. “I show people their options and explain why my product and service is better, but never say another is worse for the customer.”
Glocheski is an evangelist for avoiding contact with mosquitos. She cautions people to wear long pants, light clothing and go inside during “mosquito hour” at dusk. DEET is the recommended repellent. Although she now has immunity from the virus, she doesn’t want anybody to go through what she did when even eight months after the onset she still couldn’t say her name. “I had to train myself to be organized and never lost my positive attitude while my mom, husband and a best friend were taking care of me.”
One warning sign of West Nile being present could be seeing a dead bird that didn’t seem to have died of any sort of trauma. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile will often bite a bird which can quickly kill it. In retrospect, she said, “There was a dead crow in my yard that I remember seeing at about the time I was bitten.”