Posted October 12, 2002 | comments Leave a comment

A year later, anthrax victim still struggles

By Natalie Anzolut

Winchester resident David Hose assumes his regular spot on the sofa and gets ready to talk about his disease.

Over the past year, the 60-year-old has become as accustomed to these interviews -- he's been on the A-list for news anchors ranging from ABC's Diane Sawyer to CNN's Connie Chung -- as he has to scientists seeking blood.

Both want his story, the verbal account and the one coursing through his veins.

He didn't want to be famous. He just got anthrax.

On a chilly October morning, nearly a year to the day that Hose's body and world were invaded, his wife, Connie, petite and white-haired, answers the door to the couple's brick townhouse. It's once again time to tell the story.

Halloween decorations are displayed on the front door and the orange and black of pumpkins and goblins continues into the living room. Tall and towering over the small room, Hose rises from the sofa to greet visitors. On an end-table beside him, there's no room for seasonal knickknacks; the surface is covered by an even spookier number of prescription medications.

Hose is one of a half-dozen survivors of inhalation anthrax after letters laced with the deadly stuff began arriving at postal facilities in the United States last year. Hose and his compatriots are anomalies of bioterrorism; they caught the fatal disease and are alive to tell about it. Physicians don't know how to explain the lingering symptoms or what their patients should feel like. The fact that they are alive is baffling enough.

"I'm 20 to 30 percent of what I was before I got sick," says Hose, reaching to pick up an inhaler. "I have asthma now. I never had that before."

Shortness of breath is just one of the remnants of the disease, he explains. Chronic fatigue syndrome, loss of memory, achy joints are others.

Before the anthrax, he was a healthy man, he says. He has a rosy color to his cheeks on this particular morning. It's a good day, Hose says. Others are not.

Life changed for Hose on the way home from work.

Another commuter

On Oct. 22, 2001, Hose was leaving his job at the U.S. State Department mail facility in Sterling, and began feeling sickly on the way home.

Later, he went to Wal-Mart, got to the end of the parking lot and was wringing wet from the waist up. It was about 60 degrees outside; there was no reason to be sweating. This continued throughout the night and the next day.

"I was on the way home from work and there were aches and pains in my joints, all over my body," says Hose. "I got home and at 5:30 [p.m.], I started throwing up blood."

Mrs. Hose, holding the couple's poodle, Frenchie, watches her husband from an adjacent chair. She appears to know this is where the story becomes frightening.

Hose says he went to bed early that night, and the next day he knew he had to go to the hospital. Concentrating on the six anthrax-laced letters that passed through the postal facility where he worked the week before, he already feared the worst.

"There was nothing right about this," says Hose. "I went to the hospital and it shocked the doctors quite a bit when I told them what I thought it was. They didn't know the protocol, if they should be wearing protective suits or not."

It just didn't feel like bronchitis or the flu, Hose says he told the physicians examining him. After about two hours, they took blood samples, gave him Cipro, the now-familiar antibiotic, and sent him home with a prescription for cough medicine.

Once the tests were run, Hose's doctor called him at home and informed his patient that it was, indeed, anthrax, and the hospital would send an ambulance. Hose's daughter drove him to Winchester Medical Center and he was admitted right way.

The blood-taking then began in earnest.

"They must have taken 100 vials of blood in the 16 days I was there," says Hose, who has a dry wit, these days mixed with a little cynicism, as he reflects on his plight.

With a blood pressure of 268 over 138, a heart rate of 165 beats per minute and a temperature of 105.5 degrees, Hose was now meeting his adversary head-on.

A cooling pad was used to bring his temperature down, but his fever wouldn't budge. Hose remembers the constant cold he endured during these treatments. Shots were given directly into his heart, IVs injected. Fluids were forced in an attempt to flush the invader from his system. At the same time, five bleeding ulcers were found in Hose's stomach and small intestines.

"I was also bleeding around my heart and around my lungs. They took a liter of fluid off my right lung with a needle through my back," says Hose.

Then, there were blood transfusions. Hose remained in intensive care for seven days. He thought he was going to die.

"Well, at that point, we weren't real sure he was going to make it," says Mrs. Hose, adding that 24-hour-a-day prayer circles were put in place for her husband.

"Clear out to Oregon, people were getting up around the clock praying," she adds, in a soft voice.

Back in the hospital, however, the anthrax continued to rage.

Hose was unaware of the rash that had formed on his back, from his neck to his knees.

"My back was green, blue, yellow, red," he says. "My skin was bleeding in my back."

"He looked like somebody had beat him," his wife adds.

While he was in the hospital, Hose says, mirrors were kept from him, but on his seventh day there, he located one, coming face-to-face with anthrax.

"I looked at myself and said, 'My God.' I looked like I was dead, my skin was gray," says Hose.

After three weeks and still carrying a temperature of 102.5 degrees, Hose was sent home. He was glad, he says, he needed the rest.

Hose was weak during his first weeks at home, and after a year, he continues to be, suffering from what doctors diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Three months after his discharge, Hose still had lymph nodes as big as cherry tomatoes, he says, while bloody diarrhea continued through January. A blood barrier in his brain caused some strange type of memory loss, which he attempts to combat these days by doing crossword puzzles.

A trip to the doctor this past May left Hose with a diagnosis of asthma, a malady he never suffered until the anthrax. Although doctors tell him his lungs are clear, Hose says he is still short of breath. His chest, ankles and wrists ache and he continues to go for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation three days a week. The pain in his chest became so severe three weeks ago that he was back in the hospital for an electrocardiogram.
Recovery is slow.

"I have one good day, go three back, move forward one day, followed by three back," says Hose, who is taking eight different medications, two of which allow him to sleep at night, some for pain, others for breathing.

He reports new symptoms to his doctors.

"Most of their response to anything new is the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta] doesn't want to open up a can of worms," says Hose. "Constantly, all you hear from anyone, especially the CDC, is 'We don't know.'"

Doctors from the CDC visited Hose this past week along with a local health department official. Doctors from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., have been there, as have health officials from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md. Blood samples, taken by local health officials, who send them to the state lab and CDC, have gone from once a week to about every six weeks.

Doctors want his blood to make sure the anthrax is no longer active and to check for the count on his T-cells, a type of white blood cell in the immune system that is triggered to protect against viral infections. Hose's count is down from 543, when he was at his sickest, to 20.

Still, Hose is worried.

"They don't know where it hides in the body and they don't know if it will come back," he says. "It has left its mark, believe me."

Authorities on subject

Hose says he keeps in touch with Norma Jean Wallace, a postal worker who was infected in Hamilton, N.J.

They have a lot in common, he explains, and are both barraged by media calls from organizations who want them to talk about their experiences.

ABC's "Good Morning America" wanted them, but Hose declined because he was too tired.

"I've turned down Diane Sawyer three times," says Hose.

Still, he has done many interviews, including one for the Voice of America, which sent it to 15 countries. A newspaper from London told his story and he was the subject of an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. and National Geographic. Talk show host Phil Donahue from MSNBC wanted Hose. Chung did a remote interview broadcast on her nightly show.

"Oprah Winfrey's people call and check on me every two to three months," he adds.
Most of the television producers want Hose to fly to New York, but he just doesn't have the stamina, often declining for that reason and for the limited amount of time that media allows for its stories. He refuses to read newspaper accounts, among these the Washington Post and New York Times, and, instead, has his wife read them to him.
The maker of Cipro, says Hose, wanted to fly him to the Big Apple for a black-tie dinner with unlimited use of a limo during his time there. He also declined that offer.

Behind the camera

Life for Hose and his wife is far from glamorous, but that doesn't lessen their gratitude for it. Both say they have a lot of faith, which has kept them going during the past year.
"Mostly what I do is run back and forth to the doctor and the hospital and to Wal-Mart to get prescriptions filled, and watch TV," says Hose.

The television is on cable news that particular morning; CNN is his usual choice.
Although he's unable to work, technically Hose still has a job with the postal facility, although, he says, smiling, his identification card required to enter the property expires this month. He has worked there for the past 12 years.

Financially it also has been tough on the Hose family. Mrs. Hose doesn't work and the family has to survive on 65 percent of his income. Insurance runs about $584 a month and is going up about another $100. It took him 43 days to be granted workman's compensation, he says, and he had to go to the local American Red Cross chapter to get $300 in assistance for groceries and the light bill. For the most part unemployable, Hose plans to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

His daughter, Terri Chrisman, who quietly slipped in earlier that morning, sits on the arm of the sofa, looking down at her father. Since his illness, her family has moved two doors down, in an adjacent townhouse, to be closer to her father and him to his 5-year-old granddaughter, Danielle.

"I think you shouldn't have to worry about the medical bills," Chrisman offers. "You are suffering from an act of war."

Hose says he firmly believes that the anthrax attacks, aimed at people ranging from a tabloid newspaper employee to a United States senator, had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He says he once asked the FBI whether anthrax was a foreign terrorist attack and was told it wasn't.

"As far as any FBI finding, I don't think it will be solved," says Hose.

Not lacking in opinion of who and what precipitated the anthrax attacks, Hose declines to discuss them for publication. He does, however, think they are all related.

Although he has not ruled out a lawsuit against the federal government due to the sorting equipment used in the postal facility, Hose seems to have been left with a kind of acceptance of the world in which he finds himself.

"The older I get, the more obvious it becomes that we are not in charge of things," he says, offering a slight smile.

The future

The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., wants to gather the inhalation anthrax survivors, their physicians and examine the cases, says Hose. A protocol for that meeting is being established, he says, although CNN knew about it before he did.
"I think the study is for the doctors' benefit," says Hose.

Almost like clockwork, every six weeks Hose's blood pressure goes up, the pain in his chest flares and he becomes so weak it's hard for him to get around. Other anthrax survivors share similar symptoms and maladies as the aftermath of anthrax continues to unfold.

"And, they [the doctors] can't explain it," says Hose.

He doesn't really know what to expect or how to gauge the progress of his recovery over the past year.

"I had no idea where I'd be but I thought I'd be stronger than this," Hose says. "I did not think this was going to go on forever."

"A year is not forever, OK," his daughter says to him.

"OK," he says, looking up at her.

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