Webb: EBV, the Evil Bastard Virus


The face of an exhausted man just two weeks after crashing with EBV.

What is that? It’s a question I often get when I tell people I have Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). There are thousands of medical articles on the Internet about the illness. Here’s one on WebMD. I have simpler ways of describing it: A bitch. Pure frustration. An evil whore. Debilitating. Deflating.

Think about your smart phone when it’s at 1 percent. You need to charge it, but your charger is frayed and hardly works. You plug it into the wall for an hour, grab it as you head to work and realize it’s still only at 5 percent. An hour or two into your shift, you just want to sleep. That is EBV. It is the virus that causes mono.

So, to make a long story short, I have mono on steroids. There is no magic pill. My recipe for recovery: Rest, a slew of supplements, hormone treatment, natural medicine drops, zero working out, no dairy, no meat, no refined sugar.

Every day, I take about 50 pills worth of natural supplements, more than 150 drops of medicine that tastes like Lima beans covered in liver and onions, and two small pieces of troche to boost my testosterone, which was critically low.

I eat less than 30 grams of fat every day. Many people eat that in one meal. I barely remember what cheese tastes like. When I take a drink of soda, it tastes like enough syrup to kill a horse.

So, how did I get here? It didn’t happen overnight. I contracted mono in college and was sick for nearly a year. I didn’t know I had it until the final few months of the virus because it wasn’t properly diagnosed. Like Wayne Campbell, I just thought I was bored for a year.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for EBV. Even when you recover from mono, it’s still in your system, hiding and waiting for reactivation. Still, the reactivation typically isn’t as brutal as my case.

But I was feeding the virus for years with a bad diet full of junk food. Dairy, soda and meat slowly eroded my immune system. I ate what I wanted to because I was working my ass off in the gym. I worked out more than two hours every day. It became an addiction. It also wore my body down.

Somehow, I survived more than two years of that routine. I did notice, however, that I couldn’t run as far as I had a few years ago and was tired all the time. That was my body trying to tell me to slow down.

My routine also consisted of about five hours of sleep every night, hours of working on grad school classes and a stressful job that I often spent 60 hours a week working at.

It’s amazing my body didn’t give in earlier. It finally crashed on April 19. I woke up with a massive headache, gravelly voice and sore throat in the middle of the night. I could hardly walk when I got up. I actually called in sick, something I do as often as I watch Downton Abby.

As I wrote in a previous blog, I didn’t get much help from the nurse practitioner I visited twice in the first two weeks after I crashed. “It’s an asthma flare-up.” She prescribed prednisone and a second inhaler. She also said I could continue working out.

Less than I week after I could barely walk, I was running three miles every other day for a week. On May 1, I ran for the last time in going on three months. I could tell I didn’t feel well. I pressed on anyway for four miles. I lifted weights for an hour the next day and spent an hour on the highest setting on the elliptical machine two days later.

In the 10 days after taking prednisone for four days, I gained NINE pounds. NINE POUNDS. I also felt worse. Finally, the nurse practitioner agreed to let me take the test for EBV virus. She called a few days later and said that the it showed that I’d had it before, but there wasn’t an active infection.

Fortunately, my wife works with a woman who doubles as a pharmacist and nutritionist. She read my results and laughed at the nurse practitioner: “He has EBV. There is no question.” Her husband, a doctor, confirmed that diagnosis the following week.

Two tests of note revealed just how sick I was. On one test, the normal range is under 20. I had an 80. On the second test, the normal range is under 80. I had a 427. FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY SEVEN.

At that point, after nearly a month of continuing to tear down my body, I finally began taking supplements, resting as much as I could and revamping my diet.

It has been a slow, frustrating battle. I have relapsed several times after starting to feel better. I have not worked out since early May. I often feel like a slug at home. We have missed out on several fun things, notably the Guns N’ Roses concert in Kansas City, due to this illness.

I took a test on July 1 to see how much progress I’d made. It revealed that I was all of 17 percent better (354 compared to 427) two months later. But, we discovered a few other things that have been crushing my immune system: 1. The steroid inhalers were inhibiting my ability to recover. One of those I’ve been on for nearly 30 years. The other was prescribed by the nurse practitioner. 2. My hormones were incredibly low, which also inhibited by immune system.

We’ve made some adjustments in the plan to attack EBV, and I’m confident they’ll work. I have not used an inhaler in going on two weeks after using one at least once a day for nearly 30 years.

I’ve also rediscovered that there are no shortcuts. On the few occasions that I’ve cheated, my body has quickly raised a middle finger. My last two relapses, on my birthday and last week during vacation, came on the same day I ate dairy. I simply cannot eat it anymore.

I have cried twice due to this illness in the past few months out of pure frustration. I cried twice in the previous five years combined. But I’ve learned that EBV thrives on emotion. I choose to be positive. I will beat this thing. It has happened for a reason. One of those reasons is writing about it, which I plan to do as my capstone project in graduate school and on my blog.