Survivor Story

Carolyn Berger

My name is Carolyn Berger, I’m a 40 year old housewife, stay-at-home mom in Michigan and this is my story of surviving bacterial meningitis.

In late February of 2002, I came down with a cold of the everyday variety. I didn’t seek medical help, because it was just a cold. The weather was awful, and the cold lingered on. On March 8, I developed a very bad ear infection. My doctor was out of town, but one of his colleagues called in a subscription for a decongestant.

I knew I needed antibiotics, but was unable to go to the doctor’s office until Saturday, March 10. However, on the night of March 9, my eardrum burst from the infection, and started to drain. It drained all night, and when I woke the next morning, I felt great. The pressure and pain was gone from my ear. I did some housework and started playing around on the computer. Around noon, I started feeling funny; not exactly sick, just strange. I told my husband that I was going to take a nap. I laid down to sleep around 1:00 and woke up shortly after 3pm with a bad headache. I thought it was a migraine starting, so I took some painkillers and waited for them to kick in. Instead, the pain started getting worse. Still thinking it was a migraine, I took some more pills. 2 hours later, the pain was much, much worse. I knew something was seriously wrong. I talked it over with my husband, and we agreed to take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach’ and I would go to the hospital. He decided to stay at home with our kids and called my mom to drive me to the hospital. By the time she arrived, I started to get a fever. The pain was enormous, and I didn’t feel I was safe to drive myself.

As we drove to the hospital, I told my mom that I fully expected to get a shot of penicillin for the ear infection, and be sent home with some antibiotics. We went to urgent care, rather than the ER. There were several sick children in there and they always receive priority over adults, which I had no problem with. After all, it was just a headache. We were in the waiting room for about 40 minutes and by the time I was called back to the triage area, my temperature had climbed to 103. My mom stayed in the waiting area, while they set me in a bed for the dr’s exam. The doc came in, asked me about my symptoms, then started moving my head around. I thought I would scream from the pain. I was starting to cry from how bad it hurt, a rarity for me. The doc said he wanted to transfer me to the ER for tests that they didn’t have in urgent care.

I was taken to ER, and kept away from the other patients. When the ER doc came to see me, I figured that I had maybe contracted encephalitis. He told me a lumbar puncture would have to be done. As soon as they started to withdraw the spinal fluid, I heard the doc say, “Oh, boy, this isn’t good!” He explained that the fluid was very cloudy and they had to assume I had meningitis until the culture could be grown. I was admitted to an isolation room. Shortly after being moved there, I started to vomit. They ran an I.V., and started me on Vancomycin and Toradol for the pain. I was also receiving a shot of Demoral every 4 hours to augment the Toradol. The next 48 hours were a blur. I remember receiving my shots, and seeing some doctors, but not much else.

On Tuesday, after receiving an antibiotic for a little over 48 hours, I woke up feeling ravenous. I was fed a liquid diet for breakfast and lunch, until they were satisfied the vomiting had stopped. I was still in an enormous amount of pain, and could not sit up or stand for more than a few seconds. My mom came in, and spoon fed me as I lay in bed. I felt so helpless. I found out that my family, my parents and the family I baby sit for had all been put on antibiotics as a security measure. I also learned that the culture had tested positive for bacterial pneumococcal meningitis. I’m still not sure what strain I had. I never had the rash that many victims receive. However, I did have some sores that looked like burns erupt on my arm. Turns out the I.V. had popped out, and was pumping Vancomycin into the muscle tissue, and it is very caustic. It caused some necrosis of the tissue. That problem was rectified, and I continued on my medicine treatment. I was seen by the head doctor of ER and an infectious diseases specialist.

By Thursday, I was feeling much better. The pain had come down to an almost tolerable level. I started pushing myself to see how long I could stand going before calling for the painkillers. I also took a shower and shaved my legs on Thursday. It wiped me out, but I felt cleaner. On Saturday, I asked when I could go home, as I have children to raise. The ER doc looked at me in a bewildered manner, than started to yell at me. Actually yell. He told me that I had come as close to death as you can get, and how dare I demand to go home. I couldn’t help but laugh at his indignation. He informed me that I had to have the full course of the Vancomycin and I had to park my behind in the hospital until it was done.

On Sunday, March 17, the infectious diseases doctor came in and asked me some questions to see how my memory and thought processes were. I answered everything correctly, except for what day it was. That took 3 tries. On Monday, March 18, I was released around 7 PM. I went home and spent the next week taking it easy. I was given Ibuprofen 800mg for the pain, but that was it. I saw a neurologist 2 weeks later, and he said there was no need to continue treatment. My speech was concise, and my thoughts were focused. That’s not to say that there were no after effects. I have memory glitches. The first day home, I forgot how to work the kitchen faucet. I forgot my husband’s middle name. I continue to have pain in my jaw and an occasional headache. It took 2 weeks before I could start to drive a vehicle again. I have recurring ear infections, which mean frequent trips to the doctor.

However, over all I’m doing wonderfully. My doctor has used me as a case study for the interns that he has training with him. So, it isn’t always a horrible ending and you should never give up hope. My heart and prayers go out to all the victims of this horrible disease. I don’t know what the future holds, but right now, I’m feeling very, very blessed and optimistic.

I never did suffer the symptom of the purple rash.

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