In 1974, just before my second birthday, I had the classic symptoms of bacterial meningitis: headache, screaming, arching, purple spots. I was rushed to the hospital; my new home for the next 10 days. The first days were the most critical. My doctor, a kind gentleman whom I remember fondly, looked my mother straight in the eyes and said, “Carole, I’ve done all that I can, it’s up to the man upstairs now.” Many prayers were uttered (by my non-practicing mother, father, and others), and 10 days later I was released. My mother still remembers seeing other babies in the hospital with severely arched backs, brain damage, and some that didn’t survive. Evidently, there was an outbreak at the time.
In 1998, I was 25 years old, happily married and recently promoted (and youngest in my area) as a Customer Service Manager for a large bank. Having just gotten over bronchitis, I was having a bout with a nasty migraine, so I thought. When my migraine medicine failed to work for the third day in a row, and it hurt to stand, it was time to get my doctor involved. I left a message detailing my problems, expecting to get a prescription for one of the fancy new migraine drugs. Instead, just minutes after leaving my message (rather unusual), the doctor himself called me (even more unusual). I recounted my symptoms to the doctor: fever, headache, tiredness, extreme pressure in my head. He told me to go home, and if the fever was still there in the morning, go to the emergency room. That night I took a cool bath; to no avail…the fever remained.
Early the next morning, Susan, my wife, took me in to the ER. As soon as I was admitted, I noticed that my area’s lights were dimmed and I was thankful for that. It seems that they had a feeling what was wrong with me and wanted to make me comfortable. They administered prescription medication for the pain, and for the first time in almost a week, I was without that blasted headache. The doctor came over and talked to us for a minute. Then he began to examine me. One of the first things he did was tilt my head forward. My neck screamed in pain; I knew right then what was wrong, and I was frightened. How could I get this twice, wasn’t I immune already? No!
The prescription pain medication also knocked me out. Evidently it took 2 orderlies to keep me still while someone administered a spinal tap. I don’t remember that at all. I do remember the Doctor later saying he was waiting for the results of the spinal tap from the lab and I kept thinking that they must be mistaken, because I would’ve remembered that! I was released the same day, ordered to take bed-rest and given some pretty powerful (and addictive) pain killers. An appointment was made with my Doctor for a couple of days later. In the car ride to my doctors office, I didn’t think I was going to make it. That was the absolute worst I’ve felt. I cringe now when I hear of people not being admitted–for if I’d have been admitted I wouldn’t have gone through that.
At the doctors, they worked on me for a while; drawing blood, running to the lab, then back with results, getting ready to have me admitted to the hospital across the parking lot. After about an hour, my episode calmed down, and they sent me home. The symptoms passed, and I returned to work after about 3 weeks. It was slow going at first. Any energy I was used to wasn’t there. I feared every headache, and even now each time I get a migraine, I check for the stiffness in the neck. It’s difficult living with the fear of this illness, so I decided to find out more.
While taking Bio Science at California State University Fresno, I did a research paper to learn more about meningitis. My semester project landed me on the Meningitis Foundation of America website, and on their mailing list. I knew that with my experiences I could talk to others and help them, and in the process help to assuage my fears.