On Victoria Day, May 23, 2005 I awoke with a slight sore throat and felt a little tired. I dismissed it as the result of a busy week getting ready for my son´s church confirmation, while my husband was out of town on business in California. Sunday, May 22nd had been a whirlwind of activity, so I thought I would just need a day to recuperate.
By 6:00 pm I made supper but I had begun to get a headache. I took some Tylenol and went shopping with my youngest for new rubber boots. While in the store my headache became so intense I told her we had to skip the toy aisle and go home. By 9:00 pm I phoned my mother as I laid on the couch telling her I had the the worst headache of my life. The moment I hung up I began to throw up uncontrollably. My eldest daughter, then sixteen, had gone to bed, but came upstairs when she heard I was so ill. I managed to get cleaned up, but my head began to feel like it would crack apart. My fear was I either had food poisoning from the previous day´s leftovers, or perhaps I was having a brain aneurysm. The other side of my mind said if I could just go to sleep, I would be okay. While I weighed what to do back and forth in my mind, my biggest fear was of possibly dying in front of my young children. I had my eldest contact a family friend who drove me to a main medi-centre at 10:30 pm. By now I could hardly stand up and I was throwing up non-stop. The pain kept increasing inside my head -- I was beginning to lose peripheral vision. After a half hour wait I saw the attending doctor who quickly assessed me as a probable case of bacterial meningitis and sent me off to the Grey Nun´s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. The paramedics gave me medication for pain in the ambulance and when the needle went in, I remember thinking, "this might be the last thing I will ever remember in my life." At that time I was prepared to die, and if it meant freedom from the pain, that seemed okay to me at the time. (Later my family friend told me all through the half hour wait I kept saying, "God, help, hurry, hurry! " over and over.)
I have no memory of arriving at the Grey Nun´s, of all the testing, the spinal tap, the apparent struggle I caused the nurses, orderlies and my sixteen year old daughter in the emergency department while they waited results of my cultures and CAT scan. I have no memory of arriving in ICU, of my mother, brothers and other family members of being there, until I awoke 4 and a half days later and saw my husband, children and a dear friend standing around my bed. I was confused as to why my husband was there - should he not be in California? My first words around the respirator were "What happened?" All I remember is wondering at times why they kept pushing me down and why was I tied down, and what was that horrible tube doing in my mouth -- did they not know how dry my mouth was?
When I saw all the tubes and IV lines coming out of me, and stitched in place, I was rather glad I had been out for over four days with no memory. The headache was still unbelievable, and continued on for about 2 and a half months, lessening somewhat as time went on. I found morphine gave me such horrendous nightmares, I relied instead on Tylenol -- it barely did the trick, but I wanted to be somewhat functional around home as well. I went home with a pik line in and on IV antibiotics for two weeks. The orderly who wheeled me back to my room after the pik line installation stated he never thought he´d never see me alive again, after his two and a half hour fight with me trying to get a mask on while the staff was still trying to determine if I was contagious or not. (They gave up on the mask and put me in a room away from everyone else and had everyone attending me gown up.)
I was blessed with a quick accurate diagnosis and action on the part of many doctors, nurses and health professionals. My care was exemplary. Lifesaving antibiotics were started immediately on arrival in emergency. Thanks to that fast action I have had minimal deficits to deal with. I still get really tired easily and I find air pressure can cause a nagging headache, plus my balance can be a bit off at times. As well, I mix up my words, and have had some short term memory/cognitive cross-wiring that has been humorous. However, as time goes on my mild deficits seem to be lessening, or perhaps I am just learning to live with them. When I read the other stories posted here I am overwhelmed at the timing, the luck and the professionalism that gave me back my life. I cry when I think of the pain others have gone through and for those who have not recovered.
What have I learned? Always write down where your spouse is when they are out of town and post it on a door or the fridge. I didn´t and they had quite a time tracking him down. Always have a plan in place for a caretaker for small children if you are on your own with them in case of an emergency. If you have any major health issues or medications, make a list and make sure someone knows where it is. Make sure you have a good spokesperson in place for you in case you cannot speak for yourself. Make sure you have the paperwork in place in case you become incapacitated, or need to have your wishes upheld as to whether to cease or continue care. Never, never put off going in, if you have any doubts as to what is happening with you or a loved one. Never assume because someone is unconscious that they are not feeling or experiencing things. It may not be the reality we are used to, but there may still be some rudimentary consciousness on some level.
Above all, I give thanks everyday for my life, for my children, husband and friends. Thank you to all of you for your stories. Thanks also for the formation of this foundation in getting the message out about meningitis.