Lifestyles: Learning to Recognise Symptoms
Really Is Spinal Tap
I thought was just a little wee dehydrated dent in my weekend
plans, turned out to be a severe case of meningitis that rendered
me helpless, bedridden and out of work ...
people start off the summer season with a splash in the lake. Off they
go, stripping off angora sweaters, relegating fleece pants to the back
side of their closet, running head first, half naked into a semi-polluted,
algae-covered body of water without a care in the world. Others kick
start the season with a vigorous jog around the sea wall, or a back-patio
inebriation marathon in the company of good friends.
This year things were different. It was the middle of May; I was swamped
with work, but had justified a 48-hour reprieve to attend a friends
wedding on Vancouver Island. The plan was to whip back there on the
late ferry after work on Friday, spend one night as a bumbling idiot
slurring, "I love you man," in the direction of my buddy the
groom, and then jet back to work. End of story.
What I didnt know was that the story had yet to unfold itself
and this was far from its end.
Five hours into my stay in Victoria, visiting with a girlfriend over
a glass of champagne, I felt a severe headache come on. The logical
conclusion at the time, it seemed to me, was that it was the alcohol
going to my head; as usual, I was upholding my painfully obvious and
occasionally obnoxious reputation for being a cheap drunk. (This is
a trait that only seems to be charming on dates.)
Stupid girl - you know better than to have more than one glass
of this stuff, was running through my mind. I was somewhat embarrassed
about it, so I hid the pain from my friend and just laughed along with
her as best I could.
I woke up the next morning to a headache that had stretched down into
my neck, back and chest like a determined tidal wave. The pain was so
intense that I could barely take a step without wincing, but I figured
by the time I got to the wedding, the hangover would be
By the end of the wedding reception my date requested that I sit down
because he was embarrassed to dance with me. (It may have had something
to do with the fact that I was only moving my legs in time to the music
while keeping my head in one position. I sort of resembled a reverse
bobble head doll with arms and legs flailing out behind me.)
Almost 72 hours later, when the pain was still there- and unbearable
I might add- I went to the doctor. And then to the hospital.
Two excruciating months later I came home.
What I thought was just a little wee dehydrated dent in my weekend plans,
turned out to be a severe case of meningitis that rendered me helpless,
bedridden and out of work for what seemed like eons. The pain even caused
blurred vision for a couple of weeks. It was so bad that any light or
sound could send me into fitful moaning sessions, writhing around on
the bed like a leech lying in the sun. I couldnt read at first
due to this problem, so I resorted to staring at the ceiling for hours
at a time. The morphine did cause some interesting hallucinations to
ponder, but one can only be entertained by the ceiling for so long-
even when on drugs. Eventually, I resorted to listening to books on
tape and keeping the blinds pulled to hide from the sun. Book-reading
withdrawal was torturous for a geek like myself.
But I could watch television. So, now I am a reality TV expert despite
myself and a morphine addict to boot. I was quickly brought up to speed
on who the Bachelor really loved and whether or not Erin would choose
one million dollars or some sleazy lawyer from the south to marry on
"For Love or Money," the surprisingly predictable show set
to replace the Bachelor.
But the best part of the whole hospital stay, (and please note the irreverent
sarcasm here) was perfecting the hide the mystery meal and say
you ate it, routine. The food they serve in hospitals has got
to be selected by dogs. The entrée- usually composed of some
sort of foreign meat product and whos-the-sucker-sauce
accompanied with a side of dead vegetables- was always the worst. It
would hide under its plastic cover smirking to itself just waiting to
be revealed and then laugh in your gaunt little food-starved face saying,
ha ha, you cant eat me- go fish SUCKER.
Its not that the food was officially inedible, but more that anybody
in their right mind would not dare touch it. I even caught the 93-year
old rakish man in the bed beside me collecting extra paper towels before
dinner one night so that he could dump the delight when the nurses werent
So instead, I counted on friends to deliver chocolate and candy and
all things bad.
And yet, ooooh so good.
One of the shocks for me during this time was my inability to accept
that my body was weak. I am so used to jumping out of bed in the morning
and hitting the seawall for a happy hour-long jaunt, or grabbing my
bike and hitting the hills, that I just take for granted things like
walking. But I guess I didnt realize I was a control freak about
it. So it came as a shock three weeks after having been bed ridden that
my legs started shaking as I approached the bathroom three feet away-
and that it really bothered me. It was weeks before I could go out for
a ten minute stroll without collapsing with sweat and fatigue to follow.
I learned a great deal from this excruciatingly long experience. I learned
that despite our sense of human superiority and the ability to be in
control of our bodies and minds, we really cant predict what is
going to happen, and must accept that our bodies know themselves best.
Our minds have just got to let go. I learned that I have the most amazing,
supportive, and heartwarming friends in the whole world: friends who
were willing to sit with me while doctors shoved gargantuan needles
into my spine as I cried, friends who sent me flowers and Sock
Monkey comics to make me smile, drove me to doctors appointments
when I was too delirious to remember, brought me care packages filled
with fresh fruit and chocolate, did my laundry, watched my apartment,
supplied earplugs to drown out the moaner beside me, and most of all,
loved me unconditionally even when I was cursing the universe or citing
the futility of existence- a sentiment that was clearly morphine induced.
I learned that and: I enjoy life a whole lot more when Im healthy.
© Heather Neale August 4th 2003
Meningitus is fatal in 5%-15% of people who get this disease. If
you ever have symptoms such as Heather has described, do not ignore
them, see a Doctor. Ed (A fellow survivor)
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