It Happened To Me: Meningitis! Or, The Time I Became Mr. Burns

We may have the brains to invent the wheel, but at the end of the day we're just water and soft tissue; sometimes all it takes is a stranger to sneeze in your direction to screw it all up.
Publish date:
April 3, 2012
healthy, medical mysteries, meningitis

Here are two things you should know about meningitis. 1: It eats your brain and gains your knowledge; 2: It is NOT mono.

The moment I was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, I assumed I had somehow caught a case of the kissing disease. Though, it seemed impossible because I was going steady with a tube of butter-flavoured lip balm at the time. Even after the clumsy spinal tap, the quarantine and a week in the hospital, I still thought like, ain't no thang.

It wasn't until I was snuggied up in my own bed a week later that I Googled bacterial meningitis (only after Googling "birds on treadmills") and learned a thing or two about this disease partying in my body. Like, it can kill 10-15% of those who catch it (with treatment)? Oh. Or even if you don't die, you can suffer permanent brain damage, blindness or amputation? Oooohhh. OK. Cool, cool. GOOD TO KNOW.

Also, meningococcal meningitis doesn't actually eat your brain. It's an infection of the membranes protecting your noodle and spinal cord. It comes outta nowhere, it brings extreme head pain as a party gift and definitely should not go untreated. I'm stubborn and believe I'm made of steel, so I didn't rush to the ER when I exploded with migraines, puke and a stiff neck. My best friend dragged me to the hospital, putting herself in the line of fire even after she found out why I was acting like Frankenstein. WHO says that when left untreated, Meningococcal Meningitis is fatal in 50 percent of cases, so it's safe to say that she saved my life. I pay her back by changing the litter box whenever I visit.

I've decided it's a boon that I was completely gitis-dumb when I was diagnosed. This way, I spent my hospital tenure in good spirits. (I mean, once I rose from the zombie depths); troddling the halls with my IV pole and enjoying the recklessness of peeing in a catheter. If any part of me was going to sit in wide-eyed fear of the wrath of gitis, at least I could do it in the comforts of my own home.

I had no time for fear, however. I dedicated 100% of my day to napping and gingerly sipping on water. In the hospital I believed recovery was nigh, but oh my god, this was a faulty assumption. It was in my own bed that I became geriatric.

My muscles withered into flappy noodles. I woke up one day, grabbed my calf muscle (now a blob), and marveled at how it was 50% punier.

All I wanted to eat was toast, orange wedges, and apples. I lost 15 pounds in ten days.

For awhile, I couldn't look at TV or computer screens without shriveling into a heap. That shit hurt, because my senses were extraordinarily sensitive. Loud noises? Don't even. Get off my lawn!

I had a PICC line in my arm, which is like a way serious IV. This wee tube is inserted into a big fat arm vein (or other peripheral location), sending antibiotics on a one-way ticket to your heart. I carried a bag of healing juice, which was refilled daily by a drop-by nurse. Thankfully my parents flew into town to take care of me, because I was rendered mostly useless. Although I became highly skilled at swallowing Tylenol-3s and rolling over.

The most high-octane part of my day was the afternoon walk, in an attempt to build strength and catch a fresh breeze. In the beginning I could circle the tiny courtyard at most, traveling at max speeds of Mr. Burns. Then I would shuffle to my room, eat half a fudgesicle and take a two-hour recovery nap.

It's a huge blow to your ego to realize that you're not invincible. Watching my incredible ladymuscles disappear was one thing, but requiring 120 minutes of nap time after a 30-step shuffle was the final straw. We may have the brains to invent the wheel, but at the end of the day we're just water and soft tissue; sometimes all it takes is a stranger to sneeze in your direction to fuck it all up. I wouldn't say that meningitis caused me to face and fear my own mortality, because I was never struck by how serious it can be. Relatively speaking, I had a "good" meningitis experience. But it absolutely made my blood run cold to realize how dainty I am, and how quickly things can change.

Despite this thing knocking me back a couple steps, I charged forward and kicked its ass in a month. Still, it took six months to fully reload my tank of piss & vinegar, half my hair fell out and I was laughably scatterbrained. Whatever though; the gitis brought me closer to my parents. It brought me closer to my best friend (nothing forms an impenetrable bond like your BFF holding a pan while you spew radioactive vomit). It made me value life and it made me realize that I'm STRONG, son! Also I dropped a jean size, and isn't that the greatest I-Got-Sick gift of all?