I have told this story many times, but I have never written it down. So, if you have heard this story, I am sorry. I want to write it down before all the details of what happened are gone. (Some already are….that’s why I need to post this ASAP).
It all began on a colder day in March 2008. I had recently graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Logistics and was working at Coca Cola Enterprises as a Distribution Route Specialist. That is their fancy title for Dispatcher. I was fortunate to have a job right out of college. I believe I started working 10 days after graduation.
I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Vinings. This time of year was notorious for warm days and then really cold days, so your allergies go crazy. That was what I thought was wrong the night before. I had gotten home and had some congestion in my nose. I took NyQuil or something similar and fell asleep. It was chilly, so I was wearing long sleeves and long pants.
When I woke up the next morning, I was sore. Very incredibly sore. It hurt to put my feet on the floor. I can’t even really describe it. I had never felt pain like that in my body in years. And I didn’t work out at all at this point in my life. There was no explanation. I woke up around 6am (which was really early for me) and decided just to get to work. I used to shower at night, so I just washed my face and got dressed. I didn’t wear makeup either at this point. (I do now, every day). I changed clothes in my closet. This apartment had the most amazing walk in closet. It was huge, so I used it as a changing room. I was not feeling well, but thought that was because I didn’t have anything to eat. So, I headed to work.
When I got to work, I went to our cafe that we had and got some oatmeal packets. While I was first upstairs (we were on the 14th floor) I drank water. I was so parched. This was pretty normal for me in the mornings. So, when I went to get my oatmeal, something happened. I got sick. I had to race to the bathroom downstairs and vomit. Lovely right? This was strange to me. I wasn’t able to keep water down, how could I keep food down? I didn’t even try to eat the oatmeal. I knew something was wrong. But I went back upstairs and tried to get work done. This is when the cold sweats started happening. I was getting dizzy and I couldn’t concentrate. I pinged (Sametimed) my bosses boss. My boss was out of town on business, visiting a sales center, so I had no other option than to talk to his boss. I told him what was going on and he immediately said I should go home. It was probably around 7:30am at this point. So I finished up what I was doing and went home. I told a co-worker I was leaving and to look after things for me…little did I know this would be a 3 week look after. But I am getting ahead of myself.
On my way home, I stop at CVS to pick up some Unisom. I was thinking sleep was what I needed. I still had a feeling this was just a cold and allergy related. So I get home, change into my long sleeved Auburn shirt and long pants, take some meds, and fall asleep. I wake up around 2pm. I head to the bathroom to pee and as I reach for the toilet paper, I notice these red dots on my arm. They are like pin-pricks. I check the other arm. They are there too. I try not to begin freaking out yet, but I sort of am. Can you imagine sitting on the toilet and seeing some random dots on your arms? Ha! Naturally I call my mom. I am lucky that she is off of work for a doctors appointment on this day. Very lucky. She was at the doctor when I originally called, but she called me back afterwards and I told her what was going on. She thought it was just strep throat with a rash. I was insistent that we go to see someone, but by the time she had called me back, my normal doctor’s office was closing. It was around 3:30pm.
So that meant we had to go to a Doc-In-The-Box. AKA Wellstar Urgent Care. There was one close to my house at Delk and Powers Ferry Road in Marietta. She picked me up and we headed there. After waiting for what felt like an eternity, I finally was allowed in. They took my blood pressure. I can’t remember if they took it more than once…these details are fuzzy now. After taking my vitals, I was sent to a room where the doctor came in and examined me. I showed him my spots. If anything alarmed these doctors (and I am sure it did), they didn’t show it. At all. They were so well composed, it was crazy. All the doctor said to me was that I needed to go to the hospital. My mom was still insisting it was strep with a rash. So we wait for an ambulance to come and get me. This is a Wellstar and they are affiliated with a hospital in town, Kennestone. This hospital isn’t well known for their amazing care, so when my mom realized I was going to a hospital, she made sure I was sent to Northside. She demanded it. I am so grateful to her for that. It probably saved my life. Again, getting ahead of myself.
It seemed to take the ambulance forever to get to us, so while we were waiting (I was on a gurney), my mom tried to cheer me up with some YouTube videos. I believe this was when iPhone had first come out or maybe a year before, but she had one and loved it. She showed me Jeff Durham videos of Achmed the Dead Terrorist. They were really funny, but I was in so much pain, it hurt to laugh. And I was pretty out of it too. The ambulance finally arrives, and I get loaded in. That was pretty fun actually. I had never been in an ambulance before. The EMT was really nice too. She talked to me the whole way there. I don’t know if this was to make sure I didn’t die on them or what, but she kept me talking. My mom was trailing behind us in the car. I think I waved to her a few times. Ha!
While my mom was in her car, I have a feeling that she called my sister and my dad to tell them what was going on. She told my sister my symptoms, and of course Melissa gets on Wikipedia or Google to see what she thinks it is. And of course they show these pictures of all the worst cases and it’s not good. I have yet to know exactly what they saw, but I know she was thinking the worst when she came to see me.
Once we arrive at Northside, I get rolled into the ER. They were aware I was coming, so I got a room right away. Getting off the gurney was very painful, but they did it somehow. I remember sort of rolling onto the hospital bed. They take my blood pressure. They take it again. They poke me and give me an IV. They take my blood pressure again. It seemed that whenever someone walked over to the blood pressure machine, they pressed the button to take it. They gave me Demerol for the pain. I hurt so bad. It hurt to curl my fingers. It hurt to put my hand into a fist. After what felt like 5 times of taking my blood pressure, my mom finally asked what they were looking at with that machine. Or what that machine did. They told her it took blood pressure. They said it was 74 over 36 (that could be wrong…I can’t remember…but I know it was in the 70s and the 30s). This took me a few minutes to digest. I had to think back to grade school and health class. Normal BP is 120 over 80. Yep. I think I knew then that this was serious and I think it’s when my mom finally realized its not strep with a rash. Bless her. Besides the Demerol, they gave me some antibiotics as well. I believe I was put on Rocephin (but I found that out later).
I still didn’t know what was wrong with me. The doctors didn’t know. Before my sister and her Jeremy got to the hospital, I got a spinal tap. Sounds fun, right? Honestly, I was drugged and only remember the pressure of the needle on my skin. I don’t remember there being any pain besides that. I didn’t care what they did to my body, I just wanted to feel better. I also got a chest X-ray. I remember this being kinda painful because I hurt. But they just wheeled me to the X-ray room and did it from the bed. I thought that was kinda cool.
Meanwhile, my mom has a talk with the doctor. Now, I obviously found this out later, and it has been a while since this happened so this could be wrong, but I believe the doctor told my mom that I might not make it through the night. My blood pressure was so low. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
My mom was so resilient. She never showed her grief or her worry to me. I know now that she did cry but left the room to do it. But in front of me, she was as strong as ever. So, it came as such a surprise to me that as I was in the ER, laying in the bed, my sister showed up and just burst into tears. I remember telling her that I will be alright; I was at the hospital and they were going to take care of me. Her outburst was for all the grotesque things that she saw online.
The ER doctor put a port on the right side of my chest to help with administering the drugs. A port is a funny looking spider type of contraption that has a tube in your blood vessel. The blood vessel leads straight to your heart so that the drugs can be quickly spread throughout your body. It gets suchered to you and it alleviates all the poking for IVs. No more of that. I think mine had 5 places for drugs. After I had the port put in, I was sent to the ICU. I still didn’t know what was wrong with me. They kept taking blood though. Lots of blood.
In the ICU, I was in a quarantined room. If you wanted to visit, you had to put on a funny yellow suit that made my dad look like a platypus. They did this because they still didn’t know what was wrong. I remember the first night I was in ICU, I slept horribly. I woke when a nurse came and took blood. She took it out of the port and I could actually feel it going through my blood vessel in my chest. Very weird. It was comforting to see my mom sleeping on a chair in the ICU with me. Resilient. They also checked my BP every 15 minutes from a machine and they would come and prick my finger every hour. That was one of the worst parts…the finger pricking. I hate it so much. When I first got into the ICU, there were 2 stands full of meds. The stands were kinda like a coat rack that had drugs on it instead. I can’t remember what all of the drugs were, but there were so many. I think I was on about 3 antibiotics, a blood pressure medicine, fluids…just everything.
That first day, the doctor that saw me from the Wellstar clinic came and saw me in ICU. I couldn’t believe that. Him and I think 2 of the nurses drove all the way down to see me. Maybe because they were surprised that I had survived? I don’t know why, but that just has stuck with me all this time.
I would doze off every once in a while for like an hour at a time. People would try to visit, but I would be asleep pretty quickly. I remember my sister had to brush my teeth for me because my fingers got swollen and I couldn’t hold anything. That was humorous. And those little red spots that I saw the first day got worse. My whole body ended up with them except my face (thank the Lord). Those little buggies never made it to my brain.
As I was being pumped with antibiotics, things started to change. I began to swell. My feet and toes became little sausages. My fingers, mentioned above, swelled up too. This was because the bacteria in my blood stream were dying and they were excreting a toxin as they died causing the swelling and the crazy red bumps all over my body. I had to stay in the ICU for 3 days. This was mainly because they didn’t want me to leave, or couldn’t let me leave, until my blood pressure was stable and at a certain amount. I can’t remember what it was. And they wanted it to be that way without any drugs.
When that day finally arrived, I was so relieved. So excited to get out of the sterile ICU and move to a real room. I got my own private room and that was such a blessing. I was able to get on my computer, visit with people, wash my face! I will say, the hardest part was walking again. Not that I had to learn to walk again or anything, but being horizontal for 3 days getting the energy to sit up much less walk around was so difficult. It took a couple of tries to just sit up. And once I got upright, I was out of breath and had to lay down. I would get light-headed. I think it took a day to finally actually stand up. I had to wheel an IV bag around with me if I went to wash my face. But man, that felt so good. My lovely sister brought wipes with her while I was in the ICU to freshen me up, but washing my face with cleanser was the best.
I was in a regular room for 3 days. A lot of my time here was spent talking to friends and family and insurance people. I was able to leave, but on the condition that I would have a home health nurse show me how to give myself drugs each day. I had my chest port taken out and another port put in my right arm around half way down that would let me give myself the drugs. I still have a scar from that. It’s done in a similar way as the chest one, but the tube is much much longer.
Also, when I was ready to leave, I was told what I had. I had no idea up until this point. I had Meningococcemia. This is related to bacterial meningitis. Normally, bacterial meningitis gets to the brain before it gets to the blood stream. Meningococcemia is the opposite. That is why I saw the red dots on my arm. On the fateful day that I found those, it was my white blood cells that were trying to fight off the bacteria on their own. The red dots were the bacteria actually dying. Had I not seen that, things would be very different for me. Also, when they did the spinal tap, they said there were white blood cells in my spinal fluid which meant the bacteria were on their way to my spinal fluid and could get to the brain. They didn’t make it that far, thank goodness, but it’s scary to think how close it was.
I was out of work for 2 more weeks giving myself drugs and laying low. I visited numerous doctors after my visit. One being an internal medicine doctor. He was the one to tell me what I had. He also told me not go to news stories. I guess the news eats up when someone has bacterial meningitis and survives. He gave a survival rate and I think only 3 had survived in Georgia in the last 5 years or so. (I could be very wrong about that). I stayed with my mom and dad the first week and then moved back to my apartment after that. I had a kitty to look after. 🙂 Poor Thomas.
Anyways, that is my near death story. If you made it this far, you should be rewarded, no? I have pictures that I just remembered from the ICU. So that is your reward.
You can sort of see the red dots I was talking about. These are the icky bacteria dying.
My lovely sister brushing my teeth. It felt so good to get fresh breath.
I look like death, right? This is a picture of all the stuff they had in me. 2 poles full.
My dad. Platypus, right? I laugh even now seeing that.
My sister and Joanna enjoying their delicious McDonald’s drinks in front of me. Not really fair if you ask me. See my little sausage toes? Haha!
Anyone else have a near death experience?