Coming off three twelve-hour shifts in a row always feels exhausting to me. My feet are tired and my mind is mush. The end of three days last month, though, felt different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but my bones were tired. It could have been the fact that I was six weeks pregnant, just beginning to feel that first trimester fatigue really set in. Maybe it was the headache I couldn’t seem to shake. Nonetheless, after arriving home around 7:45 p.m., I skipped dinner and went straight to bed, never expect what the next day would bring.
My husband’s alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I was slowly coming to… slowly realizing that I was experiencing the worst headache of my life. Headaches aren’t new to me, I’ve experienced migraines and headaches since my early 20’s. This headache was different. I laid in bed trying to rationalize the pain, praying my son would sleep in just and allow me to stay in the darkness.
Going from laying to sitting up in bed when it was time for me to get my toddler out of his crib was excruciating. How on Earth could I make it up the stairs to his room? I rolled out of bed, hunched over and walked to our medicine cabinet searching for the Tylenol, knowing it would barely touch this feeling of knives pulsating in my brain. The. Bottle. Was. Empty.
The nausea set in as I had come to expect around this time in the morning, but this nausea felt different. Eventually, I found the strength to pull my son out of bed and feed him breakfast. There was no way I could drive, so I put him in the stroller and attempted to walk to the store just one mile down the road to get the Tylenol I desperately needed. We didn’t make it to the end of the street before I was on the ground, tears streaming down my face, my son asking “whats wrong mama?” We returned home, and through blurred vision I managed to turn on a movie for my son, and I prayed to make it through the rest of the day.
Upon my husband’s arrival home, we secured a babysitter and headed to the ER. Two excruciating hours later, we were finally seen by a physician. I had to have a CT scan which, of course, concerned me given my early pregnancy, but there was no choice. CT scan was normal, the physician declared it was a migraine, gave me fluids and a cocktail of drugs that promised to help me sleep and sent me home. I didn’t sleep.
The hours crept by and the next morning the neck stiffness began and the fever set in. Back to the ER. This time, they declared it was meningitis, inflammation of the membranes around my brain and spinal cord. The good news was they suspected it was viral, given the fact that I was still able to communicate. Had it been bacterial, they guessed I wouldn’t be able to speak at this point in the illness. Pregnancy and meningitis is not normal, so I was to be admitted to the hospital for observation and further testing. One ambulance ride to a hospital in another part of town later, I settled into my room which would be my home for the next 5 days. They performed a lumbar puncture to confirm that it was indeed viral, and preliminary results were inconclusive. So my pain-ridden body and my tiny, unborn baby received maximum doses of antibiotics, steroids and narcotics. The days were a blur, full of pain, needles, uncertainty, and vomiting. I was discharged home, spent another week in bed, and have slowly come out of the fog since then.
I consider myself lucky. Viral meningitis eventually leaves your system and you can recover. I know that people get illnesses that have a different ending. But, that week in the hospital, feeling that unbearable pain, being away from my son, the worry about my unborn baby and being at the complete mercy of medical professionals has changed me. No longer will I take for granted the mundane things like being able to get of bed and brush my teeth, going for a run with my son in the jogging stroller, driving to work, and even simply going to the grocery store.
We are still unclear about the implications the virus and medications I received will have on the growing baby in my body, but what I am clear about is that I am thankful for each moment I get to be surrounded by my friends and family. I am so thankful for my health and the health of my family. Health is the foundation of our lives; without it, everything can be taken away, and with it we are capable of accomplishing anything. I urge you to spend this month of thankfulness, and every month after, being acutely aware of the gift of health.