One Couple’s Struggle with Meningitis

By Julie Caissie, PHEc

Sometimes, as a married couple, you face hardships in life. I want to share a story about a challenge my husband and I endured. In 2003, my husband was diagnosed with meningitis. This traumatic experience tested our resolve as a married couple. Here is our story.

I was a full time Ph.D. student at Université Laval in Quebec when I received a call from my husband. At the time, he was a truck driver and came to see me every two weeks. He said: “Julie, I am coming home early…I am not feeling well…I have really bad headaches…my head hurts.” He had been feeling like this for a while so I knew something was wrong. I could sense the pain in his voice. I hung up the phone, had a panic attack, and ran outside to get some air. Once I calmed down, I sat down and waited for him.

He arrived a few hours later drenched in sweat, white as a sheet. He walked in the door and laid down on the couch. I said: ‘‘I think we should go to the hospital right away.’’He didn`t say a word. I drove him to the hospital, and they checked him out. They gave him some medications and they told us that it wasn`t serious. I left the hospital thinking….‘‘I am not a doctor, but something is wrong here.’’

Always trust your instincts.

We went back to the apartment and I put him to bed. He was sweating so much that I had to change the sheets 6 times during the night. I was scared and mad at the same time. I was thinking to myself: ‘‘This situation is getting out of control. He is getting worse and the medication is not helping.’’ I didn`t sleep at all that night.

Meningitis scare

The next morning, he wasn`t getting better and unfortunately, I had to go to class and do a presentation. I didn’t want to leave him alone but I had no choice. I went to class, did my presentation and told the professor that I had to leave right away. He was very understanding. As I ran back to the apartment, I was hoping for good news. When I got home, he was in a fragile state. He was pale, not talking and acting very weird. I was going to call 911, but decided to drive him to the hospital. We arrived at the hospital and again they wanted to give him medications and send him home. I said: ‘‘No way.. I am not taking him home no way….you are stuck with him….don’t you see that he is in a critical state’’. I was mad and had no patience with the nurses. They put him on a stretcher and brought him for various tests. After a couple of hours, the doctor came out and told me that the situation was urgent. They ran some tests and they found traces of meningitis. I kept asking myself….what is meningitis…it sounded very serious. I asked: ‘‘Can I see him please?’’Finally, they let me see him in the emergency room; he was attached to machines and all of sudden I felt helpless. I lost it completely.

I remember looking up the word meningitis on the internet and found the following information: ‘‘Meningitis is a medical emergency.” “Untreated, meningitis can be fatal in a few hours. Even survivors can have severe consequences including varying degrees of blindness, deafness, paralysis and mental retardation. Suspected cases of meningitis require immediate medical attention.’’ I remember thinking…I have to call somebody. I called my mom first and then my mother-in-law. My mom didn’t say much but I could clearly hear the fear in her voice. My mother in-law was very worried and kept asking questions that I couldn’t answer.

A few hours later, a nurse came to see me and said: ‘‘We are transferring your husband to another hospital ….it is urgent.’’ I said: ‘‘Why are you transferring him?’’ She replied: ‘‘Well this is a teaching hospital and your husband needs specialized care…the other hospital will be able to better accommodate him.’’ I asked if I could ride with him in the ambulance but was told that wouldn’t be possible. Then, the nurse began to walk away but I halted her retreat and asked ‘‘wait a minute…what hospital and where is it located…the least you can do is give me directions.’’ I grew more frustrated with her lack of help. Eventually, I managed to get the information I needed and drove to the hospital where my husband was being transferred. I cried during the entire drive there. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have driven at all.

When I arrived at the hospital I ran to the reception desk and asked if I could see my husband. They said he was in the emergency room and I had to wait. Eventually, a nurse came to see me and let me know that my husband was going to be transferred to the intensive care unit. When I walked into his room, he was hooked to more machines and monitors than I can remember; it was scary. A few hours later he began to experience seizures. By the next day, he was completely paralyzed on his left side. My in-laws and my parents arrived soon after. The doctors explained to us: ‘‘We are giving him medications to treat the meningitis…this will reduce the swelling on his brain that’s causing the seizures and paralysis…but this will take time.” The doctors told us that he was in a fragile state; there was a high risk of permanent paralysis and even death. I went in the chapel and prayed over and over again: ‘‘God, please protect him and give us strength to keep moving forward.’’ I prayed for hours and thought what am I going to do if he doesn’t make it? I said to myself: ‘‘I can accept paralysis, but not death.’’That same day, my in-laws and I went to church to pray for my husband.’’ A few hours later, we went to the hospital and asked the doctor about my husband’s condition. He said: ‘‘The meningitis is cured…he is doing a lot better.’’ I was so relieved and thought this is a miracle. After a few days, he was still having seizures so the doctors decided to operate because his sinus cavity was infected and they had to relieve the pressure on his brain. After the operation, the doctors said that he was fine but the recovery period would be long.
Recovery period

The recovery period was difficult. He was in the hospital for several weeks. At first, he was weak and slept most of the time. After a few days, he decided to get up and walk around the hospital. Some days, he didn’t have the energy to get up. I would say ‘‘Well you have to do it if you want to get stronger…do it for me please’’. The next day, I remember him trying to do crossword puzzles and couldn’t write. He was so frustrated and upset. Every day I would say: ‘‘It’s going to take some time but you will get stronger.’’ He did.

Throughout this journey, my husband and I found ways to constantly be emotionally connected to each other. For example, even when he was unconscious, I would hold his hand and talk to him. During his recovery process, we would make it a priority to go for a walk every day and to talk to each other. In this way, we shared our worries and expectations and it brought us closer together. Since then, my husband has fully recovered and he is doing very well. We are so blessed!

A few years have passed since then. Looking around us, we find that many couples get married and after just a couple of months, they call it quits as soon as difficult situations arise. We know that sometimes things just don’t work out. Even when you find your soul mate, many people think that marriage is a fairy tale. But it is not true. You have to put in a lot of time and effort to build a successful marriage.
Originally published on Notes on Parenting.
Julie is a Home Economist, Ph.D student, wife, runner and a proud godmother. While she has a master’s degree in Home Economics from the Université de Moncton, she is currently enrolled as a full time Ph.D student in education. For the time being, she is working on her doctoral thesis entitled “Understanding the reality of low socioeconomic single mothers regarding their children’s school success”. Julie has worked as a Home Economist in various community settings in Moncton and has taught many courses in the Family Studies department at the Université de Moncton. She has been involved in the planning of many conferences and events at the provincial level in order to promote the importance of Home Economics across New-Brunswick.