Spinal Meningitis Got You Down

So, many of you know, I adore Sue. She writes some of the most moving pieces on motherhood – and some of the funniest. I enjoy visiting her blog. It brings peace and wisdom. She also endorses Waldorf schools which I am slowly but surely finding myself a big proponent of. Mostly because I can’t wait to teach Alex to knit.

Many of you also may know that David was hospitalized this weekend with viral meningitis. When he woke up clutching his head, I thought he was being a total fugazi. It was…unpleasant to say the least. I’ll explain the hospital stay later but to answer the most important question you have, yes, I am still planning on having 50 people over for Alex’s first birthday on Saturday.

I may have some as yet undiagnosed form of mental illness which causes me to torture myself. We’re not sure. But the party, she is on. Really, I must be sick.

Or rather, I have great friends like Sue. Friends who jump on a grenade and offer to guest post. It’s pretty stunning that people keep offering to help me lately. I’m really, really blessed to know all of you.

So, while I clean up my life and my house for this party, please read about Sue’s husband’s encounter with the evil known as meningitis.
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When a rather burly looking man comes into the emergency room with a headache so bad that he curls himself into the fetal position on the floor under the chairs in the waiting room, doctors take it seriously.

A few years ago, just before Nora turned one, my husband Ben had a magnificient headache. No amount of ibuprofen or darkness could touch it. He suffered for a few days, and finally consented to be taken to the ER. There he received various tests to make sure he did not have a brain tumor or blood vessel about to explode. I can’t remember all the tests, but I certainly remember the spinal tap.

I am not sqeamish. The sight of blood doesn’t bother me. I used to watch surgery shows for entertainment. So, I was enlisted to help hold Ben still during the procedure. But’s it’s different watching a a medical procedure being performed on someone you love. I had a clear view as the doctor placed a shunt in his spine and collected the clear fluid from his spine. It was like watching life being drained from his body. I nearly passed out.

Like David, Ben was diagnosed with viral meningitis. Which is actually something to be grateful for, as the bacterial kind can cause lasting damage or even death. It also meant he didn’t have a tumor, so I could stop worrying if we had enough life insurance.

Unlike David, Ben was sent home instead of being hospitalized. Along with prescribing some serious narcotics, his doctor recommended drinking lots of caffeine. Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes covering the spine and brain. Caffeine swells the blood vessels, allowing more room for the inflammation and thus decreasing the pain. It may be the only disease where doctors advocate the consumption of Red Bull.

After getting the diagnosis, a song kept running through my head. It’s by a band called Ween. Ween is a band you outgrow pretty much as soon as you stop using recreational drugs. But, back in our early twenties, Ben and I used to listen to quite a bit of Ween. Ahem.

They have a song called “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down).” It features the leader singer using a child’s voice to ask questions about being sick with meningitis. The refrain goes like this:

Smile on mighty Jesus
Spinal meningitis got me down

I told you — it’s not a song for grown-ups with kids! You have to be twenty and think you’re immortal to find it amusing. Nonetheless, I could not get this stupid song out of my head for a month. I’m sure it was running through Ben’s as well.

The pain from a meningitis headache is incapaciting. Ben basically moved upstairs to our guest room, the quietest room in the house, for three weeks. He took his pain killers and avoided light and did little else. He was miserable.

One day, to stave off boredom, he took a series of photographs to document his ailment. A bunch of medicine bottles on a bedside table. The view out of the bedroom window. A half eaten slice of deep dish pizza. Ben looking in the mirror in his bathrobe. Nora and I getting out of the car at the end of the day.

Being the workaholic that he is, he stayed home only a week, though it took him over a month to fully recuperate.

In the meantime, I was practically a single parent. Working, managing a little one and caring for a house. Just as KLZ will be doing.

Let us keep KLZ and her family in our thoughts for the next several weeks. Spinal meningitis has them down. And that damn song is running through my head again.