Friday afternoon, I was feeling a little tired and run down, after a rough week of trying to soothe baby E all day, every day this past week. We had gone to the sushi restaurant that we usually frequent, and it appears that the chef working that night did not understand my request for no soy sauce on any of my sushi, therefore aggravating E’s soy allergy via my breastmilk. I did not get much sleep the whole week since he was feeling pretty miserable.
Around 3 pm on Friday, I suddenly started to feel like I had strong chills from a fever and a really severe headache. I took my temperature and it was 102 degrees. Thankfully, my husband was finished early with work that day, and was there to help me take care of the baby. I took some Tylenol, ate a lot of homemade soup, and took a nap. When I woke up, my headache was significantly worse. It was definitely the worst headache I have ever had. It was even worse than the headaches I used to get in high school, after I had three concussions in a period of two months from cheerleading accidents. My body aches from the fever were getting worse, particularly in my neck. My neck felt really stiff, but I initially figured that may have been my arthritis in my neck from the cheerleading accidents flaring up since it has been really humid lately. As I laid in bed trying to rest, I told my husband that I felt like my brain was infected, even though that seemed ridiculous to me at the time. I figured I must be coming down with the flu, and just needed to rest.
Later that evening, with no respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms showing up, I started to realize that this could not be just coming down with the flu. I remembered that I had noticed a bug bite on my foot on Tuesday and started to get concerned. We live in an area with a lot of mosquitoes thanks to a nearby lake, and West Nile Virus had been confirmed present there this season. I started to get worried that I had come down with West Nile and/or meningitis.
When I was in college, there was another student who went to the same mass that I sang at that came down with bacterial meningitis. He figured his headache was symptomatic of being a tired, run down college student, and did not seek treatment. He died within a couple of days. The rest of us that went to that same mass were all informed and told to be very mindful of symptoms since we had all shared in the same drink during the Eucharist. Thankfully, no one else became ill. That experience was one of the most profound influences on my adult faith and belief in the power of the Holy Eucharist. Bacterial meningitis is extremely contagious, particularly via saliva. The Lord protected everyone, and I have always been grateful since then.
When my husband asked me what I thought was wrong, that story came to mind, and I started trying to tell him about “that guy in school who got sick and died from that bad disease”. I was not thinking clear enough to give him more information than that, but I knew I needed to be seen. My fever started going down, so I initially figured I may be okay. However, when the intense headache and neck pain remained despite my lessened fever, I knew we needed to call someone and start asking questions.
We called the hotline from our insurance to speak to a triage nurse, who advised me that I needed to go in to an urgent care center right away. The only ones available were at least a half and hour to and hour drive away, so I asked if I could just wait until morning to go. She told me that there was a good possibility that I might not make it if I waited until morning. We were pretty upset and left right away.
By the time we got to the urgent care clinic, my fever was gone but the other symptoms were not. The doctor there said it was probably not bacterial meningitis since my fever had gone down, but he highly recommended that I go to the Emergency Room for a lumbar puncture since they were not equipped to perform one there. That was the last thing in the world I wanted to go do since I had so much pain and problems with the spinal during my c-section. I had a number of fractures in the lower region of my spine during college, and I now have horrible arthritis in the whole lower area of my spine. I knew that a lumbar puncture would be very difficult to perform on me and more painful than it already is normally. He recommended that we go to our normal hospital since it may be likely that I would be admitted long-term.
When we arrived at the ER, my fever was still down and the nurses at the check in station did not seem to take my complaints too seriously. After a couple of hours waiting, I started to feel very feverish again. I went back up to them and asked them to check my temperature again. Just as they confirmed my fever had indeed spiked again, a nurse from the ER came out to bring me in.
While we were at the urgent care, our baby seemed a little confused why we were out somewhere and not at home resting. He was confused but overall happy. Once we got back to our normal hospital, it was the strangest thing. It seemed as though he recognized the place and started looking concerned. He kept staring at me with a sad, concerned little face, as shown in the picture below.
Once I was brought into the ER, they started running a huge battery of tests on me, including (but not limited to) a CT scan, a chest x-ray, an EKG, and more blood work than I have ever seen in my life. I asked my husband to take the baby home and start trying to feed him some of the emergency breastmilk that I had stored in the freezer. Before now, we have not had good results with feeding him pumped breastmilk, so we had kind of given up on the whole thing. Every time we have tried, he cried and reached out for me. Usually, he ended up throwing it all up after consuming it, so we stopped trying. Thankfully, my husband was able to successfully feed him while I was still in the ER.
Before I had the lumbar puncture, I was given a small amount of morphine in my IV to try to help control the pain from my headache. It was not really helping unfortunately. I did not want to have a lot of strong pain medicine going through my bloodstream since I refuse to feed our baby formula. With him already showing signs of food allergies, that is something that I am extremely adamant about.
When the doctor went to perform the lumbar puncture, he had a very difficult time performing the procedure because of all of my arthritis in my spine. He injected some local anesthesia, which did not help much. He said he unfortunately had to perform it in that area since that is where there was the most fluid accessible. However, thanks to my bone spurs and arthritis, he kept hitting bone instead of finding the fluid initially. After multiple attempts, he was able to extract the needed fluid.
Before my results were confirmed, I felt so down with the way some of the staff was treating me. They seemed deathly afraid to come near me. I do not blame them…I would be pretty scared to if I had to treat someone who may have a highly infectious, potentially deadly disease. In the past, I have been sick with some pretty serious illnesses, pneumonia, SARS, etc. I have never felt so nervous as I did that day based on the way I was gauging other people’s reaction to me. I seriously felt like a leper. The doctor and two of the nurses however, were always kind and warm, explaining everything that was going on. I was shocked that the doctor even extended his hand to shake mine when I arrived, even though he knew my symptoms. It reminded me so much of the story of the Good Samaritan. It was pretty amazing when I realized that was today’s Gospel reading while watching mass on TV.
When the results from my lumbar puncture came back, they confirmed that I was not sick with bacterial meningitis, which was a good thing. Unfortunately, since the infection was caused by a virus, there was not much they could do to treat me. I was advised to go home and rest, limit my contact with the baby completely if possible, and follow up with my regular doctor on Monday. The ER doctor was also concerned because my white blood cell count was measuring abnormally low, particularly for someone who has recently had a baby. He was concerned that I may have some underlying issue that caused me to get so sick in the first place. He advised that until the cause of the low white blood cell count was definitely determined, I should avoid guests other than immediate family and limit where I go, possibly for a few months. He was more concerned about other people getting me sicker than the reverse.
The ER doctor informed me that it appears that I have a viral infection in my brain and cerebral spinal fluid. He could not confirm exactly what the virus is, but I am assuming it may likely be viral meningitis or something related to West Nile since I had that bug bite earlier in the week (or both). He mentioned that if someone had a virus when I was at my physical therapy appointment on Thursday (the only place I had gone in days), it is possible that I caught it and for some reason it went straight to my brain.
I left the hospital Saturday morning, and have been trying to rest at home as much as possible since. I was told to lie down flat in bed to prevent spinal headaches from the lumbar puncture, but I have been sitting up every couple of hours to use the breastmilk pump. Even though the doctor told me that is not the end of the world to feed the baby formula for a couple of days, I am adamant to avoid that at all costs, even if it made my headache worse.
Baby E had the saddest little face when I came out of the hospital and went back to the car. He looked at me like, where have you been, Mommy? Then he started to cry, like he was so sad that I had been gone. Below is his sad little face when he saw me pass by in our house and wondered why I would not take him when he was reaching out to me.
My husband has been great about taking care of the little guy, but it has been absolutely heartbreaking to listen to him crying. He has been crying because he has been getting extra gassy from using the pumped milk in a bottle, and he also cries sometimes when he sees me pass by and I won’t touch him. I am really hoping my symptoms will start to improve soon because it is making me depressed to see him so upset.
Since leaving the hospital, my fever has been rollercoastering up and down. It seems like it has broken, and then it will suddenly start climbing back up. Today, I started developing additional symptoms, sensitivity to light, dizziness, and diarrhea. I took some over the counter medicine to try to stop the diarrhea, but if that does not help I will have to go back to the hospital. We are playing it by ear now since I do not seem to really be getting any better. While there is not much they would be able to do for the virus itself, I want to make sure that I do not get severely dehydrated.
It has been hard to grasp how I could get so incredibly sick after having already been through SO MUCH with my pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Ironically, I was actually working on writing a blog post on Friday about how proud I am of how hard I have worked on my recovery when I started noticing my symptoms appear. I will finish that post soon I guess, but I am assuming my physical therapy exercises will have to take a hiatus for a bit. I am trying to stay strong in my faith that the Lord will handle the situation. He knows how much that little baby boy depends on me, and I am confident that He will help us through this rough patch. We are praying with all of our strength for a speedy, full recovery.