i had a really bizarre departure from my home in jersey city. one night i get home from a trip..feeling a little funny. the next night i’m rushed to the hospital.
a week later i’m released from the hospital, my family packs up my apartment, and i’m flown back to texas. i was only somewhat coherent throughout the whole ordeal. it was quite a daze.
here i am in austin three months later, and i realize i have little to no closure in regards to my time in nyc and my time as a flight attendant. the only word i have to describe it is..”bizarre.” i suppose the whole ordeal surrounding it was nothing less than bizarre. i decided it might be a good idea to write a bit about that time…before it all becomes a little fuzzy.
i was in austin for a bachelorette party. it rained that weekend..and apparently some mosquito came out and gave me a sting. i never saw the bite..i am one of those who always said (and still says)..”i never get bit.” because i don’t. i don’t remember the last time i saw a bite on my body..it’s surely been well over a year.
after my trip to austin i had a 3 day assignment (working as a flight attendant at the time) that took me to los angeles, austin (again), and boston. throughout the trip i felt very..”off.” just kinda outta body, weak, lethargic. i went to a clinic during the trip and was given some decongestants. by the time i got back home to newark i was so weak i could hardly make it up the stairs to my apartment.
that night i went straight to bed..and when i awoke the next morning i felt like i’d been hit by a semi. i stayed in bed until dinner time..at which point i commenced to get up, immediately fall to the ground as i was so dizzy, and crawled to the couch. getting up was also quite an ordeal because my neck was so stiff and so sore. people have asked what the symptoms are — a stiff neck and dizziness are two of the primary ones.
my roommate got home a bit later and saw me in my distress. she tried in vain to get me to eat something. i went back to bed, telling mom i felt miserably ill. she asked if she needed to fly up, but i assured her i’d probably be better by the time she arrived. i planned on going to the doctor in the morning, and asked a friend to accompany me, as i was nervous about going alone.
i didn’t make it til morning. during that night i woke up and was so dizzy that i felt nearly paralyzed. it was more disorienting and frightening than i can possibly convey. i couldn’t take a step without falling to the ground or into the wall. i could hardly yell out, and i couldn’t see well enough to send a text to my roommate. luckily she heard me struggling, and came into my room. i told her i had to go to the hospital. she saw my condition but also knew how insane a jersey city emergency room would be on a friday night. i started to have near seizures - unable to breathe. i started panicking, and began to legitimately yell to my roommate that i had to go to the emergency room immediately. (sorry lucia.)
lucia was able to find someone with a car who came to get us. i had to crawl / be carried down the three flights of stairs..and once we go to the hospital i was met with a wheelchair.
i was at jersey city medical for about seven hours — diagnosed with a one time onset of vertigo. they gave me fluids and medication for dizziness..and kept me until i was able to walk on my own.
when i got home from the hospital i hadn’t eaten in a couple days. all i wanted was a cheese pizza. and a cheese pizza was what i had. i devoured two slices and then immediately passed out. when i awoke in bed a few hours later, i mean..i don’t know how many times i threw up. it was well over twenty. after much effort, i was able to text mom: “you need come up here. can’t text. come.”
i was rushed back to the emergency room - this time being in much worse condition than the last. as i sat in the wheelchair in the waiting room, my eyes were rolling back in my head, i was making frightening noises and throwing up, hyperventilating, and crying as i begged for water. (i wasn’t allowed food or water.)
i know there were other people in the waiting room - especially kids - who were fairly frightened and unsettled by my condition. the wait to be admitted was a long one. finally a man came over, and i was coherent enough to realize he was demanding my roommate, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend take me to another town — to a hospital where i could be admitted more quickly. he said he refused to sit there and watch me die in front of him any longer.
they did just that — drove me to bayonne, new jersey. when arrived i was taken in to the emergency room immediately. my roommate, who basically hadn’t slept for two days, called my good friend meredith to come take over for a little while. lucia (roommate) and meredith were so wonderful — sitting by me in my terrible condition, and texting and calling friends and family with updates. sacrificing so much to be there with me.
i wasn’t at the bayonne hospital long for they admitted me to an actual room. hilariously all i could think of was how expensive that was going to be — and i asked them if that was really necessary. they insisted it was.
one of the first things they did was a spinal tap. i’ve since learned that spinal taps are extremely painful. i was too out of it to know. i insisted i was cool as a cucumber throughout the process, though meredith tells a different story. apparently i was yelling out..but surely she’s just making it up. after a spinal tap you have so sit still for four hours..and it was at the end of that four hours that my mom arrived to bayonne from lubbock, texas.
mom says she walked into the hospital room, not knowing what she would find. she says she walked over to me and said “melissa..mom’s here.” apparently i gave her a fairly creepy smile..my eyes fluttered..and then rolled back in to my head. it didn’t take long for her to text my dad and tell him she needed him to get on a plane and be there with her.
over the course of the next week i had every test in the book done on me. CAT scan, MRI, blood taken at least once each day..and more. the doctor even asked me questions to see if i was all there mentally, as he was worried about brain damage. i was put on a low-fat and no sodium diet, and i could barely get a thing down my throat. i do remember enjoying some hot cocoa a time or two.
the doctors decided i most likely had bacterial meningitis — a condition which is often deadly. they confined me to a room by myself..and anyone who entered was supposed to wear a mask and hospital gown.
i find it comical that despite the fact that i was so out of it throughout my hospital stay, i still instagrammed a time or two. friends back home in austin found it to be really odd..they’d see an instagram post one minute and receive a text from someone the next minute that i was deathly ill. i suppose i had my priorities.
dad arrived around the same hour when i was able to take a few steps on my own. he brought me a collection of tacky presents he had found from the dollar store, and i loved them so much. sister melanie had also sent me flowers and a stuffed dog that looked like franklin.
after a week in the hospital i received my official diagnosis: west nile meningitis. this form differentiates from west nile “virus” as it reaches the meninges in the brain. it seems that only 1 in 150 people who contract west nile actually get this “neuroinvasive” form. i really beat the odds! and i’ve heard that anywhere from 10% to 40% of the people who contract the form i’ve had do not survive. my age and the fact that i was healthy when i got it really contributed to my ability to pull through.
as the virus has reached my brain, my brain had actually become swollen. and i tell you: i could feel it. i could feel my brain swell.
once the diagnosis was received, i was released from the hospital within 24 hours. absolutely nothing can be done to combat west nile. they prescribed rest and ibuprofen. my family stayed the next night in a hotel, and my sister (from tennessee) walked in and surprised me. i think i cried. the next day we went to my apartment…i laid around while my family packed everything up. my cousins haley and scott surprised me and had driven in from DC. i think i cried again. the surprise visits meant more than i can possibly say. don’t even get me started on the support and encouragement i received via text, cards, calls, flowers, food..i felt so loved and cared for.
mom, dad and i flew home to lubbock with most of my belongings in tow. united airlines was gracious enough to put us all in first class, but i was certainly too out of it to enjoy it. i went through the airports in a wheelchair and felt the stares from others. i just looked so sickly and frail. i’ll never forget how mom, dad and i were in a schlotsky’s even two weeks later, and a table full of girls stared at me in concern. mom walked over to them and explained why i looked the way i did, and they were so sweet in response.
for the next 4 weeks or so i laid every day on the couch in my parent’s living room…sleeping, watching the olympics, and trying to eat something. i couldn’t eat for about 2+ weeks, and when i finally regained an appetite all i wanted was sugar, steaks, burgers, and fried stuff. and that’s what i got. donuts for breakfast, a milkshake for lunch, and chicken strips for dinner. sweet dad would run out and get whatever i thought i could eat..no question.
i started to take walks to the end of the street, and we’d celebrate my growing strength. some days i’d simply go to brush my teeth and get so weak i’d nearly faint. doctors told me i might not be strong enough to go back to work until the end of the year, or january of 2013. but here i am - october - and i’m working! woohoo! i had a nearly miraculous week around the middle of august, and really took a turn for the better.
people have asked me if having a “near death” experience gave me a new lease on life or something. it’s hard for me to think of what i went through as a “near death” experience, but i suppose in many ways it was. i hardly had a moment where i truly feared for my life, as i was just too out of it to even know what was going on. but in the aftermath, i think i just really came to appreciate my parents even more than i already did. i also learned a lot about just simply receiving help and support from people. i’ve always been very prideful and very independent..and have a hard time accepting gifts of kindness from others. but my illness showed me how desperately i needed the help of others..and i know 100% that i would not have made it - literally would not have made it - without the help of my parents and everyone else. there were certainly moment when i began to feel hopeless. there was a breakdown one night at my parent’s house. but the strength and prayers i received from those who love me carried me through.
anyway, life since west nile has been a bit of a whirlwind. it’s so crazy to consider everything that has changed since that day in july. because i was on medical leave from work throughout all this, it seemed to provide a good opportunity to make a transition. i moved back to austin and traded in my flight attendant adventures for a bit more stable life back home. things are good back in austin. i’m still processing all that’s happened..but one thing is for sure. on days when i’m tempted to complain or feel like life just isn’t treating me right, i realize how much i have to be grateful for.
Interesting West Nile figures and facts:
West Nile is spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a person.
West Nile cannot be spread person to person except possibly in the case of blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Mosquitos carry the highest amounts of the virus in late summer/early fall. Risks of being bit by an infected mosquito drop as the weather gets colder.
Although many people are bitten by mosquitos that carry West Nile virus, most do not know they’ve been exposed. Few people notice any symptoms at all.
West Nile symptoms are much like your typical flu symptoms. However, symptoms for the more serious, neuroinvasive form include: confusion or change in ability to think clearly, loss of conciousness or coma, muscle weakness, stiff neck, weakness of one arm or leg
To date, the only states that have not reported any cases of West Nile include Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont.