I was struck down with the Deadly Disease while I was in the U.S. Army. I was Twenty years old at the time and stronger than I had ever been in my entire life, never sick except for a few head colds. That was in early 1969 when the Viet Nam War was escalating. The Military Base - Fort Lewis was on high alert due to an epidemic of Bacterial Spinal Meningitis.
The freezing morning of the 28th of March, my Basic Training Unit was on the firing range target practicing when I was overcome. Blurred vision and a 104 degree fever. It hit me so fast I couldn't walk without the help of my rifle as support. I remember leaning against the metal flag pole and felling the cold metal against my face.
I was delivered to my base camp's Medical Infirmary and waited in line behind 20 others who had been there since breakfast. When it came to my time to be examined a male nurse tried with all his strength to force my head down, trying to make my chin touch my chest - he failed. My neck was solid stiff. I had a temperature of 104 degree and a raspberry rash on my chest and back, all the symptoms of Bacterial Spinal Meningitis.
I weaved my way to the door and to an information window. I remember looking down the hallway, not knowing I was suffering with tunnel vision, it was like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars - very long to a vanishing point of darkness. I was given directions turned and walked into a floor.
I was laying on a gurney when I woke. A young black female nurse had tied a band around my right arm and was drawing a second vial of blood. She was jerking around trying to stop the first vial from rolling off a small metal table. It hit the hard tile floor and exploded (glass vials were used in 1969). The nurse’s white shoes, her white skirt and her bare legs were covered in flakes of glass and blood, my blood. She ran out the door screaming she was contaminated...
My next memory is of a spinal tap being performed. The doctor was telling me that if the liquid was clear I would live, but if it was cloudy I was going to die like all the others. He finished the tap in silence then held up a three ounce vial of milk white fluid. He left without a word. He returned later to tell me that all 16 others infected with the disease Bacterial Spinal Meningitis had died in the epidemic and I was going to be number 17 on that list of dead. Then he said I could still do a service to my country. He and the five scientists standing over me said they wanted to harvest my spinal fluid to try and produce a vaccine. Fourteen plus vials of spinal fluid were drained from me in the five day period I was in ICU. Two vials were an hour apart just before I was transferred to a recovery unit. I was placed in a wheelchair and rolled out of ICU. The wheelchair I was riding in rolled over an orange extension cord, my brain bounced off the bottom of my skull and I slide out of the chair onto the floor. The pain was unbearable - I passed out in the flash of light and pain. When I woke I was back in ICU
Two months later I was released from the hospital to await the Medical Discharge. The problem is my medical file was missing: lost or destroyed, no evidence I ever had the disease.
I had troubles. Two years from the day I was drafted into the military I was given an Undesirable Discharge: this form of Discharge denied me of all Veteran Benefits and barred me from entering any VA Hospital.
A year and a half after the 42 ounces (plus) of Spinal Fluid were taken from me a vaccine for the same strain of meningitis was placed on the market. On today's market a vaccine shot sells for One Hundred Dollars (US) a pop.
This is not from memory... This is from the journal my wife started on 27 February 1969, the day I was drafted into the United States Army. She carried the journal with her when she was flown from California to Fort Lewis, Washington to be by my side in my final hours of life.
I survived. I have lived in pain since my bout with Bacterial Spinal Meningitis , robbed of quality of life: severe Migraines (diagnosed), lower back pain diagnosed as Degenerative Disc Disease, Seizures(diagnosed), Brain Damage (a void in my left frontal lode) (diagnosed with a C.A.T. Scan), Memory Loss (tested and diagnosed), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (sleep disorder tested and diagnosed), Sterility (diagnosed), Photo Sensitivity (tested and diagnosed), Arthritis (diagnosed), and more. All of which interfere with my ability to perform daily tasks.
I worked with these disorders until 1998. I fell; oh it wasn't the first time I had fallen, no way. I have blackouts and seizures since 1969 and the frequency of these events have increased with age. I was able to hide my Meningitis After Effects until then.
I am presently 63 years old.
I moved to a country were the cost of living is low just to survive. Begging and living on the street is not for me.
I have no medical assistance, so I am not a burden to the U.S. Government
The damage to my lower back has worsened over the years. I spent many bad years in a wheelchair.
I can walk with the help of a walker.
I am glad that my Spinal Fluid could help produce a vaccine so others would not have to suffer this same fate.
Please get vaccinated because this could happen to you or a loved one.
Posted in by Stephen Elliott on 05 December 2011