Bacterial Spinal Meningitis


Posted by Stephen Elliott on 05 December 2011

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 on 03 February 2016

Comment by Tammara

I was diagnosed with spinal mengitis when I was four months. I was Definetely deaf. I lost some senses of smell and touching. Years went by. I struggle with my cognitive thinking. As to my getting older my Thinking are not the same. I easily forget things. I upset my children as they said we just discussed this or that. Life's hard

Posted on 13 November 2015

Comment by Sheryl haley

Our son got spinal meningitis in 1969 at the age of 6 weeks. Spent 6 weeks at UCLA where they thought he would not make it. He did lose 80 percent hearing in one ear. The devasting effects of this disease can come later on in life, and trust me they did. Ten years ago he had spinal fluid coming out of his nose, praise God he did. He had so much fluid on his brain that if it wasn't coming out of his nose he would of went into a coma. He has headaches that he describes as a brain freeze. He has hydrocephalus, had five shunt revisions,short term memory loss, degenerate back issues that he just had surgery on, metal taste in his mouth, usually when the shunt is not working right,blood clots. I could go on,but the most important thing is,find good doctors that will listen and don't think that you are crazy because you are not! You may look fine on the outside,you would never know by looking at our son that he is so sick on the inside and it is all because of spinal meningitis. My heart goes out to everyone who has to go through this.

Posted on 07 May 2015

Comment by Katherine Pentek

I had Strep Bacterial Meningitis 7 years ago due to a failed myelogram @ a hospital. I have had seizures, massive migranes, more like my brain is hurting so bad I feel like it is in a vice. Loss of field vision in my eyes, balance issues and right now I can't stand the brain pain. I just want to the world to know this medical nightmare never goes away. I call it my every day pain in the head. I was in a coma for 9 days and given last rites. Medically dead based on my labs and each and every day is a struggle My son sees it in my eyes.

Posted on 03 November 2014

Comment by emma maguire

Stephen Elliot - your story is just incredible. Dont you think you have many grounds to sue the army /government for the callous way you were treated during your illness?? I am reading these posts because my son contacted meningitis and septecaemia earlier this year aged 2. He survived, seemingly in tact. He is 3 now, but still seems very tired/exhausted in spite of above average amounts of sleep for his age. However, though he got to quite a late stage with the illness, (due to being misdiagnosed by the GP even though he had presented with 6 classic symptoms of childhood meningits and septecaemia, including the rash) he thankfully seems not to be suffering any of the horrendous after affects that many survivors endure. For that we are just so grateful. My heart goes out to you who are suffering.

Posted on 02 June 2014

Comment by Lane Schill

I had bacterial spinal meningitis when I was a baby ( under one yrs old). I am told that the doctors put me in a medically induced coma and told my parents that when I came out of it, I would be either blind, deaf, brain damaged, or all three. I truly believe in miracles because I came out of the coma without any issues, I'm 39 years old and healthy as can be. I am so blessed especially since I had no idea what the statistics were for survival.

Posted on 03 May 2013

Comment by Sandra Davis

My Husband has 4th stage Early-Onset Parkinson's & was diagnosed with Cellulitis in his legs , treated by i.v. & was taken to hospital by Ambulance after running down the apt. hallway & being " taken down" by 6 police officers ! He had been acting " strange" for a few days before that. and i had called 911 due to his behaviour. He was strapped to a gurney and had a guard outside his room ! iI wasn't allowed to see him for 24 hours. Initial diagnosis was mental break caused by the loss of our dog to a stroke 5 days before. I had to have him transferred by ambulance, at our own expense, to another hospital to be diagnosed ! 10 days in hospital & 6 weeks on i.v. at home. He hasn't been the same since.

Posted on 17 January 2013

Comment by Chris Therrien

I was 8 years old when I contracted the awful disease. I started to feel ill in the morning time and it got worse through out the day. My temperature wouldn't stay down and when the kids tylonal was useless. Around dinner time my mother took my temperature, it was 104. My mother called my doctor and he told her to rush me to the hospital. My grandmother called our neighbor accross the street. He was a Prince George's Co. police officer and he saved my life. Mr. Jay had got permission to rush me to the Childrens National Medical Center in D.C. I was in bad shape and the doctors told my parents that I may die if my body doesn't fight the bacteria. My grandmother was distraught and in a semi-panic. My mother would not leave my side and my father was pacing a groove in the hospital floor. The only thing they could do is pray. My grandmother says she went to the hospital chapel and prayed aloud to the Lord, "PLEASE DON'T TAKE MY GRANDSON, TAKE THE DRUGGIES, THE PROSTITUTES, THE EVIL DOERS BUT PLEASE NOT MY GRANDSON!!!!". Well, that did do it. Slowy over the next day or two I started to come around. I was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I fell extremely blessed to be alive today. So thank you Lord, Mr. Jay, grandma, mom, and dad. If it weren't for ALL of you I would not be here today. I am now 32 yrs old and have a beautiful wife and 7, YES!!! 7 beautiful children. Thank you for reading this and the best of wishes and health for all.

Posted on 19 November 2012

Comment by Josh

I was 18 or 19 when I got this terrible disease. I was at a friends house one night we where all hanging out. I started to feel bad, got a headache the like I have never had. I couldn't hardly stand up so I went and sat on the curb. Before I went there I had asked if anyone could please give me a ride home. I proceeded to walk over to the curb almost as if I was drunk. I had not been drinking however. Finally one of my friends came over to check on me, they told me that I didn't look good at all. I asked if I could please get a ride home, at this point they drove me the few miles home to my house. I got into bed and passed out. My parents woke me up in the morning and I told them I was really sick, I got up to use the restroom. It was almost time for them to leave for work, so they made me some juice, brought me the phone and told me to call if I got worse. A couple hours later I couldn't move at all, it took everything in me to even raise my arm. Mom had called a couple times to check on me and then it seemed like the phone would not stop ringing. I had thrown the phone as it hurt to bad to answer it. Mom got really worried and I think maybe got off work a little early. I had rolled myself out of bed and crawled to the restroom a couple times through out the day. I thought I had the flu so I was drinking lots of fluid and all the stuff you would do for a flu. She got there and told me she was taking me to the ER. I told her that I couldn't stand up, she said son I will help you. My mother isn't a big person, and I didn't want us to fall with her trying to help me walk. What happened next I can't remember clearly, I remember getting to the ER our family doctor was working there that day. He checked me out kind of snickered at how I was acting. He told me and my parents that I had the flu. I had a fever of 107, he admitted me to the hospital and told them all I could have was a Tylenol every 4-6 hours. I slept as much as could or when I was awakened by the pain. Every few hours I pushed the call button and asked if I could get something for the pain and what was wrong with me. Somewhere around 2 am I had just gotten told it wasn't time for more Tylenol yet. I picked up the phone crying and called home, I told my dad that I was dying and if I had to stay in this hospital I was going to die. He rushed to the hospital and told them that he wanted me transferred to Wichita. It was about a 100 miles away and one of the closer then Kansas City. I don't remember getting in the ambulance or getting to the hospital in Wichita. I do remember waking up in a loud room with a giant fan in the ceiling. I remember all the pain and telling them that they could do what ever but I wanted to get up and go to the restroom. Several days passed, most of which I don't remember just the mind numbing pain, the beeping of the machines. How scared and worried my parents and other family was when they visited. I remember not being able to stop myself from sobbing, trying to make myself angry to suppress the pain wouldn't even work. I was told or over heard that I was going to die, that I would never walk, that I might be blind and deaf. I remember fighting so hard to stay strong, to do as much as could when I was conscious. My heart rate dropped so low that i barely had a pulse at all, they don't know how I stayed alive. I had hives, and the skin was falling off of me. It seemed like forever even though I was asleep or unconscious for almost 3 days. Then I started to get better, they said it was ok if friends visited and a couple did. Then that night I got out of bed on my own, I could barely walk and it hurt to do so. I made myself walk around the room. Then I went into the hall. This made the staff uneasy, I told them that I had to do it. That I would not fall and would call for help if I couldn't make it back to my room. I walked, and walked and walked. Every step was hard, it hurt but I refused to admit that I wouldn't be able to walk again. I could only hear out of one ear at this time, they told me it would I would probably never hear out of my other ear and I was lucky to be hearing at all. The nurses that I guess had been really short to me and family in the days before were really nice and kept giving me those little ice cream dishes that come in the Styrofoam bowl with the cardboard top you pull off. It was the best thing I had ever tasted it seemed like. I don't remember if it was the next day or the day after I got released from the hospital. I was really mad that I had to leave in a wheelchair, but I was on the top floor it took about 20 minutes or so to get to the exit. I made it home and was exhausted, it took months to get my stamina back. As far as I can tell I have had an almost normal life so far. There is no way for me to tell what long term effects that this will have on me in the future. Or if I will have any at all. My heart goes out the whom ever wrote this first store, and thank him for his strength. I wish that no one ever had ever get this disease again. They told me that only about 2-4% of people live through it and to make it through with little to no side effects was all but unheard of. .

Posted on 29 October 2012

Comment by Jessica Gregg

I was born in 1970, and got spinal meningitis in 1987. It ruined the rest of my life. The entire right side of my face was ruined. I am the optimality of what meningitis can do to a teenager.

Posted on 10 April 2012

Comment by Stephanie Leah Davis

I was diagnosed with bacterial spinal meningitis and encephalitis on April 29th, 2011. I remember trying to sleep the night before, my head was hurting and I would find a comfortable position for a few moments until my husband would shift positions in bed and cause my head to hurt so bad I would cry out. I thought it was just a migraine, so the next morning I got up carefully and moved gently around getting dressed for traffic court. My aunt picked me up that morning and took me to the courthouse and I cringed every time she would begin to speak. The last lucid thought I can remember is telling the guy sitting on the bench beside me in the court room that I had a migraine. Somehow I made it home, even eating part of a sausage biscuit on the way. I was so hot when I got home that I stripped off all my clothes and crawled back into the bed with my husband. From then on there are vague flashes of memory that I can recall, like my husband getting up complaining about my crying, my mom saying that I was running a fever, my son asking me if I was okay, that's all I can recall of the 3 hours I laid in the bed before the EMT's arrived and asked how long I had had the rash...What rash? I wanted to ask. I'm told I screamed the entire trip to the hospital. The last thing I saw were small hands holding mine above my chest and a woman telling me to pull myself up. My next memory is hearing a sweet, unfamiliar voice saying "Welcome Back. You gave us quite a scare." I had been in a coma for 3 days. My family and neighbors had been quarantined and my husband, who only left my side once to take a shower, was told to make funeral arrangements, my parents were brought in to say their final goodbyes. When I was coherent my doctor came into my isolation chamber in the Critical Care Unit, an ear-to-ear smile on his face. He never let me out of his sight once I was sent to the CCU until I was wheeled out of the hospital on May 3rd, 2011, only one day after waking up. I was told that I had only a 4% chance of survival... I had beat the odds. It will soon be the one year anniversary of my ordeal, May 3rd my new birthday. I still don't know what after affects to expect or the extent of the brain damage. I have lost the ability to do any math more complex than addition, and I cannot recognize many people who were close to me, even some family members are strangers to me. I have gazing seizures, and strange, vivid dreams that disturb my sleep. I'm just happy to be alive!

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