Jen Johnston

I woke up in a start - hands strapped down, blurred vision, and unable to speak.  I looked up – it was the same fuzzy room I had been dreaming about overnight. Or maybe I hadn’t been dreaming at all. I looked over and saw my husband next to me. He was holding my hand, and he looked scared but happy. Only moments before, I’d come to find out, my body had been pumped full of fentanyl and when they stopped the flow I would either awaken or I wouldn’t.

My Story

I tried to talk to my husband but quickly realized I had been intubated. I stared at him intently – maybe if I stared deeply enough he could read my mind? A doctor soon said, “You’re in the ICU,” and released my right hand so I could write something. This was the moment of truth for the doctors – was I brain damaged?

I wrote only one word – glasses. And with that, my husband handed them over and made the world come back into focus for me, and the doctors knew more hurdles had been overcome – I could see, write, and hear.

I was on more steroids, antibiotics, pain medications, blood thinners, and fluids than I could count. I would spend ten days total in the hospital and be on IV drugs for an additional six weeks at home. This natural-minded woman grew to love and respect the conventional medicine that saved my life.

How did I end up here? What monstrous illness or injury spurred this kind of medical emergency?

A simple ear infection.

A week before, I had just mild symptoms of illness – a sore throat mostly. My left ear had been filled with fluid for a while, but that was typical for me. I got used to not being able to hear well, though I’m not sure my coworkers and family members were particularly fond of it. “What did you say?” had become my automatic response. And yet it was more of an inconvenience than anything I thought would affect my health.

By the end of the week, my ear began to ache and my head started to throb. It came on so suddenly that I left work in the middle of a Friday afternoon meeting to head to the closest retail clinic. I was given a Z-pak® and headed home with probably the worst headache I’d ever experienced. Throughout the weekend I had body aches and fever spikes. But that was just part of being sick, I thought. I did laundry, took rest breaks here and there, and did the typical weekend routine. While trying to figure out what else was wrong with me I ran across flu and meningitis, but I didn’t think it was that – I didn’t have the telltale rash.

On Monday, my husband and I were supposed to take our daughter for her 6 month check-up but he couldn’t rouse me. Thinking I just needed more sleep (and frankly a little annoyed that I was “ignoring” him), he took her alone. After they returned he tried to awaken me again, and this is when he realized something was very wrong. Thanks to his quick thinking, he called my folks and took my temperature – 105. They soon realized they could not get me down the stairs and dialled 911. Off I went to the hospital where after a battery of tests (all while I was unconscious) I was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis, a bacterial meningitis caused by streptococcus pneumoniae. No wonder I didn’t have the telltale rash – that’s a different type of meningitis!

I didn’t awaken until Tuesday.

1 in 5
Individuals affected by Meningitis live with permanent damage
Of all individuals affected by Meningitis die

Somehow I survived these odds. So many things went in my favor – quick thinking husband, smart doctors starting me on the right antibiotics before meningitis was confirmed, and a whole lot of prayer. A lot went on in the hospital and during my recovery at home – allergy to certain antibiotics, PICC line issues, etc., but I won’t bore you with all the details. I am 5 months post meningitis and basically recovered, and that is a miracle in my eyes.

By Jen Johnston, CHHC

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