The 23 state-wide fungal meningitis outbreak caused by tainted steroid injections given to people who have chronic back pain has already killed five people.
The good news is that this particular strain of meningitis isn't NEARLY as contagious as the more common forms of meningitis, which I've seen during my shifts as a floor nurse.
The bad news is that as a nurse, there's nothing NOT terrifying about a meningitis outbreak.
The first thing I remember, walking into the room of Rose*, a college student who'd been the first in her crowded dorm to come down with a nasty case of bacterial meningitis, was how dark the room was. I knew that Rose had meningitis, and as a fellow migraine sufferer, I knew what a darkened room meant -- the girl couldn't be under the lights without excruciating pain.
I was already sweating underneath what I called my "HazMat" suit, but she lay there in bed, hardly moving, the room as quiet as a hospital room was.
I tried not to wake her as I took her vital signs and replaced her IV bag, but I wasn't swift enough and Rose woke up as I was changing out her bag of IV antibiotics.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, sympathetically, my breath fogging up the mask I was wearing, knowing full-well that she had to be utterly miserable. Meningitis is no joke -- it's a very serious illness, and poor Rose was still on the brink. No one knew if she'd recover from meningitis.
Apparently, Rose knew this too.
"Scared," she whispered before dry-heaving into the basin beside her. I grabbed the basin and rubbed her forehead, burning with fever. After I rinsed it out, I came and sat by Rose and held her hand, trying to bring her back to the world and allow her some contact with another human being. Because of the contamination precautions associated with any meningitis outbreak, she'd been alone in the room, save for a few techs, doctors, and nurses. I couldn't imagine how terrifying she must've felt -- a dire diagnosis and no one save for hospital personnel around to comfort her.
"I know," I whispered back, rubbing her hand with my gloved hand. "I know." I said again, as she fell back asleep in her bed, the sheets wet with her sweat.
I don't know how long we sat there like that, holding hands as she alternated between sleeping and keeping her eyes closed to stave off the dizziness. It had to have been at least a half an hour, which, as a floor nurse, was a lot longer than I had to sit around. As soon as I was certain she'd gone back to sleep, I made my way out of her room and took off my HazMat suit, looking back once at her sleeping figure.
"Poor thing," I muttered, as I moved on to my next patient.
I saw her on and off over the next few days, but as I was working three 12-hour shifts, my "weekend" happened to fall during something pivotal.
Rose began to get better.
I was just coming on-shift as I saw her being wheeled out by one of the techs, her parents smiling the sort of smile you have when you know you've just come back from the brink. And survived. I smiled as she rolled past me.
"Stop," she said to the tech. "I have to say goodbye."
Rose slowly stood up, her body still a bit shaky, and turned to me, still dressed in my winter coat. She opened up her arms and wrapped them around me.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "Thank you for being so kind." I teared up as I said goodbye to a happy ending -- the sort of thing we nurses live for.
I can only hope that the people affected by this meningitis outbreak will be as lucky as Rose.
*Names have been changed.
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