My son Dash was your typical high school athlete, excelling in basketball, football, water polo, and tennis. When he turned 18, it was finally time for him to leave our nest. His older siblings (3 brothers and 1 sister) were long gone. The front room was packed up with all his stuff, he was ready and excited to head off to college and dorm life at Chico State to study business. It was mid- August, so this was his last week at home.
Dash feels sick
On Friday he woke up feeling sick, with a fever and vomiting. I did what mom’s do. I gave him ibuprofen and some 7 Up and told him I’d check in with him when I could. That day at work I was at a conference, and I texted him around 10 am to get an update. He told me if anything, he was feeling worse and now had the runs and body aches like he’d never had before. Naturally, I was worried. I came home for lunch to check on him and decided to stay. I was giving him ibuprofen and Tylenol, but the fever wasn’t going away and he couldn’t hold anything down. I assumed this must be flu and called the advice nurse to see if we could get Tami-Flu, figuring quick action would be best. The nurse asked if Dash could move his neck side to side and then chin to chest. He moved a little, but not much. At that point, the nurse consulted with the ER doctor and they advised us to come in right away. They wanted to rule out meningitis.
My husband Scott was home with us, and we got into the car and headed for the ER. We were nervous but we really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what meningitis was, but I knew it sounded bad. Really, all I knew was Dash had always been very healthy and now he seemed pretty sick. I just couldn’t get over how this whole thing was just so “out of the blue.”
While we were in the ER, they did all kinds of tests like CT scans and ultrasounds. They took blood and stool samples. They started him on IV antibiotics. I’d never seen so many wires and tubes before. We got there at 6 pm, and by 2am, they were transferring my boy to the ICU. We were not going home.
We were all so tired and at this point and really, really scared. There were at least seven doctors, nurses and technicians gathered around Dash. It felt like an episode of some TV hospital drama, except it was real; it was us. Dash was so severely dehydrated that his kidneys had started to shut down. They were rehydrating him with an IV, giving him another medication through a centerline right into his neck to keep his blood pressure up. I could hear and see him gagging with dry heaves over and over for hours.
It was excruciating to watch my youngest son lay there helpless. The doctors weren’t yet sure what the problem was, but they were using scary words like “sepsis” and “septic shock.” It was terrifying and I felt completely vulnerable. I really thought I was gonna lose him. Scott and I didn’t leave. We slept on the couch in his ICU room for two nights, although there wasn’t much sleep.
It was Sunday when we finally got the result. The Infectious Disease Specialist came to talk to me. I’ll never forget what that doctor said and the look on his face. He told me, “Your son is very sick. He has the kind of meningitis where you’re here one day and not here the next.”
Apparently, the kind was bacterial meningitis type B.
At that point I nearly broke down. I really didn’t know anything about meningitis, but I realized Dash’s life was at stake. I thought about the boxes back at home all packed and ready for his dorm, his plans for college. Dash’s whole future could end at any moment. As a parent, it’s the worst feeling you can ever have. It was hard to even understand the medical treatment and jargon when I was in such a state. Basically, they had to treat him aggressively with IV antibiotics and hope that it would be enough to fight the infection invading his body and trying to shut down his organs.
There was a 48-hour quarantine on visitors for infection control, but after that his brothers and sister came to visit. He was transferred out of ICU to a regular hospital room after the first two days. Dash was beginning to get better. We continued to sleep at the hospital on pullout sofas in Dash’s room, just ducking home to shower. Friends started coming. That was wonderful. He really got a lot of support. In all, he was in the hospital for a week and still left with several days of antibiotic treatment that my husband I would have to give him intravenously.
Dash’s family’s message about meningitis b and vaccination
If there’s a silver lining to Dash’s experience, it’s that we learned about the Meningitis B vaccine. When we went over his health records, we saw that Dash was up to date on his immunizations including the meningitis ACWY booster shot, which he’d only just received as a senior in high school at age 17. So really, we assumed we’d done everything right. We thought we were covered for whatever he needed. But no one had ever recommended the meningitis B vaccine. Now, because of Dash’s experience, his friends all know about the “MenB” vaccine, and we are making it our mission to let other families know too. If the doctor doesn’t bring it up, you can ask for it! Dash’s story could have come out differently. He could have died or had a permanent disability. As it turned out, he only missed his first day of college. We are forever grateful to still have him with us.
Our message is: Don’t take good health for granted; get your teen both the meningitis ACWY and the MenB vaccines!
Tina, Dash’s mom
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