Meningitis is one of those terrifying diseases you hear about, but assume you’ll never actually have to deal with. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Krystle Beauchamp Grindley, who developed bacterial meningitis when she was just 19.
Grindley was a student at the University of New Orleans at the time, and says that she woke up on the first day of spring semester feeling off. “I just felt out of it and I was lethargic,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew I wasn’t feeling well.”
Still, Grindley had classes to go to, so she made the decision to “plug through it.” But a few hours later, she realized that her health had gotten much worse. “I could barely walk and I had a splitting headache,” she recalls. “It was hard to keep my eyes open. I had chills and it was debilitating. I knew something was wrong.” She left the class she was in at the time, laid down on a bench outside, and called her father, who was still in town after dropping her off for the semester.
“He got there, looked at me and saw something wasn’t right, and decided to take me to the ER,” Grindley says. She was so sick at that point that she couldn’t walk — her father had to carry her to the car.
"It was just like a TV show."
Once Grindley arrived at the ER, she was seen quickly by doctors. “It was just like a TV show,” she says. “There was a flurry of activity once people realized my symptoms. They quickly put together that I could have meningitis.”
She was given a series of tests, including a spinal tap and CT scan, and was asked to try to touch her chin to her chest, which she wasn’t able to do. She was quickly diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a serious and potentially deadly infection. Bacterial meningitis causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, fever, headache, neck stiffness, and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People can die from the condition within hours.
Grindley had heard of meningitis before and, when she was given her diagnosis, she says her first question was, “Am I going to die?” Her doctor’s response: “We’re doing everything we can.” “At that point, I realized it was not a good situation,” she says. Grindley says she immediately began treatment, which included “a very strong cocktail” of IV antibiotics.
She ended up spending several weeks in the hospital, where she was continuously treated with IV antibiotics and monitored. “In hindsight, I was very lucky because as soon as I started to feel unwell, I got to the hospital,” she says. “That probably saved my life.”
She began suffering some side effects of her condition, including having hearing loss at times. “Meningitis attacks different parts of your body, and doctors were monitoring that and treating things as they flared up,” she says.
Grindley says she was “pretty much quarantined” while she was in the hospital, and she had to wear a mask at all times. She eventually was discharged, but her health didn’t immediately recover. A few days later, Grindley started having symptoms that felt like she was having a heart attack. “I couldn’t breathe and had a lot of intense pain,” she says. She was taken back to the hospital, where tests revealed that her gallbladder was swollen and ready to rupture as a complication of meningitis. So, she was treated for that and eventually discharged again.
A slow return to normal
Life didn't go back to normal right away. Grindley had a home healthcare nurse, was still on antibiotics, and had to see an infectious disease doctor regularly. “It took a very long time to get to a place where I was functional,” she says. “I was very tired all the time and I struggled to get back to normal.” While Grindley’s health has largely returned, she said she still has some complications with her gallbladder and liver.
Doctors don’t know how Grindley developed bacterial meningitis in the first place, but she did have a bad ear infection beforehand. “They don’t know if I contracted meningitis through the ear infection, or if the ear infection was a symptom,” she says.
Grindley also distinctly remembers not getting the meningococcal vaccine — which can help protect against several strains of bacteria that can cause meningitis — when it was offered to her at her doctor’s office before she left for college. It’s a decision she now regrets. “It was optional and, at the time, I was scared of needles,” she says. “I said to my parents, ‘No one gets meningitis. It’s not a big deal. I don’t need to get this shot.’ If I would have gotten it, I probably wouldn’t have gone through what I did.”
Now, Grindley does advocacy work for the National Meningitis Association to try to help raise awareness of the disease and the importance of getting the meningococcal vaccine. “This is an opportunity to potentially save your life,” she says. “It’s just one shot. If I had known what I was about to go through, I absolutely would have gotten it.”
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