Experience Report: Viral Meningitis

2017/07/31

A few weeks ago I experienced some mild stomach cramps that reminded me of food poisoning at the beginning of the week. As the week dragged on the stomach cramps came and went. I figured it was just mild food poisoning, and it’d be gone soon enough. I chewed some bismuth subsalicylate tablets and didn’t think too much more about it.

At the end of the week there was a small bit of lethargy that I experienced, enough to make me go home early from work.

On Saturday I still felt a bit lethargic, and as night approached I recall having a mild headache. Saturday is the day I cite as the beginning of my viral meningitis journey.

I woke up in the middle of the night with an intensely pounding, very painful headache. Probably the worst I’ve ever had. I had a glass of water with some ibuprofen and managed to get back to bed, clutching my forehead.

Viral meningitis affects the layer between the bone layer of your skull and the gray matter, the meninges. This layer becomes inflamed, which results in a number of awful side effects. There is no treatment, and in my case it wreaked havoc on my body for 10 days before it began to abate.

The only test for viral meningitis is a lumbar puncture (LP).

The symptoms I experienced were:

Each day I would wake up feeling incredibly lethargic. Part of this was from lack of sleep: I often slept in 20-30 minute intervals due to the pain of the headache throughout the night. I’d drink some water with some pills if it was time for it, making sure not to drink too much. My eyes would hurt, not necessarily from the pain of light, but every part of the socket would hurt in different ways. Behind my eyes would hurt, so I couldn’t move my eyes around much. My eye sockets and temples would already be randomly smarting in pain. I’d have a fever, probably of 99.5-100.3. And then I’d spend the rest of the day trying to find a comfortable position on any of my chairs, couch, or bed, never really finding anything that worked. I spent a lot of time sleeping, or trying to sleep.

I ended up visiting an ER about 5 days in, which is where I got my diagnosis. It was there I was told that, as there is no treatment, the best thing to do was to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen alternately every 3 hours. Note: these medications barely helped me, if at all.

The first day I felt any good at all was day 10, yesterday. I’m still not 100%: my spine and scalp still hurt, the wincing eye socket pains are still there. Other than that, most everything else has subsided to manageable levels.

In the past I have had severe, crippling food poisoning with many of the same symptoms, though much more acutely manifested, and usually lasting only for a night or so.

My episode of viral meningitis was worse than any food poisoning I’d had previously because it lasted so long, and left me feeling both exhausted and in constant pain for over a week.

I hope you never have to experience it or anything like it.