Rakan, a 22-year-old student, describes so openly and movingly how he felt after he was diagnosed with meningitis – and in particular how it felt as he waited to find out which type of the disease he had. As we near Christmas, here, in his own words, he offers his story up as a “gift” to us all.
“I am a 4th-year university student in political science and a social worker. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to take this Fall semester off. Being away from college actually turned out not too bad; it was made possible for me to be reunited with my family back home, resting as well as improving my French."
“On November 3, I started having mild headaches and temperature. They were occasional but constant - especially the fever, as I would feel cold for about an hour or so, then it would go away - which made me think it wasn't anything serious. I took one Advil pill thinking it would help, but the fever would come back and go away several times a day."
“However, on November 4, the inconsistent pattern of fever started to be accompanied by a mild headache that would not go away, no matter what I did. I rested, took Advil and avoided noise as much as I could. Nothing seemed to help. I was really shocked as it was the first time that Advil proved completely unhelpful."
“As the day came to a close, around 9pm, I started to have photophobia, which made me believe I was just sleepy. I was too occupied by the discomfort to further investigate my situation. I felt very annoyed by any source of light. I turned off the light in the room and laid down, helplessly. I couldn't even use my phone anymore to check the time. The headache at this point started to turn into a severe one."
“Due to lack of awareness about meningitis, I thought I was only tired and needed to sleep. My mom started to notice how exhausted I became in the dark room; she tried to help but I managed to convince her I was only very tired, so I climbed the staircase and went to my bedroom to sleep thinking everything would be normal when I wake up."
“While I easily fell asleep due to pain and fatigue, I woke up 5 hours later, at 6am with a very severe headache. It was so acute that I thought I was going to die. It was so painful, so violent, so bad. I kept thinking it was due to lack of sleep, so I tried to ignore it and slept for an extra hour. But I woke up exactly one hour later at 7am."
“Things got even worse. The violence that was going on made me terrorised. I was panicking. I tried to get up and walk. It was so difficult to walk, though I managed to take some steps and use the toilet. As I was headed back to my bed, I passed out on the floor and fell on my face. I literally fainted, though the sudden fall made me conscious immediately as my face was hitting floor."
“I was lucky enough my nose didn't get broken by the violent collapse. My lips were bleeding. I called the ambulance who rushed me to the hospital. The photophobia at this point was at its worst. I don't even remember how the nurses looked like. I closed my eyes. Light was too uncomfortable, it was intolerable."
“The neurologist told me I needed a lumbar puncture in order to diagnose my illness. I immediately accepted her recommendation; I had no other choice. It was a painful procedure. But the neurologist was very compassionate. I was touched by how much compassion she had towards me."
“After three hours, the result was out: I had viral meningitis. The doctor told me I had to be hospitalized for 14 to 21 days. I was in a complete shock. What about school? What about my brain? Will meningitis affect my brain? The doctor told me she couldn't confirm anything without further lab testing of my spinal fluid."
“Like a child, like a newborn baby in front of my mother, I started to helplessly cry. It was really the most painful situation I went through in my whole life. It was so dark, so depressing. I couldn't help but asking myself: What about my studies? What about my dreams? Will I have memory loss? Will I forget the languages I learned? Why is life so harsh on me?"
Life flashed before my eyes
“It was so painful. I was in agony. I felt like I saw my life flash before my eyes; game over. What about grad school? I kept crying. I was so desperate. I told my mother, who was next to me, that I needed to hug her. It felt like I wanted to be an infant, I felt like I wanted her to take me back to her womb away from this world. We hugged for minutes. My mother has always been so loving, so caring. She would always love me with my imperfections. A heart of gold. Without her, God only knows what would have happened to me on that sad day. I have never felt more vulnerable in my life."
“I was so impatient for the further lab testing results. I really wanted to know if I had the kind of meningitis which would have some consequences in the future. Four days after, the result was out. It was negative! The doctor came over to my room in the hospital on that day, I remember her voice: Rakan, I have good news for you, do you want to hear it? It turned out all the fear, depression and helplessness I had were for no reason necessary. Things turned out way less bad than I thought. My doctor told me I am good to go right after I finish my antivirals course."
“It has been a few weeks since I was discharged from the hospital and things are normal. I am good to be back to school this January. Here is my message to those reading my story: NEVER GIVE UP. No matter how tough things are, there is hope."
“I really wanted to share my story to raise awareness and to let know everybody they are not alone. My gift to all of you is this little story. Please take advantage of it and learn from my experience: don't ignore a persistent headache! Always call your family doctor as soon as it doesn't go away after a few hours! Sending you love, Rakan.”