Very Sick, Very Fast

10 Mar

Meningococcal disease comes out of the blue. One day you have a healthy child and then the next day they’re fighting for their life. If left untreated, the disease can progress rapidly and kill an otherwise healthy person in 48 hours or less.

Meningococcal Disease Progression Timeline

Here are just a few first-hand accounts of the suddenness and shock of someone you love or a patient you are treating becoming very sick, very fast:

  • I was lying in the bed with Kim when she said “My ankles feel like they’re bleeding.” Within minutes she could not get up, could not get dressed. – Patti Wukovits, RN, mother of Kimberly, died at age 17
  • When she came in, her fever was about 100 to 101. She was cheerful and smiling. She looked fine and said she was feeling better than she had the night before. We were cautious because we’d already had meningococcal cases on campus, so we took blood and sent her to the emergency room. She did not have a rash when we sent her, but just a few minutes later when she arrived at the ER, the first spots were appearing on her skin and she went rapidly downhill from there. – Peter Johnsen, MD, Director of Medical Services, Princeton University
  • There was no time or possibility for a missed diagnosis for Stephanie. She went to bed earlier than normal one night because she felt very tired. The next morning when she didn’t turn off her alarm, her sorority sisters found her unresponsive in her bed. Stephanie was rushed to the hospital where she died after several hours of trying to revive her. She was just 19. – Stephen and Beverly Ross, parents of Stephanie, died at age 19

This speed is part of what makes this disease so frightening—it also makes prevention critical. Let’s make sure all teens receive the vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y as recommended at age 11-12 and again at 16, and talk to a healthcare provider about getting #BVaccinated.


This post is part of the #BVaccinated series based on NMA’s report, Beyond the Science: Putting a Face on Meningococcal Disease. As national policy regarding serogroup B meningococcal vaccination is discussed and implemented, NMA urges all those involved to consider these perspectives. We believe that routinely vaccinating our children against this disease is the right thing to do.

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4 Responses to “Very Sick, Very Fast”

  1. John Brennan March 11, 2015 at 4:54 am #

    I’m not a teen, but allow me to share my experience with the meningitis timeline. I developed symptoms from bacterial meningitis on the day after my 44th birthday. Doctors say I probably contracted the illness about three days before symptoms started.

    I started my shift at a pharmacy at 10am. At about noon, I began to get a headache. By 12:15pm, my headache was severe- by 12:30pm, I collapsed in a corner. I continued to hope that it was just a severe migraine and waited for it to pass.

    About 12:45pm, I agreed to have my coworkers call 911. By this point, I was beginning to suffer cognitive issues- I would not have been capable of dialing 911 on my own. I remember that the light was tremendously painful. I remember feeling the July heat as I was wheeled into the ambulance. I remember a doctor offering the possibility of a spinal tap. I remember a slight pinch on my spine from a needle. Then, nothing.

    I struggled in intensive care for several days, apparently, delirious and combative. I’m told that I suffered greatly during this time, as did my family. Somewhere after four days or so (according to the calendar), I remember being in a dark room- my Dad was there and he put me on a cell phone to my sister. I remember thinking that her phone was broken because I couldn’t understand her.

    There were hallucinations for weeks afterward. It took months to regain my strength. Now, nearly two years later, I have rare hallucinations, occasional vertigo and moderate retrograde amnesia. I’ve returned to work at the pharmacy and have even returned to the stage as an actor and musician. Believe it or not, I am even writing a book (I had written one before my illness, my next one is due out next February.) and I’m trying to schedule an appearance in a television pilot being filmed in Boston!

    I thank a tremendous team of doctors at Newport Hospital who really saved my life! My heart goes out to everyone whose outcome has not been so positive and I hope that I can offer hope to those survivors who are struggling. My recovery has been tremendous and will be ongoing for years to come.

    With all of our focus on the patient, we must remember to keep an eye on the family, especially children who are witness to this. My youngest daughter was almost 6 when I got sick. What she overheard from the daily reports of doom that got worse with each passing day was that I had died. One day, after I had returned home, she timidly asked, “Dad, are you a zombie?” I made sure to include her in my recovery. One day, with my arms full and my balance still poor, I managed to get my PICC line tangled on a gate. She rushed over to help, saying, “Dad, I’ve got it.” We are part of each others’ recovery.

  2. Janet Evans March 11, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    Janet Evans

    Lost her 22 year old daughter, Nicole | Iowa

    Our beautiful 22 year old daughter Nicole was born in Cedar Rapids IA on August 1, 1981 and died May 10, 2004 from bacterial meningitis. College graduation & finals were drawing near and Nicki was fighting a cold. To relieve some stress, she went out with her friends on a Saturday night. Sunday morning she did not feel well and thus our nightmare began. Nicki called us the morning of Mother’s Day to say that she had a headache, sore throat, ached all over and had a temperature of 100.8°. We advised her to see a doctor but she felt it was the flu and just wanted to rest. Early evening, her boyfriend called to say that she was much worse and needed to go to the hospital. She fought us in our attempt to get her out of bed because her body ached – it hurt just to touch her. We noticed a purple spot about the size of a dime on her middle finger but she had no idea of its cause.

    Nicki needed a wheelchair upon our hospital arrival. Her color was pale and her face carried a blank expression. Once in the examination room, Nicki could not lay still, she was in constant motion with pain, her breathing was labored, her feet were very cold and the purple spot on the tip of her finger now engulfed her entire finger.

    The doctor suspected meningitis and wanted to do a spinal tap. The result of the tap was negative and the doctor feared it was bacterial meningitis that had possibly spread into her blood system and her chances of survival would be slim.

    Our world fell apart. The doctor said that the next 24 hours would be the most critical and again stressed the dangers and fatality rate of the disease that had invaded her bloodstream so quickly. We noticed also that the purple rash had now spread to other areas of her body. We later learned that this rash (septicemia) is a result of the poison destroying her veins and the blood seeping out under the skin.

    We were hanging on to dear life and it was slipping away rapidly. Nicki’s eyes were beginning to roll back into her head and she was not responding to our voice or touch. She took one big breath and then no more. They immediately began CPR. After several attempts of reviving Nicki, the doctor told us the disease was overpowering her heart and shutting down other organs as well. They eventually discontinued CPR and our precious daughter was gone just six hours after we had brought her in. She died within 15 hours of the onset of this relentless disease.

    As with most other meningitis cases, we have no idea how she contracted it, but we suspect that since her immune system was weakened from her cold that she was more susceptible. The doctors told us not to blame ourselves for not seeking treatment earlier. Bacterial meningitis symptoms mimic the flu and she would probably have been sent home with some antibiotics. We were not aware that a vaccine was available to help prevent this. We can only hope that as time goes on and research and training improves, that doctors will readily promote the vaccine and be able to recognize and treat the disease immediately with positive results. No other child or family should suffer the effects of this fast-moving illness. If we had known about the vaccine, our daughter would be celebrating life today.

    Many days have gone by and the empty hole in our heart will never mend. Please immunize your loved ones because there is no getting over the loss of a child.

  3. Stephanie March 11, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    We can now get protection from Meningitis B in the USA and UK – Trumenba and Bexsero, respectively.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Difficult Diagnosis | - April 10, 2015

    […] Early symptoms of meningococcal disease can be non-specific and similar to those of other illnesses like flu. However, as we’ve mentioned before, meningitis can then make someone very sick, very fast. […]

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