Jennifer Anstiss's Story

My story began with an ear infection on March 12th, 2007 during a family trip to Hawaii. At 8:00 at night, my left ear started to get sore and after an afternoon of swimming in our hotel pool I assumed perhaps I had the start of an ear infection. As my temperature began to slowly increase, my husband and I thought we had better go to the local emergency and have it looked at. I was seen quickly, given ear drops and pain medication and was told to go home and get some sleep.

The next morning at 8:00 am, I had the most incredible pain in my head. I was sick to my stomach and found the light coming in through the windows really hard to tolerate. No stranger to ear infections, I thought it was just a side effect from the pain. I took the pain medication that had been prescribed and lay down for a nap while my husband and five year old daughter went off to swim. By the time they returned at 2:00, I was hard to wake up. My husband called the doctor who assured him that because I was sensitive to medications, I was probably just really feeling the effects of the pain killers. Two hours later I became sick to my stomach again. When I became unresponsive, my husband trusted his own judgment, ignored the doctor’s previous advice and called an ambulance. I was quickly taken to another hospital nearby.

By the time I reached the hospital, I was unconscious. The doctors immediately recognized that I had mastoiditus, an acute infection of the bone behind the ear, as a result of the ear infection having rapidly spread. I was then also diagnosed with sinusitis and I was given a spinal tap. It was then confirmed that I had bacterial meningitis and the real fight began. I hit a 106 degree temperature, my blood pressure dropped, I went into convulsions, I developed septicemia and my organs began to fail. Counselors at the hospital prepared my husband for the fact that I was not going to make it. They began to work with him to let him know that they would help him figure out what needed to happen in order to bring my body home. Eventually things took a slight turn for the better and while the doctors said I would survive, they prepared my husband for the fact that that I would most likely have permanent damage and would probably never recover any degree of independent functioning. However, on March 21st, after 8 days in a coma and on my husband’s birthday, I miraculously woke up and began talking as if nothing had happened. The neurologist was shocked!

I was very weak once I woke up I could not even turn my head without someone doing it for me. I had paralysis on the right side of my face and I had a great deal of trouble processing language. I also had a hard time finding the words for what I wanted to say. I had a great deal of trouble with my balance and needed a walker and then a cane to get myself walking again. Every time I passed the nurse’s station I could see the look of amazement on their faces and it wasn’t until later that I learned they were shocked because they had been preparing my husband for flying my body back home. Instead, with a lot of encouragement and support from my family, I began the journey back to home and health.

The hospital in Hawaii put a Pic line in and I remained on IV medications until May 14th of that year. The doctors were waiting for a positive MRI showing that the infection in the bone in my head had cleared. Once I got home I was able to really work on my language processing issues. Ironically my job as a special education teacher came in really handy there. I was able to begin to get some of my old life back. I still have some problems with headaches and fatigue, as well as a moderate hearing loss in my left ear. I have a great deal of difficulty with my balance and crowds and loud noises are not my friends, but I have done far better than anyone ever expected. Everyday I am grateful to be able to wake up and function as independently as I do. I enjoy every extra moment I have been given with my extremely supportive husband and my busy twelve year old. I take nothing for granted and each breath I get to take is a blessing. Meningitis certainly changed my life. I am not on the journey I was planning for, but I am learning to slow down, be grateful for what I have been given and to enjoy the world through new eyes!

I wanted to share my experience with others to send the message that no matter what you are told to expect as the best case for recovery - that only needs to be a starting point. How far you can go is up to you! That is my story!

Jennifer Anstiss
Mississauga, Ontario