PSA – it might not be the flu

I was 19 and finishing up my first year at the university. I was on top of the world and looking forward to spending the rest of the summer in Massachusetts with my best friend. She was an only child and I felt like she was my cousin or sister more than my friend. We knew each other since we were in diapers. To have a vacation or a holiday celebration without her and her mom was unthinkable.

Exam week rolled around. I was in a panic about physics, German, calculus, English essays, piano recitals, which all came to a screeching halt when I called home to my parents to let them know I was done with my exams for the day. It’s weird when they ask you where you are and ask that you not go anywhere. We’re coming to pick you up immediately?

I dug a little deeper trying to get them to talk through their tears and all I got was “Diana is dead.”

Silence. I started hyperventilating. What the hell? How?

“She got really sick and died within 24 hours. The police have her dorm sectioned off. They’re still trying to figure out what happened.”

“Last night she called her mom to say she wasn’t feeling good. It was more than the flu. Her mom rushed down in time to find her roommates performing CPR and Diana coming in and out of consciousness. Her legs started to turn black and her mom rocked her in her arms. She died in her mother’s arms.”

More details emerged as the days went on. It was bacterial meningitis. Suddenly her dorm, her sorority, her church were all being vaccinated. THERE’S A VACCINE AND SHE DIDN’T GET IT???!!!!!! They wondered if she picked it up sharing a drink with someone at a party or at communion. Meningitis can be passed through a person’s oral secretions, so kissing is more likely, but they weren’t ruling out a friend saying “Hey, this tastes really good. Wanna sip?”

The funeral sucked. My father sang Ave Maria and a few other songs from the balcony. He was so choked up he couldn’t watch the pulpit and turned around backwards to let his voice carry up and over the cathedral ceiling and down to the mourners. The whole time he thought, “I feel like she was my daughter too. I held her when she was a baby and watched her grow up into a beautiful young woman for 19 years.”

What you should know:

  • it looks like the flu, except your neck hurts or is stiff or you may be confused
  • it takes 3 Einsteins to recognize it. Some doctors only look for it when they’ve seen it before or you mention the right symptoms.
  • by the time you start to show non-flu symptoms it may be too late – get to the doctor immediately
  • you can have brain damage, hearing loss, loss of limbs, learning disabilities, slip into a coma, or die if left untreated for too long
  • there are vaccines for this
  • dorms, universities, military bases are hot beds for this kind of infection

Meningitis in the news:

Why am I mentioning this?

She died in her mother’s arms the week before Mother’s Day. It’s been 17 years and this week always kicks me in the chest.


Published by Andrea Lee Bishop

Andrea (pronounced On-dree-ah) leads Automattic's Support Leads and works in hiring. She's a fixer, traveler, mom, math geek, aspiring-polyglot, musician, and coffee lover.

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