What You Learn to Say When You Can’t Speak (Or My Dance with Viral Meningitus)

Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges.  The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms and less commonly by certain drugs.  Meningitis can be life-threatening because of the inflammation’s proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore the condition is classified as a medical emergency.”

All I know is that I went to bed Monday around noon and slept until Tuesday morning.  I also know that when I awoke on Tuesday my wife discovered that not only could I not come up with answers to her simple questions, when I did try to speak it was a random mix of consonants and vowels (although our daughter, who is 16 months, seemed to be tracking with me).

Between the time I woke up on Tuesday until I got to the hospital that afternoon, I have a few memories scattered here and there. I don’t remember getting to the hospital, but I remember being in the waiting room. I remember going back to get checked in at the ER, but I don’t remember talking to anyone or sitting in a room while they looked me over.

Over the next several hours I went through a bunch of tests and blood draws. I was asked questions my 5-year-old would’ve aced – “Honey, what is your name?” “Sweetie what is your birthdate?” “Can you tell me the date today?” Most of which I could not answer. Penny, was certain I had a stroke.  I could not read, or explain myself, the best I could do many times was to look at Penny (with tears in her eyes) and shrug my shoulders.

It’s not that I didn’t know I couldn’t speak. When I tried to answer questions, I could hear myself saying things that were wrong, I just couldn’t make them right. Question after question, each time a nurse or doctor came into a room.

Long story short, they said I was the healthiest-sick patient they had seen in a while. The tests all came back negative, and they told me I had a virus. No, not the really bad one, just a sort of bad one. With some fluids, rest, and a medley of antibiotics and antiviral medications, I began to come around. Soon after that I was able to speak again. And eventually, a couple of days later, I was able to answer the age-old question: “honey, can you tell me the date today?

So that’s it. My dance with viral meningitis. It’s amazing how you wake up one day and find yourself scrambling to make sense of the next turn in your life. It comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quick. As I think about all that has happened, I can tell you that there has been no “near-death” experience that has completely altered the course of my life.  For me, this experience was another clear reminder that life changes quickly, and it’s only when you cannot speak that you find what you really want to say.  For me, I had a chance to talk more with my Dad while he was here. We talked about all kinds of things – life, kids, wives, politics, childhood, and the church. I had a chance to seek forgiveness and speak words of gratitude.

I recently met with a man who is entering the last stages of his life. He said if he had to do it all again, he would try to finish something everyday….one thing….everyday. He said he kept putting off doing jobs around the house, making phone calls, repairing relationships, or taking family trips.  Only now, facing his last days, he realizes he doesn’t have the time to put them off or complete them.

Yes, you do have time.  But it is only the time you’ve been given today. What do you need to do with it? What do you need to try, or step out and fail miserably at? Who do you need to forgive, or seek forgiveness from, or encourage, or offer words and acts of love?  It might be a conversation you need to have, or maybe a decision that you cannot do what you’ve been doing anymore. Or maybe….maybe you need to offer your life to the God who is waiting for you to come back home — for that you don’t need to do anything at all, you just need to say “yes”.

Please don’t forget.




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