My name is Dr. Karen Negrin, DVM, ACO/ACI (Animal Control Officer/Animal Cruelty Investigator) from NJ. I am a survivor of bacterial meningitis caused by Pasteurella multocida, a bacterium transmitted by drinking unpasteurized milk and/or animal bites. I want to share my story with you because I was almost not treated for meningitis by the first doctors that saw me because I did not show all of the classic signs. If it had not been for my being a doctor myself, I would probably have died in the hospital.
My story began when a new client brought an Australian cattle dog to my office for his vaccinations in May of 2007. The dog was very aggressive. When I tried to put a muzzle on the dog, the owner tried to help by holding the dog’s mouth. When I tried to explain to the owner that he was interfering since I could not muzzle the dog’s mouth if he was holding the mouth, he let go and the dog bit my arm. The more I told the owner not to hit the dog, the more the owner hit the dog and the deeper the bite went into my arm. I actually saw the bone in my arm. I did not seek medical help right away since the local hospital always sent me away each and every time that I went down there looking for treatment. I was once accused of trying to get drugs from the local hospital. Mind you, I have my own prescription pad so if I really wanted to write a prescription for drugs, I could. Since I was often denied medical treatment, I washed out the wound myself and waited a few hours to see what it looked like. The wound had sealed over so I did not think anything further about it. Four days later, I started feeling like I had the flu. The main symptoms was spiking fevers and the chills. I also suffer from severe allergies that also give me high fevers and chills so I thought nothing of this either. I rarely vomit; on the fourth day, I began vomiting. A few hours later, it was not vomiting but regurgitation which is a brain induced reflex. I knew something was wrong with my brain but I did not know what. I also have a seizure disorder so I just thought it was a symptom of my seizures (or another brain lesion that occurred). I closed down my veterinary office early and tried to get to the hospital down the street. I could not control my car and luckily realized this before I got out of the parking lot of my veterinary practice. I tried to call for help and realized that I could not unlock my phone; when I finally got it unlocked, I could not dial any individual numbers. It was like having fat fingers. I was still able to think so I dialed the last number that called me; I was lucky, it was an employee of the municipality where my practice was located. He came to my location, got my car open and got me to the hospital quickly.
At the hospital, they did a physical examination and found that I had a temperature of 104 degrees, had the chills, and by the time they got to collecting samples, I had fallen on the floor after a short walk to the bathroom. They had to literally carry me out of the bathroom and roll me out in a wheel chair. Hours later, I went legally blind for 4 days. I was still with it enough that I was able to communicate with the doctors; most patients with meningitis are usually found dead in the homes or are delirious. They thought I had meningitis but I was not showing one of the classic signs. They told me they thought they knew what was wrong with me but because I was missing one sign, it could not be that sign. I asked them what the sign was; they did not want to tell me because they thought I might fake the sign. I told them again that I was a doctor and that I was critical; why would I fake a sign? Then they told me that I was missing the sign of neck pain. I responded: “That’s it? Neck pain? You missed something in my medical history!” They looked at me strangely. I told them I was a seizure patient. I do not feel pain when I have a strong adrenal rush. I only weigh about 94 lbs and am 5’ 2″. In my life-time, I have taken down two police officers who have tried to help me but came up on me unexpectedly so I defended myself until I knew who they were. They elected to do the spinal tap and it came up positive. By the time my parents were contacted that night and arrived, I was going blind. I heard the doctors tell my parents that I was going to be dead by morning.
The doctors sent pastors and ministers to my room every 30 minutes to keep me company. They were interested in keeping me alive to be questioned by the specialist that was supposed to arrive around 2 am. When he got there, the emergency doctor and the specialist began questioning me. I am trained in bioterrorism to help protect this country from terroristic attacks. Because of this, I recognized the line of questioning and did something really stupid…I told the doctor that it sounded like they were asking me bioterroristic questions. They paused as they were speaking (I was legally blind but I could hear them whispering and turning toward each other trying to find a reason for my knowledge.) I realized what I had said and told them that I was trained in bioterrorism and to call the local police department (who knew me since I was working with the municipality at the time) and the State since I was listed as a trained person. They took a deep breath when I explained why I knew what I knew. That still did not stop them from putting a guard outside my door for 4 days until they got confirmation from the state who I was. It also brought to light the fact that veterinarians were not fingerprinted in the State of NJ so they had no way of proving it really was me that was in that hospital bed. Because I was able to explain why I knew about bioterrorism, the specialist realized that I was not delirious and asked me what I thought was the cause of my meningitis. I told him I was bitten by a dog four days before. He said that I should have shown the signs earlier. I told him that I have an overactive immune system and that I don’t respond to infections like the average person. I rarely get sick but I am always fighting some kind of infection. When my immune system is fighting too long, that’s when I start to really show signs of illness as now. It made sense to the doctors. Then I told the doctors that if I was right and they did not treat me for the bacterial meningtis due to a dog bite, I was not going to survive until the spinal tap results would come back in four days. If I was wrong, the worse thing that would happen is that they wasted the money on a third antibiotic. (They had me on the two standard bacterial meningitis drugs.)
When the doctors tried to repeat the examinations daily, I was in severe pain when they did the pupillary light reflex (where they test your site with the pen light). I saw the blinding white light that they say you see right before death. I knew it was the doctor’s penlight; I am also religious so I knew that I was close to death. When I was left alone in my room, I began praying that if I survived this, I would take it as a sign that I was meant to do something else with my life other than being a veterinarian. I was not intending on quitting my profession but that I had some other job to do. That is when the vision of the person who drove me to the hospital came to me. He was a local animal control officer. I thought it was meant that I was supposed to become an officer to help him in his career. I was already working with him as the shelter veterinarian.
The recovery was slow. The doctors overdid my fluid therapy by accident; I gained 20 lbs in 2 days. I started having respiratory difficulties due to the fluid building up in my lungs. The only reason I realized what was going on is because I am as asthmatic and I felt like I could not catch my breath. Again, because I am a doctor, I turned the IV pump around and realized that they were giving me my fluids at a rate that I would give a dog my size. What I have found over the years is that animals take a higher rate of medications than humans. I knew something was wrong and pressed for the nurse to come. They rushed me out of the isolation room and to diagnostics. I was right; my chest was full of fluids. I stayed in the hospital for 8 days; they wanted to keep me for 3 weeks. I was afraid that I would lose my business so I left with an IV PICK in my arm and had to self-medicate for 2 weeks with a nurse checking up on me in my veterinary office.
I suffered from migraine headaches for 2 months; I was unable to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. The drive from my home to my office in rush hour traffic was only about 15 minutes. I had to pull over several times to vomit since I was getting motion sickness from driving. I almost quit my profession. I could not lift my right arm with anything being held in my hand. How was I going to continue to work this way? Then one day, my arm got stronger again. The headaches went away. I started to feel like myself. I elected to go to classes and became an animal control officer and then an animal cruelty investigator, apart from being a veterinarian.
The officer that helped me…I ended up busting him for having a criminal record. I also saw him doing things that were criminal. There is still a civil service investigation that is on-going so I cannot speak more of this; I have the evidence of what I saw and I can proof what I saw. He was fired from his job.
About 2 years after the meningitis bite case, I started to feel dizzy again. I thought, Oh no! Don’t tell me I am going to have some kind of relapse! I went to my ophthalmologist and told him what was going on. You would never believe what happened. My vision had changed from wearing contacts to legally blind when I had the meningitis to the prescription I had when I was 9 years old. I have 20-20 vision in my right eye and a little less than 20-20 in my left. The doctors can’t explain it. I don’t need contacts in my right eye anymore. I made a full recovery and then some. The seizure disorder also improved. No more seizures since 2007 even without the medications. This was just an amazing miracle.
I am a very strong person. The doctors at the emergency room are still stunned that I survived. They all still remember me. I come now dressed in my animal control uniform since I am an on-call officer and it is easier for me to slip out of my doctor’s jacket if I’m already dressed as the officer underneath to go to an animal control call. Now, hospitals treat even minor animal bites with antibiotics rather than saying that it is not that bad. Veterinarians are now fingerprinted so they can identify us if something like this happens again. It always takes someone to get hurt or killed before the government realizes that something needs to change. At least something good came of this; hospitals are now taking animal bites more seriously than in the past.