Tell me about this depiction of Spinal Meningitis in a Stephen King book
September 28, 2016 11:30 AM   Subscribe

In the book and movie Pet Sematary, Stephen King gave a description of Spinal Meningitis that involved deformity (bent back, “face pulled down until it was like a mask”, “hands were like birds’ feet”) and excruciating, long-term pain. Per Web MD and many other sources, Spinal Meningitis can cause many long term effects (mental impairment, hearing loss, loss of limbs due to gangrene) but nothing like King described. And especially nothing like the body seen in the film. Is this at all a realistic depiction of this disease?
posted by bodgy to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nope! Not sure what he's describing, but it's not meningitis.
posted by tinkletown at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds more like tetanus than meningitis.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2016

As good as he is at writing a world, King often gets details wrong. (Or his characters do)

Like in The Regulators, when the protagonists are being shot at, one of them picks up a "bullet" that was fired at them and shows the others that the primer wasn't disturbed. The error there being that a fired bullet won't have a casing so it can't have a primer in the first place.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:03 PM on September 28, 2016

It sounds like maybe he's trying to describe cerebral palsy as a result of meningitis, but this seems to be a rare complication of meningitis and kind of a weird description of cerebral palsy.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 2:45 PM on September 28, 2016

In the (upsetting) details of a recent trial of parents who failed to seek appropriate medical care for their toddler, who later died of meningitis, I found a description of the agony the poor child endured. His symptoms included: loss of appetite and lethargy at first, fever, discomfort, and, as the disease progressed, extreme pain and stiffness, contortions of the limbs, inability to sit, even in a car seat, difficulty breathing, and 'neurological symptoms'. So, I don't know, some of King's description fits in with that...
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 2:59 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's been a long time since I've read Pet Sematary, but wasn't that passage an unreliable narrator's description of her sister's untreated illness, back when she was just a little girl?

I got the sense that the illness was very bad, that it was mostly untreated, and that the parents had locked the sister away (partly from shame?). Based on all this, the narrator developed a morbid dread of her sister built up a nightmare image of what she must be like. She would have seen a twisted monster when she opened her sister's bedroom door no matter what was really behind it. Then, this one terrifying moment of reality mixed with imagination haunted her into her adult life.
posted by invincible summer at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

My thoughts were that maybe King was talking about long-term complications of spinal meningitis, which could cause deformity & chronic pain, rather than the acute phase of the infection itself. Or maybe conflating it with TB meningitis, which could look somewhat like that. Those things would totally have been around when King was growing up, & when these characters were, and might have been where this depiction came from. *shrug* That's just what I assumed when I read it, not sure how accurate it might be.
And yeah, it's described through the eyes of a terrified kid who didn't really understand what was happening to her sister,& was never given any real explanations by the adults.
posted by BlueNorther at 6:19 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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