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Thanksgiving and Spinal Meningitis

Updated On: November 23, 2023

Hi, it’s Corey here, welcoming you to a very personal episode of the Family Twist podcast. Today, I’m taking you on a journey back to a Thanksgiving 25 years ago that changed my life forever. It’s a story of my fight against spinal meningitis, the incredible role my family and chosen family played in my recovery, and how this experience deepened our bonds. This episode is filled with poignant voicemails from those who were there, sharing their perspectives on those harrowing days. So, join me as we dive into this tale of survival, gratitude, and love.

Episode Highlights:

  1. The Onset of Meningitis: Reflecting on my college days, the hectic lifestyle, and how it possibly contributed to my illness.
  2. Rachel’s Discovery and Quick Thinking: How my sister Rachel found me in a critical state and her swift action that saved my life.
  3. Joe’s Emotional Journey: My brother Joe shares his emotional turmoil during my coma, highlighting our family’s strength in crisis.
  4. The Power of Chosen Family: The crucial role my chosen family played, especially Sean’s efforts during my illness.
  5. A Thanksgiving Reunion: Reminiscing about a memorable Thanksgiving 15 years ago, and the unique celebration at an Artist Collective space.
  6. The Impact of Illness on Family Bonds: How this experience brought me closer to my siblings and mother.
  7. A Musical Awakening: Waking up from a coma to Neil Diamond on TV and the significance of that moment in my recovery.

Thank you for joining me on this emotional journey through one of the most challenging times of my life. This Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of the incredible strength of family ties, both blood and chosen, and the power of human resilience. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Family Twist, please don’t forget to rate, follow, and leave a review. Your support means the world to us, and it helps others find and enjoy our stories. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Transcript

Corey Thanksgiving

Hi, it's Cory here sharing a weird and scary twist from my past and also a message of thanks. I'm not trying to drag everybody's spirits down on turkey day. So during the final semester of my senior year in college, I contracted spinal meningitis over the Thanksgiving holiday and ended up close to death in the hospital from the day after Thanksgiving until the following Friday.

This was 25 years ago, and I'm still extremely thankful to my family and chosen family for getting me through that awful illness. This was more than six years before I met Kendall. I was completing my major slash minor mass communication and creative writing projects, working part time at a bookstore, penning a column for the student newspaper, and partying nearly every Thursday to Sunday night at karaoke bars and dance slash drag clubs.

All that is the classic recipe for coming down with meningococcal. Lack of proper rest. Surrounding yourself with hundreds of people every day who also aren't getting enough sleep, we were in a college incubator of infection. That said, I've always loved Thanksgiving break. Going back to high school, since any of us could legally drive, a group of pals would always get together at Scott's house.

Going back to high school, since any of us could legally drive, a group of pals always got together at Scott's house after the family stuff to hang in his party like basement and stay up all night. At whatever time the stores would open on Black Friday, usually some ungodly before dawn hour, we'd pile in a car and head to Walmart.

We weren't there to get good deals on TVs. We were there to gander and giggle at the oddballs who got up in the middle of the night to stampede into a store to save a few bucks. Also, 25 years ago, I did the family meal thing. I spent time with chosen family, like Rachel and her parents, and ended up at Scott's After Dark.

Around midnight or so, I was feeling extremely run down. I told the fellas, hey, I'm going to go home and rest for an hour or two, and I'll be back here before Black Friday. Well, I asked a couple of my favorite people to leave me voicemails about what happened next, because I was not conscious for it.

Here's my sister Rachel first, because honestly, without her, I wouldn't be here today.

Rachel Hinnah

Hello, my name is Rachel Hinnah, and I'm Corey's baby sister, five years younger. I'll try not to make this too long, but the story is, very close to me because it kind of surrounds what happened that day of Corey's, diagnosis of meningitis . Everything happens for a reason. I'm a firm believer in that.

I happened to be at work that day. It was in my senior year of high school and I worked at a vet. I remember the vet saying that we were short and didn't need a lot of people there. If somebody wanted to go home, they could, I didn't have a car that day. I think we were all sharing one throughout the family.

I called my mom and. Said, please, please, please, can I come home? the doctor said he doesn't need me and she didn't really want to have to come pick me up. she said if she did come pick me up, the rule was I had to go out and rake all the leaves. So I got picked up, came home, raked all the leaves.

My brother Corey, who was home from college, just had the flu. I was out, raking leaves, came in, used the bathroom, and I noticed he had his bedroom door open. He was sitting on the floor. And to me, it looked like he was justgoing through comic books or, I'm not sure. I, so I was like, Hey, Cor.

And I went into the bathroom and he did not say anything back to me and I was like, okay, rude. came out of the bathroom and I said, hey, and he still didn't. And I kind of looked at him and could tell right away something was wrong. I went in his room and, it was like he was just staring right through me.

like he could not see me and he was doing this strange thing with his arm. Kind of just sitting there in boxershorts and, and I'm, Corey, Corey, almost like shaking him, trying to get him to respond to me and, nothing. So I ran to get my middle brother and I was like, Joe, something's not right with Corey.

He's like, call mom. I was like, I'm not calling mom. I'm calling 911. So. I called, 9 1 1 and they tried to talk to me on the phone until they got there, but I was like, I can't, I gotta call my mom. So I hung up on 9 1 1, called my mom, and her line was busy, and I kept trying to get through to her at work to let her know that the ambulance was coming, and Corey was in his boxer shorts.

Me and my other brother were trying to put a shirt on him to get him dressed, and he had like superhuman strength, so it was not easy. we finally get like a shirt wrapped around his head, maybe through one arm. by then the ambulance showed up and they get him on a stretcher and they basically just have a shared problems work that we just put into it off, and we finally got a hold of my mom and she pulled up right as the ambulance was taking us away.

first time I ever rode in the ambulance. Very interesting how they do the lights and everything. I was young and wasn't sure what was going on with my brother, but it wasn't that long before that that he had

Come out of the closet and told us that he was homosexual. I did tell the ambulance driver, I'm not sure if this is what's wrong with him or not. But he did tell us recently he's gay. anyway, we get to the hospital and they, tell me just to sign over whatever I can. My mom hadn't made it there yet.

So I signed whatever just to save him, do whatever you gotta do. And, put me in a room to wait. And we did find out.that night that it was, spinal meningitis and how serious it was and, I remember him being put in a drug induced coma and, going to the hospital each day.

I remember, I the day before he woke up, like holding his hand and talking to him and saying, if you can squeeze my hand. You can hear me squeeze my hand and I remember him, you know, actually squeezing my hand and I'm gonna be like, oh my god, mom He can hear us and you know that definitely gave me hope You know, even though at that time me and my brother weren't very close, we fought a lot.

you know, him trying to kind of act like the father figure to me after our father passed away. And me being the rebellious teen who didn't want to listen. the next day he did wake up, and I remember when we finally got to bring him home, they still were going to have to have a

Home health nurse come in and give him IV fluid or some kind of medicine through an IV. And I was like, I don't know how to do that. I work at an animal hospital. And I remember saving some, some money by being able to inject my own brother like a dog. But anyway, they told us that he would probably have to be taught how to read and write and tie his shoes again.

not our Cory, he overcame and proved us all wrong on that. and then became one of my best friends. So I'm very, very grateful that we are celebrating 25 years later. I love you, brother.

Whew, it's just weird hearing that. It's very heavy. Uh, love you Rach.

Okay, not to slight my other sibling, here's my stoic bro Joe.

Joe Stulce Tgiving

this is Joe Stolz, brother of Corey. when Corey was in a coma due to meningitis, it was definitely one of the saddest and darkest times for our family. We didn't know if he was going to live, if he was going to have permanent brain damage, or what the outcome was going to be.

It was a very, very stressful... I don't remember if it was a week. I think it was around a week, I was just sort of in a catatonic state myself as I basically just worked every day and went to the hospital. to be with my mom and sister and other people who were up there. Corey was unconscious.

At the time, I was working as a delivery driver, so I spent a lot of time alone, driving around in my car, listening to music, thinking about, what was going on in our life, and whether or not my brother was going to survive. And at that time, I was obsessed with this Jimi Hendrix CD I had of rare and unreleased music.

and I just played it constantly. I remember specifically there's this song, I think it was called Polly Gap. I might be pronouncing that wrong. And it was an instrumental, like an improvisational piece, very emotional song where Jimmy is just soloing, playing his heart out throughout this, extended jam, I guess you could call it.

Very, very emotional, melancholy piece of music. As I pretty much have had this CD playing constantly, every time this song would come on, during the period when Corey was in a coma, I would just be overcome with this great sadness, because it was such an emotional powerhouse of a song, and it just put me in that zone of thinking about everything, so then, the day when Corey finally woke up, which was An incredibly joyous day for us all.

we all met at the hospital. Corey was talking, you know, he was very confused and there was, a little, a little bit of work to do before we had our brother fully back, but he was awake. He was alive. he knew who we were, it was a very, very joyous day. And I remember as I left, I was leaving the hospital that day, I got in my car and that song came on.

And I remember I just sat in that hospital parking lot and was bawling my eyes out.

Alright, I'm not trying to get too maudlin here, but the bond between the three of us grew tighter the moment we learned our father died. And yeah, I was an a hole for the next several years thinking I needed to take over the dad role, but I didn't.

Mom was more than enough parent for the three of us. I'm happy to say that now, we are three peas in a pod and always will be. There's something, there's something magical and mystical when it's just the three of us stole siblings. I can't believe the three of us haven't been arrested together, honestly.

Okay, here's where my chosen family comes into play. At the tender age of 21 and newly out of the closet, I was already figuring out that my chosen family was going to be paramount to me for the rest of my life. I met my dear friend Sean through my college bud, Jen. And we've been in each other's lives for more than 25 years now.

Sean jumped to action as soon as he heard about my condition.

Shawn Telkamp

this is Sean's Health Camp, by the way. when Corey had meningitis as a story theme, where to begin? So, Corey and I, at that time in our lives, very much for going out pretty regularly. To clubs and hanging out and dancing and drinking and boarding with her friends.

Corey suddenly wasn't returning phone calls and was nowhere to be found. I got a phone call saying, hey, he is at such and such hospital. they induce the coma, I believe, and that was due to, him contracting spinal meningitis, the department also said anyone who came in contact with him in the last 24 hours could, also be in danger of having it, and that they needed all the help they could get in getting medication out to people, at that time social media wasn't quite what it is today, but I started

basically calling people and contacting everyone I could think of, that we might have had in common, who might have seen him that I before, and making sure people are getting dosages or contacting the health department. it was overwhelming,but it was also more overwhelming to think about the fact that my friend was.

in the state and not knowing, when I might see him again, and hear him speak again and what that would even look like, or feel like, a lot of time passed and, eventually he did come out of it, it was overwhelming and just grateful, so grateful, life is short, and I think we're all lucky to be here as long as we are, but, it truly is what you make of it in the end, and, I don't think Corey has wasted a single moment since opening his eyes, and, really, really proud of him and his journey.

anyway, much love, and talk to you later. Bye.

Okay, so who knows where my meningitis actually came from? But here's a little nugget. Joe, my brother who you heard a couple of minutes ago, had meningitis and was also fighting for his life when he was about 9 months old. We learned that my mom could be a carrier and never get meningitis. Psst, yeah, I was with my mom on that Thanksgiving too.

But, as a dumb 21 year old, I also did stuff like eat pie off the same fork as my dear heart Rachel. Uh, friend Rachel, not sister Rachel as we refer to her in the house.

Rachel Beck Tgiving

Hello, this is Rachel. Corey was asking us to call in lament on the time. He got meningococcal meningitis. I believe it was on Thanksgiving. If I'm remembering this correctly, Corey had come over to. My house, we were in college, some of this is a little fuzzy because it was like 28 years ago, and we were all having pie, eating off the same plate, eating off the same fork, he goes to leave, a little while later, I get a call that he is in the hospital, so I call Scott Kastrup, who was on his way back to I think Kansas City at this time and he like races back and Cory's in a coma and everyone's freaking out and we go to the hospital.

I was really scared. I was young, but I knew what he had was. extremely dangerous. we get to the hospital and Cory's mom is there and they corral us all because we've had physical contact with him and they give us all a massive dose of Cipro, which is the antibiotic they give to people who have had like,

Anthrax. when you get anthrax, they give you Cipro. So that was a beast and made all of us kind of sick while Corey is just lying there, getting weaker and skinnier and the ICU, and it seemed like it was forever. And it was. Really, really, really scary. we were all up there as much as we could be and he lost a shit ton of weight and finally, came out of it and we can make fun of them for it.

15 years ago. When I first moved to California, we went to sort of a Thanksgiving thing, and I believe, was, a porno studio, that had lots of fun props, like a pretend jail cell. I don't really love Thanksgiving particularly, but I always love it when I get to spend it with my friends, and Cory's one of them, and I've spent my best Thanksgiving with him.

It's actually pretty cool that Rachel was with me for two milestone Thanksgivings, 25 years ago and 15 years ago. Kendall and I had our first San Francisco Thanksgiving at an Artist Collective space that, yeah, had filming spaces and sets for adult flicks.

Rachel and I washed our hands quite thoroughly after posing in a movie set. Rachel and I washed our hands thoroughly after posing in a movie set jail cell. That was also the first and last time someone served turducken for us, which I think is a chicken stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey, wrapped in a dirty diaper.

Anyway, that porno Thanksgiving we were all seated Last Supper style, and while I can't remember what the food tasted like, I do remember that my party potatoes was the first dish to go empty. Thank you, Karen Connelly, for the recipe. And thank you all for indulging me in this Thanksgiving meningitis story time.

One last note, when I woke in the hospital after a week in a drug induced coma, I pulled the breathing tube out of my throat, opened my eyes, and saw the one, the only, Neil Diamond on the TV as he guested on The View. Now, who else has been able to tell one of their musical heroes that the first person they saw post coma was them?

Yeah, it was me. Almost 10 years after my recovery, now who else has been able to tell one of their musical heroes that the first person they saw post coma was them? It was almost 10 years after my recovery, and here is Neil's reaction. Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and thank you for indulging me in this tale.

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