Madame Manga (madame_manga) wrote in little_details,
Madame Manga

Meningitis treatment in 1960s, Boston area

Settings: Mexico City and Boston/Cambridge area, late 1960s - early 1970s.

Searches already made: various regarding head/skull fracture injuries, bacterial meningitis, brain injury rehabilitation, medical rehab in the 1960s/1970s. I've looked at postings by survivors of head injuries and meningitis infections. Searching for anything on the history of health care in Massachusetts swamps me with current politics -- it's hard to find much detail about previous decades.

My character (male, age 18, previously healthy and well nourished) suffers a basal skull fracture during a beating. Some days after the beating, I think I want to have him come down with bacterial meningitis. Eventually he’s treated with antibiotics in a hospital and recovers. I'm trying to determine how far I can take the progress of the infection, and over how many days, without causing death or severe disability for the character.

I don't mind (in fact, it's the point) if he ends up with various complications and personality changes that cause him permanent problems. I intend to have him lose his sense of smell and taste and suffer some hearing loss and tinnitus because of the skull fracture. Some physical problems like loss of balance would also work out well for the plot. Any ideas here are welcome. Basically, I'm looking for both a serious medical crisis somewhat delayed from the actual head injury (i.e., probably not a depressed fracture nor bleeding on the brain), and a medical reason that he becomes irritable, intolerant and more difficult to get along with after he recovers. I don't want him to lose noticeable IQ nor have grave memory problems, though some more subtle mental problems that he has to struggle to overcome would be fine. Most of this will end up filtered through the POV of his younger brother, who is the main character.

My current scenario involves student demonstrations in Mexico City in late 1968; after this young man's beating by police, he first lies low for a few days, and then flees the country for the USA to avoid arrest as an agitator. The trip will have to take several days more, since he's going from Mexico City to the Boston area by car. (His American-citizen father is driving, and he has documents for crossing the border.) I need to determine how long it might realistically take for the meningitis infection to set in after his injury, what his symptoms might be and how fast they might progress, and how badly off he can be when he arrives at his destination. I can adjust the time between the injury and his treatment, but ideally for plot purposes it would be about ten days to two weeks.

How long might he stay in the hospital? I know that in the 1960s they weren't so concerned with keeping hospital stays short, so would they keep him there for rehab or discharge him after he had finished his antibiotic treatment? How much rehab work would they be likely to do with him? I have an impression that rehab wasn't as systematic nor started as quickly as it probably would be now.

His father is probably paying for all this out of pocket, since the young man has lived all his life to date in Mexico and has no American medical insurance. The money could run out around the time they're sure he's going to live. It would be good for the plot if the father had to swallow his pride and fall back on a charity clinic (Roman Catholic?) or a public health nurse for home visits, or whatever makes sense, but it's been difficult to find out what would have been available in the Boston/Cambridge area at that time.

Thanks for all input!
Tags: 1960-1969, mexico (misc), usa: health care and hospitals, usa: massachusetts, ~medicine: illnesses (misc)

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