The nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak continues to grow, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 328 cases Thursday of patients who received tainted medicine from a Massachusetts pharmacy.
Twenty-four people have died in the outbreak, which spans 18 states.
In Tennessee, at least 70 people have confirmed cases of the non-contagious form of meningitis, and nine have died.
One of those who survived, a Nashville woman, is now breaking her silence.
Joan Peay received injections to battle back pain - off and on - for about three years.
She trusted the medication, like most of us would, until one of those injections changed her life and sidelined so much.
"I just felt so awful," Peay said.
The grandmother of 10 is recovering at home, where everyday two bags of IV medication help her fight the remains of fungal meningitis.
"Oh, the first three weeks. I just, it's like, I just wanted to go into a coma until it was over. I wish they'd have put me in a coma until it was over, it was so bad. It's just painful, nauseating and it's hard to deal with," Peay said.
To battle her back pain, Peay received an epidural steroid injection at a St. Thomas outpatient clinic Sept. 7. But the frightening symptoms soon started.
"I started having severe lower back pain, especially my spine and tailbone, killer headaches that wouldn't go away," she said.
That led her to an emergency room, days before she received a warning from the clinic.
The gut instinct, she said, may have saved her life even though treatment on some days seemed worse than the other option.
"And then the medicine, starting the second day after taking the medicine, I just felt so nauseous. It was just so awful and a horrible taste in my mouth," Peay said. "I didn't die. Some days I sort of wished I would, but I didn't."
Returning home was a highlight, but the intense treatment has to continue.
Peay will use an IV until the week after Thanksgiving then switch to an oral medicine for months.
It is all, she said, because of a company's lapse in safety.
"It has really, really messed up my life. And I've gone through a lot of pain and suffering, because of the negligence of this company. And I think somebody should be held responsible," Peay said.
Now, Peay is suing the New England Compounding Center, asking a judge and jury to order NECC to give her $5 million.
For her, it boils down to accountability. And as she continues her treatment, it also boils down to medical expenses.
She, like a lot of patients, has yet to see a bill for the weeks of care it has taken to fight the disease.
"Well, I hope after this is over, it will all be just a bad nightmare and I'll wake up and it'll be gone. But I guess nobody knows yet," Peay said.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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