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meningitis & septicaemia can kill in hours!

People who are faced with meningitis and septicaemia have to act fast to help save a life.

Alan Smith

Meningococcal disease at 20

Meningococcal disease

In the summer of 1995 I was aged 20 and had been having a great holiday with my friends in Tenerife.   However, with only a couple of days of the holiday left I began to feel unwell.  At first I thought it was sunstroke, I had a fever and was feeling sick.  I went to bed hoping I’d feel better in the morning, but instead my condition deteriorated quickly.  Over the next few hours I began to feel delirious, the fever got worse and I was quite sick.  Also, somehow, my legs ached.

Fortunately my friend Roy came to check on me.  He knew things were far from OK and noticed that I had a heavy purple rash on both legs.  I am very grateful to Roy for phoning the doctor when he did.

I was immediately admitted to hospital and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia.  Two of my friends were admitted too, but only as a precautionary measure; fortunately they were fine and flew home soon after.  In the meantime my Mum and Dad flew out from Edinburgh.  

I spent a week in intensive care, which was terrifying in itself as I had never been in hospital before.  My condition got worse before it got better and I was having terrible hallucinations.  I remember complaining that I couldn’t feel my legs and looking down noticed extensive dark purple patches.  The medical staff in Tenerife were excellent and, despite the language barrier, I don’t think I could have had better care.  There is no doubt that they saved my life. 

After a week in intensive care the doctors were happy that the meningitis itself had been dealt with, but we were now left with problems caused by septicaemia.    I was therefore flown home to Scotland and immediately admitted to hospital.  

I spent six weeks in St John’s Hospital in Livingston where I underwent four operations to repair the damage caused by the septicaemia.  This treatment included a skin flap to my right ankle and numerous skin grafts to my legs.  The plastic surgeons worked wonders but warned me that arthritis was likely in future years.  I spoke with a counsellor several times which was very comforting.

After being discharged from hospital I required physiotherapy but was able to stop using crutches after about three months.  I then returned to work, almost six months after leaving to go on my holiday to Tenerife.

As the plastic surgeons predicted, I was always bothered by pain from my right ankle.  I took painkillers regularly and was referred for physiotherapy on a few occasions over the years. However, the pain got steadily worse until it got to the stage where I was offered an operation to fuse my ankle.  The fusion of the joint would stop it moving and therefore cut down the pain.  

I had my ankle fusion operation two years ago and, although it meant being on crutches again for six months, I’m delighted to say that the pain is now far less than before.  

I am now doing very well and have a lovely family, with two great children.  I have been very lucky, and the only other after affect to speak of regards my lack of short-term memory, which was never great anyway!

I became a member of Meningitis Research Foundation after deciding to raise money for them at the time of my 30th birthday.  I’ve received great care and support from many people, from the time of the initial illness and beyond, and I think it is only right to try and give something back.  Thank you.

FEBRUARY 2009


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