I woke up at 5.30am on a Sunday morning with severe pain in my neck. I waited a couple of hours before waking my Mum telling her I couldn’t really move my neck, so she put a warm flannel around it. At the time I was 19 and working in a bar and a Christening was due in on the Sunday so I had to go to work from 12noon as it would have been a busy day.
At work I gradually got worse: throwing up and a rash on my stomach developed. My manager wasn’t very understanding and told me if I was really ill to go to the hospital in my break (I was doing 12-3pm shift and then 6pm until close on that day). At 3pm I went off to a hospital in Wembley. Unfortunately they wouldn’t see me, even though no one was in the waiting room – it was for accidents and minor injuries only.
I got the bus home but by the time I got home at about 5pm it had got really bad. I was hot and cold and asked my brother to call in sick to the pub. He then called my Mum who was at my Auntie’s house to come home. I remember throwing my quilt off my bed and then not being able to pick it up again as it was too heavy. Mum called the doctor who came around at about 6pm. By that stage moving was really difficult. He phoned the hospital to say I was on my way. But I was so poorly it took me about half an hour before I was ready to leave the house.
Got to the hospital and at that stage I remember just wanting to sleep. Can’t really remember what they did there. I do remember them saying they had to give me an injection and me saying ‘no thanks I’ll just have a nap and I’ll be OK’. Had the injection, no idea what it was, but it left a metal taste in my mouth.
I was put in an ambulance to be taken to the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. I sent my Mum home, as my brother was going out and I have two younger sisters who she needed to get back to, so told her I’d be fine. I remember the ambulance journey and the lights flashing going up Kilburn High Road. I remember the ambulance staff, wanting to turn on a special meningitis light that they had, although I wasn’t sensitive to light.
Got to the hospital and four people went to lift me off the stretcher, but I told them I was OK and could do it myself. Of course I couldn’t so they had to lift me. Can’t really remember getting into a hospital gown but I was in one. I was put in a wheelchair and taken to Great Ormond Street which was next door. I can’t remember why, I think they said the brain scanner was broken or maybe they didn’t have one. Being wheeled to Great Ormond Street I remember thinking ‘I hope my bum isn’t sticking out of the wheelchair’ because it was a male porter wheeling me along. I remember the doctor talking about golf.
Had the brain scan and was taken back to my bed. It gets a little hazy after this. I remember people kept coming over and asking me questions like ‘how many rooms are in your house? Is your house gas or electric? How many windows in your house?’ It’s funny because instead of lying and making it up I literally went through the house trying to count the rooms and windows and kept losing count and going back and starting again. It got to about the fifth person asking me the same set of questions, and me turning to them saying, can you not ring my Mum, she’ll have all the answers, I’ve never counted the rooms in my house and I don’t pay the bills so I have no idea about gas or electric, I just want to sleep so please call my Mum. Obviously at the time I think they were trying to keep me awake. I don’t remember a lot more after that.
Bizarrely though, I woke up the next day and was completely fine. Felt like nothing was wrong with me at all. A woman in the bed opposite said that I should jump in the shower whilst it was still hot. Without thinking I jumped out of bed and grabbed a shower, which I think was a shock to everyone.
I wasn’t told for about three days what was wrong with me. Not sure why it took so long for the diagnosis. The consultant told me what I had, but used all technical words, and the way he said it made me feel I should understand what he was talking about so I thought ‘OK that’s fine’. But when he went I remember thinking I haven’t got a clue what he said. A nurse came over and asked if he had told me. I said yes and said I didn’t have a clue what he meant so she explained what I had. I spent ten days in hospital and met a lot of people who were worse off. I had a lot of student doctors come round looking at my rash, as it was only on my stomach and tops of my legs. It wasn’t even that bad. I think maybe just unusual as it wasn’t all over me (I’m guessing, I don’t really know).
I think I was then on antibiotics for a good few weeks afterwards. I stayed off work for over a month. My manager asked me to come back so I did; I remember thinking I wasn’t really ready but went back anyway. I then ended up with infections in my veins from where I had the drips in and my arms and hands swelled up, so again had to take more time off of work.
I think I was very lucky recovery wise. My hearing wasn’t great for a while afterwards so I needed the TV louder and couldn’t really hear what people were saying if there was a lot of background noise (especially in bars). But this improved after a year or so.
I had a younger brother who contracted meningitis at six weeks old (he was my mother’s fourth child, there were six of us in total, I’m the third child). I’m not really sure what strain, but his unfortunately wasn’t caught in time and he was subsequently left with brain damage. He lived for 13 years and was buried 17 years ago. So we’ve had it twice in our family now.