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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.

Barbara Hollobon

Meningococcal disease at 55

Meningococcal disease

My wife Barbara died suddenly from bacterial meningitis with septicaemia on the 23rd December 2007.  She was 55 years old and was a much-loved wife, mother and sister.  Here is the story of my experience.

Barbara had a cold two weeks before Christmas which turned into a sinus infection. She recovered but the weekend before Christmas she began to feel ill again.  During the night she was extremely hot - reaching 103oF.  She was also breathing rapidly.

Saturday came; Barbara was very drowsy and stayed in bed.  We both thought she may have got flu.  By the evening her temperature had fallen and I thought the worst must be over. During the late evening she had diarrhoea, stomach and back ache.

On Sunday I noticed she had purple blotches, almost like bruises, on her legs. I immediately called NHS Direct who asked all the relevant questions about meningitis symptoms; I explained she was breathing more rapidly than normal and that she had purple blotches on her legs.  He told me to call back in two hours if it was worse.  

I knew the tumbler rash test so I tried that on the blotches. They didn't go, but it wasn't a rash.

Barbara didn't get better so I called NHS Direct back and was put through to a nurse who spoke to Barbara.  The nurse immediately called an ambulance.  The ambulance men were very calm and caring.  I realised later that they were very concerned about her pulse and blood pressure and knew it was serious.

I travelled with Barbara in the ambulance.  She was complaining of feeling very cold and looking at me all the time. I couldn't reach her and give her a hug as I had a safety belt on. I remember feeling that she was in good hands and the doctors at the hospital would be able to help.

Our daughter Beccy called her brother Peter to let him know and he and his wife started their journey from London.  We also called Barbara's sisters, Hazel and Marion.  

After an hour a doctor arrived to say Barbara had a very severe infection and had she been to the Far East recently or been in contact with sewage?  We were surprised by the question and replied no.

After about another hour we were called in to see Barbara. She looked extremely ill and was having trouble breathing.  I didn't know what to say or do. I was so shocked to see her in that way. We told Barbara that we all loved her and that Peter was on his way.  Barbara said, "I love you all". That was the last thing we heard her say.  

We were ushered out but after a few minutes a doctor arrived and told us to come quickly. When we arrived Barbara was being resuscitated and we were asked to leave. We thought she had died. Next the doctor came to the room and told us they had managed to resuscitate her, but he left and came back a few minutes later to say she had died.

Peter and his wife arrived and we told him his Mum had died.  Barbara's two sisters arrived and received the terrible news.  It was such a shock to everyone.  

Barbara had died just 36 hours since feeling unwell.

The A&E team treating Barbara didn't know the cause of her death. A post-mortem the following day gave this as bacterial meningitis with septicaemia.

The past year has been very hard. Barbara and I had been married for 33 years. We had an excellent marriage and she was a fantastic mum.  Over the year we have supported each other and managed to focus on the good times we had together.  

DAVID HOLLOBON

APRIL 2009

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