On 18th March 2010 aged 29, I was relaxing on the settee in the early evening, and noticed that every time I tried to move position to get comfortable, I felt agonising pain in my neck and head. I assumed that I was just tired and had been staring at the laptop and TV for too long. I decided to go to bed as my partner was away overnight and I needed to feel better by the morning to be able to look after my four and one year old sons.
I lay in the dark all night not daring to move, for fear of my head exploding, freezing to death or being sick beyond repair. I finally got out of bed at 6am when I couldn't ignore needing the toilet any longer. It was at this point when I truly realised how ill I was, as I could only crawl and it hurt my head too much to cry.
Instinctive behaviour took over, as I crawled down two flights of stairs to unbolt the front door so help could enter the house if I became unconscious.
At this point I was very sick, which my eldest son must have heard as he came downstairs to investigate. He fetched me my mobile phone which I used to contact my neighbour and mother-in-law to ask for help. I remember wanting the curtains to be closed and I was running a very high temperature. My neck and head felt like they were in a vice and the tiniest movement made my nausea unbearable.
After a home visit from my doctor an ambulance was called as viral meningitis was suspected. A lumbar puncture was performed almost immediately at hospital, and a few hours later I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. I was put in a dark room in isolation where all professionals and visitors had to 'gown-up' to be able to enter in case of spreading infection.
After ten days of blood tests, CAT scans and antibiotics, I was allowed home to continue my recovery there. During my hospital stay, it was reasonably presumed that I had contracted the bacteria after a very bad ear infection that I had endured a few weeks prior. I have suffered with ear problems since infancy, so earache is nothing new to me, however I couldn't remember having had such excruciating pain in my ears for a good few years. It turns out that taking a course of antibiotics for my ear infection probably saved my life as without them, my ability to fight bacterial meningitis would have been considerably less and my symptoms would have been far more swift and severe. In hindsight, alarm bells should have rung when a day or so after my ear infection, clear liquid poured from both ears (not just the infected ear), which at the time I assumed was wax, but now know was brain fluid.
The course of antibiotics and swift action from my doctor increased my chance of survival and recovery immensely; I was almost back to normal within a month of my first diagnosis (19th May 2010). Since then I have had an operation on my ear to investigate how bacteria travelled from the ear canal to the brain fluid, as well as to repair extensive damage to my eardrum. Recovery from this operation took much longer than expected as my outer ear was almost entirely removed and a large incision made into the canal. I have had numerous check-ups since and will continue to do so indefinitely.
Within myself, I am terrified whenever I get a headache or earache. My hearing since infancy has always been below average and has luckily not worsened since having had meningitis. I know how lucky I am to have had my symptoms recognised and dealt with so quickly as I now know how much worse it could have turned out.
In the same year, only a month after the operation on my ear, I was miraculously blessed with my third pregnancy, which for me personally was as statistically unlikely to happen as contracting bacterial meningitis. I am not reminded daily of what happened, but I know that my experience will never leave me and I do fear getting that ill again.