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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.

Christopher Clark

Meningococcal disease at 4

Meningococcal disease

In May 2007, my son Christopher was four years old.   He had been at a soft play with his friend and had a great day. 

The following morning, Friday, was a school holiday but Christopher wasn't feeling too well.  He was very pale and complaining that his legs were sore and didn't want to walk downstairs for breakfast.  Christopher's baby brother Adam had just got home from hospital after being born five weeks prematurely so he was happy to lie on the couch while I attended to Adam. 

As the morning went on he had only eaten a small amount and just wasn't himself.  I phoned the GP and took him to the surgery in the afternoon.  I had to carry Christopher from the car as his limbs were very sore.  Whilst in the surgery he was sick and his temperature was high.  The doctor said he had a virus and did not require antibiotics. He had a rash that was blanching and checked his neck movement by asking him to look up and touch his chin to his chest.  This he was able to do, but crucially, was not asked to look side to side and I didn't realise, until 24hours later, that this caused him a lot of discomfort.  To be honest, during and following the consultation I felt like an over anxious mother who should have kept her son at home in bed.  I was advised to get in touch if he did not improve over the next 48 hours.

The following morning he was quite bright, eating well and watching television.  He went to bed around 8pm and was feeling ok but still pale and his limbs were sore.  I had been giving him Calpol and Nurofen to keep his temperature down and to generally make him feel better and this seemed to be helping.

During the night I still felt very worried about him so brought him into our bed.  Christopher was tossing and turning and moaning a lot while sleeping.  At 2am I just felt something wasn't quite right. I put the light on and checked him over.  He was moaning and now the rash was completely different - a red/purple rash that was non blanching.

I phoned NHS 24 and advised that he had seen a doctor on the Friday afternoon, however I felt his condition had deteriorated and the rash had changed.  I was asked to carry out some checks: to see if he had adverse reaction to bright lights - but he did not.  Neck movement up and down to his chest, again he was able to do this.  I was asked, in my opinion, if he required to see a doctor.  I said yes and was told that, as it would be on his mother's insistence, I could take him to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.  I would have preferred to take him straight to Yorkhill Childrens' Hospital which is the same distance from our house but was advised not to.

We waited at Stobhill for about 15 minutes to see a doctor.  This doctor mentioned meningitis but felt Christopher seemed too well clinically. He gave him penicillin as a precaution and phoned Yorkhill Hospital. We were asked to drive him there.  At this point I didn't feel any urgency from the hospital that an ambulance was required.

At Yorkhill, meningitis was mentioned but not as a serious risk.  The same procedures were carried out but as the doctor walked away she happened to ask him to look left and right.  Christopher found this very difficult and was crying that his neck was really sore.  Alarm bells started ringing in my head.  He was immediately moved to an individual room and then two or three more doctors arrived.  At this point my wee boy looked very ill.  The next 24 hours were a blur.  I have never been so terrified in my life and just wished I could swap places.  Infectious Diseases got in contact so they could advise Christopher's school and also immediate family were given antibiotics. 

Hospital was very difficult as only one parent was allowed to stay overnight.  Both our families moved in for the week to help look after baby Adam.  Christopher was very low in hospital and although the antibiotics were working, he was very irritable and just wanted to go home.  Luckily Christopher was only in hospital for six days and made a full recovery from meningococcal septicaemia.  He quickly got over the whole experience and it is something that I don't talk to him about as, even as I write this story of events, the thought of how close I came to losing my gorgeous boy just destroys me. 

The hospital provided information on meningococcal septicaemia, together with the telephone number of Meningitis Research Foundation.  I got in touch with the Foundation a few weeks later as I became very emotional and unsure of being a mum.  I found it very difficult to come to terms that, had I not gone with my instinct, I would have put full trust in the NHS and waited until the following day before taking further action.  The thought of putting my son's life at risk still upsets me.  Talking to the Foundation helped me focus on the positives and that Christopher did get vital treatment and made a full recovery.  Talking also helped build my confidence although I still fear the disease so much and panic when my children become ill.

SHARON CLARK

MARCH 2009
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