Teenagers get meningitis too
On Tuesday 26th April 2005 my 17-year-old daughter Ciara went to school as normal. She wasn't feeling 100% but I just assumed it was another virus as she'd had glandular fever in the February and had been exceptionally tired and under the weather since then. After school she called to see her boyfriend, went on to the youth club where she was a volunteer, then came home complaining of back pain, had a bath and went to bed.
I came home at 10.30pm from my evening shift at Daisy Hill A&E Reception and checked on her. She said she was feeling tired and wanted to sleep. During the night she woke up, was violently sick and complained of a migraine headache. I changed the bed and she went back to sleep.
In the morning I decided to let her sleep on as I knew she wouldn't be able to go to school, and thought the sleep in would do her good.
When she didn't appear by lunchtime I decided to wake her. When I went into the room I knew she was very sick. She was very weak, floppy and disorientated and was unable to lift her head from the pillow. I pulled back the curtain and could see a rash on her chest and some purple spots under her arm. I realised that this was serious and she needed urgent medical attention. I was on my own and the doctor's surgery was closed for their weekly half day. I didn't know whether or not to call an ambulance but, as Daisy Hill Hospital is seven miles away and I couldn't be sure how long it would take to get to us, I decided to take her straight to A&E myself. This was probably the best decision I have ever made in my life.
On arrival at Daisy Hill, Ciara was taken into resus and the nursing staff suspected meningococcal septicaemia and started treatment immediately. I felt as though it wasn't happening to me. How could my precious, beautiful girl be lying there hovering between life and death?
I was told that she was being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Belfast City Hospital and that the next 24 hours would be critical. All I wanted was for someone to tell me that she was going to be alright, but nobody would or could. They just didn't know. I wasn't even allowed to travel with her in the ambulance in case they had to work on her on the way up. We had to travel by car, not knowing what we would face when we arrived there.
On arrival at Belfast we were told the same thing - the next 24 hours were critical. Ciara was wired up to every possible machine and the sight we were greeted with was very distressing for us all. Ciara spent three days in Intensive Care and a further seven days on the ward, but thankfully she made an excellent recovery.
What happened to Ciara was life changing for us all. Ciara lives life to the full and makes the most of every single day. We try to help out with the MRF events as much as possible as they do such excellent work, and it is also a chance for Ciara to talk to others who have suffered similar experiences. Ciara also took part in a study to help compile a questionnaire for Surviving Life after Meningitis (SLAM).
The one thing I would like to convey to parents is that teenagers get meningitis too and their condition can deteriorate so rapidly that they WON'T be able to communicate to you how ill they are. So keep checking on them even if they think you are fussing!