Esme Hickey

Viral meningitis at 17

Viral meningitis

I first began to feel unwell when I was in Uganda in the July when I was 17 – I was undergoing a three-week long expedition with my school which involved volunteering at a local orphanage. It began with headaches which grew progressively worse over the course of an evening and made me very sensitive towards light. I had numbness in my legs and felt very weak all over my body.

All that night, I vomited and had pain all down my back. I was grey in colour and had a stiff upper body. I spent the next 2 days in bed as I felt nauseous and like I would collapse if I sat or stood up. I remember feeling very concerned and confused – I knew that I was seriously ill as I am not one to vomit with sickness, and how I felt was far worse than other people around me were suffering with in terms of a general “upset stomach.”

Once I arrived back in England, my parents took me straight to my local hospital. Within 10 minutes of being in A&E, I had several assessments and blood tests taken before being admitted into the Short Stay Emergency Assessment Unit that afternoon with a temperature of just over 106.

Originally, I presented all signs and symptoms of having malaria, but the doctors ran several tests and ruled this out within a day. After this, they were unsure whether I had meningitis or tuberculosis.

From here, I had 4 lumbar punctures over the course of 2 days because of several of them failing to work. For me, this was a big ordeal as I am scared of needles, but the local anaesthetic and kindness of the nurses put me at ease throughout. After the procedure, I spent the next 6 hours lying flat on my back as to avoid causing any damage to the spine post-lumbar puncture. The results found that the white blood cells count in my cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) was extremely high, and from this they gathered that I had contracted meningitis.

I spent a total of 5 days in hospital – I was discharged once they found out that I had viral meningitis as the treatment plan I was on was mostly effective for curing bacterial meningitis.

After 4 weeks of being either in the midst of Africa or in a hospital bed, I was finally home. I spent the next 2 weeks recovering – for about a week and a half, I could barely lift my head for more than 10 minutes without developing a severe headache.

It was now Mid-August and most of my after effects had gone in terms of the headaches and sickness. But months on, and I suffer badly with tiredness, in terms of wanting to lay in bed for days due to feeling exhausted, and extreme aches and pains all over my body. But in the grand scheme of things, the consequences that I could have suffered could have been far worse than I encountered.

I am now suffering with PVFS, a form of ME, since having meningitis. The illness means I suffer with a lack of concentration, serious fatigue and I need regular naps to maintain energy. I am advised to eat 4 meals a day to store my energy, which has had a huge impact on my daily routines. Having PVFS is hard as it means that I struggle with work, but am receiving sufficient support from both a neurologist and my family to help me through the illness, which may not go for a few years.

FEBRUARY 2014 (updated October 2014)