Helen Jones

Bacterial Meningitis at 37

Bacterial Meningitis

On Saturday, 3rd April 09 I really didn't feel well all day. I was cold, shivering and had a headache. We were due to go on holiday on the Monday and I thought, typical if I get a cold or flu now before we go. I woke up during the night with a terrible fever, I just couldn't get warm at all. On the Sunday morning at 6am I woke with the most awful stomach pains so my husband took me to the local A&E where they gave me painkillers and told me my temperature was up but sent me home. By Sunday night I was back there with the same but again they gave me more painkillers and antibiotics this time because they said it was obvious I had some sort of infection then sent me home.

On Monday morning, the day we were supposed to go away, I woke with terrible pains in my legs and could hardly walk so we cancelled the holiday. As the week went on I was getting weaker and weaker and by Wednesday my GP came out to see me but said I had a bad case of flu and changed the antibiotics. A few hours after he left the headache got really worse, I couldn't move my head (especially down), I was sick and shaking. By Thursday night I was much worse so another GP came out, but still didn't suspect anything other than bad flu but did some neurological tests (for a brain tumour) just in case! I carried on being sick and by now couldn't stand any light and was starting to hallucinate, so early on Friday morning (Good Friday) my husband phoned for an ambulance.

When the ambulance arrived they paramedics weren't very sympathetic and despite the pain in my legs made me walk to the ambulance. When we arrived at the local hospital it was so busy I had to sit in the ambulance for half an hour before they could find me a bed. Luckily when they got me in there within an hour a fantastic consultant took one look at me tried to switch the lights on, but when I screamed he knew immediately I had meningitis and within half and hour I was up in theatre having a lumbar puncture. Unfortunately, because I had already had 2 different sort of antibiotics, although they knew I had bacterial meningitis, they would never know what strain it was.

I was then transferred to a stroke and rehabilitation ward (there were no beds available in ICU or HDU) where I was taken to a small side room with a en-suite toilet. This was to be my isolation room for the next 11 days. I was immediately hooked up to antibiotics and given huge doses of morphine. The consultant came to see my husband who told him that another 2 hours and I would have been in a coma and worst case scenario was, well, you've heard the stories of people who didn't make it. That could have been me.

Although I was diagnosed quickly on arrival, my stay in hospital was far from OK. On the first night, my head was so bad and my legs so painful, when I asked for help to go to the toilet, the nurse laughed and told me it was only a little headache! I asked her if she'd ever had meningitis and she shut up! Because I have such small veins, they kept collapsing and the antibiotics were virtually burning my veins. By the Sunday, because of the pain and the burning I was crying and begging them to stop the pain, the nurse turned round and said I was lucky I wasn't having chemotherapy! Just what you want to hear. I may not have had cancer but I was still fighting for my life. Also because I was in isolation, all medics and my husband had to wear masks, aprons and gloves to come into my room and the nurses all but admitted that when I rang the bell for attention (they took an awful long time to arrive. I waited one hour once for someone to come) they left me till last because it took them so long to gown and mask up!

Despite all this, I started responding and 11 days later I was discharged. I hadn't seen my kids for over 2 weeks (we'd sent them to stay with their grandparents a couple of days before I went into hospital so that my husband could look after me and not have to worry about them so much as well) and seeing them again made all that I'd been through worth it.

I still get bad headaches, am almost constantly tired and still get terrible pains in my legs and knees (just had an x-ray on them to see if rheumatoid arthritis has set in) and my memory and hearing are not what they were, but I'm still alive and for that alone I have a lot to be grateful for. I have days when I'm so depressed thinking what could have been a very different outcome. My husband and parents can't understand why I keep going over the past but I suppose they don't understand. The consultant said when I was discharged that I was lucky to be alive. It's been 6 months now and I know I'm very lucky but I still can't help thinking how close I came and thank God everyday for my life, my husband, my kids and my family, because without them I wouldn't have come through this.