Meningococcal disease at 13

Meningococcal disease

I contracted the illness in October 2009. It started off an ordinary, normal day. When I'd woken up I had a sore throat, but I took a Vitamin C thinking nothing of it and went on my way to school.

However, walking out of Period 1 I felt a slight twinge in my neck; it was like I'd pulled a muscle. Again though, I thought nothing of it and continued with my daily routine.

But by lunch I could barely turn my head without sending shooting waves of pain down my spine. I was struggling to copy notes off the white board as it hurt too much to look at the board and then back at my book. I was also struggling to focus and was unable to concentrate because of an excruciating headache; I felt an intense pressure all over my skull. For someone who is usually very neat, my handwriting was a mess. Concerned, my best friend Grace told me to go see the school nurse but I didn't want to cause a fuss by going. All I wanted was to make it through the day, go home, take some painkillers and sleep.

In the afternoon I had games which was pure torture. Every movement, no matter how hard I tried, seemed to jolt my neck and send spasms of pain down my spine. I attempted sit-ups, which require considerable effort on a normal day, but when you have a stiff neck they're near impossible. Tired and tearful, I managed to make it to the end of the lesson. As soon as I got in the car to go home however, I burst into tears. My mum was immediately concerned as it was most unlike me; normally I would just brush something off and get on with my day.

When we got home, Mum got out some Nurofen for me to take. To this day I am so grateful to the unknown force that made her hesitate for a moment and ask me to tell her again what was wrong. I described to her my headache and stiff neck, as well as my shivery and achy muscles and my overwhelming desire to sleep. If my mum hadn't stopped to listen more closely to my symptoms she might not have recognised them as potential indicators of meningitis.

She drove me straight to the GP and demanded to see the emergency doctor. Although I wasn't showing many of the signs of meningitis that he tested me for (such as the vomiting, rash, or dislike of bright lights), my extremely high temperature, headache, stiff neck and sleepiness caused him to seek the opinion of a more senior doctor, who diagnosed me with suspected meningitis. It was he ordered for me to be given a shot of penicillin and be taken straight to hospital.

I'm not the type of person to cry about injections, not even as a baby, but this time I remember biting down on my hand to stop myself screaming out in pain. I vaguely remember my mum asking if she could briefly go home to arrange care for my younger siblings, but the GP refused, saying I needed to be near an intensive care unit ASAP in case the worse happened, and he offered to call an ambulance.

 In the end my mum drove me. I don't remember much of the journey, as every tiny, insignificant bump or pothole in the road would cause waves of pain to radiate from my neck. I was acutely aware of my mum frantically ringing round friends and neighbours explaining the situation and trying to organise care for my younger brother and sister, as well as trying to get hold of my dad who was on a business trip in China at the time.

When we got to hospital I was admitted straight onto the paediatric ward and given an assessment. As the penicillin had lowered my temperature, the doctors were unsure whether I had meningitis or tonsillitis, and so decided to do some blood tests. In the meantime, they put me on a general, high strength antibiotic which was given intravenously to me. I also remember taking some strong painkillers before gratefully falling into sleep at last.

The next morning I felt much better. I still had a bit of a headache, and my neck was still stiff, but I could at least turn my head without having sharp pains shoot down my spine! My blood tests also came back, and due to my abnormally high white blood cell count doctors concluded I had contracted meningitis. The next stage would've been to have a lumbar puncture, but as I was responding so well to my current treatment the doctors decided to continue with this and not go ahead with the lumbar puncture, as it would only be detrimental to my recovery.

The next day my progress had been so good that I was discharged from the paediatric unit –
provided I came in once a day for the rest of the week to receive my antibiotics intravenously. This I did, and the next Monday I was able to return to school as normal - exactly one week after I had contracted the disease. This is seen by many people as an incredibly short recovery time, particularly for such a vicious and debilitating illness.

Today I am happy and healthy 16 year old who has no after effects from meningitis. I enjoy school, socialising with my friends and I'm always willing to try new things, the latest of which is running. I reluctantly started in September 2011 running once a week with the school. Since then however, after several months of perseverance and improvement I have grown to enjoy it and now have decided to run my first half marathon, in support of Meningitis Research Foundation.

Meningitis is vicious and excruciatingly painful illness. It strikes suddenly and unexpectedly and can kill within hours. No one should have to experience it. Many meningitis sufferers are not nearly as lucky as I was, and if it were not for the quick reactions of my mum and medical staff, it might be me relying on the support of charities like these.

JULY 2012