Jeanie Olivier

Meningococcal disease at 58

Meningococcal disease

In early December 1994, I arrived in Edinburgh on my annual six week vacation from Hong Kong where I practised as a solicitor. I stayed with my sister and niece. My plans included attendance for a few days at an international legal conference in London and I was also intending to join the family in Portugal for a golfing holiday during Christmas and New Year.

A few days after returning to Edinburgh from the London conference, I remember experiencing a sore throat which, despite over-the-counter medication was really bothering me. On 17 December, I felt unwell which I thought to be flu-like symptoms. As I was going on holiday on 20 December, I had decided hopefully to see one of the doctors from the family's medical centre the next day, which was a Saturday.

I went early to bed that evening. I do not remember anything else until sometime during the first week of January 1995. My family have advised me that they attempted to wake me up during the evening, but without success. I appeared also to be having fits.

The medical centre was contacted and the senior partner came at very short interval. On examination he noticed I had a rash on my body, and with the background information, he suspected meningitis and septicaemia, completed by epilepsy. He injected me with penicillin there and then and transferred me by ambulance to the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The diagnosis was confirmed by lumbar puncture.

I stayed in the intensive therapy unit until the first week of January 1995; then was transferred to a general medical unit until 23 January. As I was weak and unable to walk, I was transferred to the Astley Ounolie Hospital for rehabilitation, where I remained until 23 February. My physical impairments and disabilities were: unable to walk, fatigue, left side deafness and modest difficulties with attention and memory. It was inferred that I would most likely never be able to practice again.

My discharge was sooner than expected because of the shortage of hospital beds and I had family with whom I could stay. I was still unable to walk unaided on discharge and required to have walking aids. In addition, bathing aids and handrails were fitted into my family's home. My fitness gradually improved; I was able to walk unaided by May but dizziness remained a major problem and affected my balance. I remained deaf in my left ear, compounded now by tinnitus. It was recommended that I have a few months convalescence with outpatient remedial therapy, incremental physical exercise program and monitoring.

I was able to return to Hong Kong in June and by August I had resumed practice, with no mental or memory difficulties. For the next year, I was fortunate to receive physical management to strengthen my body and legs.

I always believed that meningitis was mainly a disease of children and young people. However, as my history shows, it can strike at any age. I believe I owe my life to the family doctor because of his early recognition of the symptoms and signs of meningococcal disease and his decisive action.

I was not aware of the Meningitis Research Foundation until 1998, when I returned to stay in Edinburgh. I had read a short newspaper article about funding for the Foundation and I contacted them to offer my assistance, if required.