Kirsty Lawson

Meningococcal disease at 21

Meningococcal disease

The first few months of 2004 had been really good, I had turned 21 in March and was nearly finished in my third year at university studying pharmacy.

Then on the morning of Monday 26th April I knew something was not right. I woke up and was not feeling great; I ached all over and had a headache. I was supposed to be going to lectures but I phoned mum and asked her to phone me at lunchtime to wake me up as I had a presentation in the afternoon.  

Mum phoned me at 12pm and I felt worse but needed to get up. I put some soup on but suddenly felt really sick so decided to avoid food and head for a shower. When I took off my pyjamas I noticed a rash on my upper legs and stomach. At this point I started to think back to a talk I had been to last year with my mum at the local school. It had been organised by Michael Pattie, who lost his son to meningitis, and Meningitis Research Foundation, and I thought it would be good information for my career. I remembered I had picked up a symptoms card so went and looked at it and soon realised that most of my symptoms were pointing to meningitis - headache, fever, stiff neck, aching joints, vomiting and rash.  I then tried the tumbler test and the rash was not fading.

I phoned Mum and she told me to get to hospital so my sister took me in a taxi to Glasgow Royal Infirmary.  My mum made the 60-mile trip to Glasgow. I was seen quite quickly, the doctor came to examine me and took some blood. My mum arrived and the doctor came to speak to us. He didn't think it was meningitis but said they would do a lumbar puncture just to be sure. I didn't want it because I knew how sore it would be. Mum stayed with me and I think she took the brunt of my pain. After lying flat for two hours the results came back clear so the doctor sent me home saying it was a viral infection.

I woke up the next day feeling slightly better so headed in to uni to sit a test. After the test I felt terrible so went to bed. The symptoms were getting worse and my eyes were becoming sensitive to light.

At 9pm that night my parents got a phone call from the hospital to tell them I needed to attend the hospital immediately. By chance the immunologist had been called in on an emergency and checked my blood test and saw signs of meningococcal septicaemia. My parents left straight away and I headed to the hospital. By this point I was being very sick and I cannot describe how sore my head was.  It was not long before I was getting my first lot of IV antibiotics. My parents and sister arrived and stayed with me all night.

I don't remember much of that night but woke up the next morning feeling better. I was in a single room for the first few days, my mum and sister sat with me all day to keep me company. The headaches were awful and continued for a while, as did the severe nausea. I had to stay in hospital for a week to get IV antibiotics but as the week went on I started to improve. I couldn't wait to get out of hospital.

When it was time to leave the hospital the staff were unable to give us much information about my recovery and side effects I went home to my parents to rest and get 'TLC'. Mum went online to try and find some information and found the Meningitis Research Foundation helpline number, so phoned it. They were great, explained what to expect and sent out a information pack to us.

I tried to sit my exams two weeks later as I was determined to be fit enough to make a planned trip to America for the summer. Looking back I would never have been able to go. I had been very lucky not be left with any major long-term side effects but was very weak. It took about six months to feel stronger.

As a family we did a sponsored bike ride and raised over £1000 for the Foundation. We have a lot to thank Meningitis Research Foundation for as they made me aware of the symptoms. I realised what was wrong with me quite quickly thanks to my little purple card and the talk I had attended. The support afterwards from the Foundation was also greatly appreciated. It's reassuring to speak to someone who cares and can help.

I have made a full recovery apart from a weakened immune system and I qualified as a Pharmacist three years ago.