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meningitis & septicaemia can kill in hours!

People who are faced with meningitis and septicaemia have to act fast to help save a life.

Laura Elliott

Meningococcal disease at 17

Meningococcal disease

After suffering from meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in January 2009 I wanted to help raise awareness and support for those who have suffered a similar experience as I did.

I had been tired and felt ‘run down’ over the Christmas holidays but, being in the first year of sixth form, I was partying hard and trying to ignore the usual colds and flu of winter.  

By mid morning on my second day back into the January term at school I started to feel really groggy and shaky. I had to leave the year 12 lecture theatre and go to the toilet as I had overwhelming nausea and thought I was going to be sick. Luckily my friend followed me to make sure I was OK and subsequently found me almost unconscious next to one of the toilets. I had a throbbing, aching feeling pounding through my head and was experiencing constant shaking and shivering, I couldn’t relax my muscles. By this time red spots had begun to appear on my upper thighs and I had a huge red and blue lump on my upper left arm.

My mum picked me up from school and an emergency doctor’s appointment was made at my local GP’s.  My mum kept checking my rash and pressing it but I didn’t know why.  When I got to the doctors I described my symptoms and she had a good look at my rash.  She then left the room for a little while (unbeknownst to me she was calling an ambulance).  My GP gave me intravenous penicillin before the ambulance arrived, which undoubtedly saved my life.  

Once in the ambulance I was told that they suspected I had meningitis and embarrassingly, I had no idea what that was. I think this is a crucial part of my story, because people need to be aware of the symptoms, as meningitis is a disease which needs fast and immediate treatment. I only knew it was something serious because of the horrified look on my mum’s face!

Meningitis and septicaemia can affect people differently and can be mistaken for other diseases.  My rash was not initially typical of meningococcal septicaemia.  It started as big red blobs that faded with pressure but then tiny purple ‘freckles’ started to appear that did not fade. Some of these joined together to form bigger ‘bruises’ like the one on my arm which worried my GP.  My joints ached incredibly and when my mum took my socks off to show the doctors the rash on my feet I pleaded with her to put them back on as my feet were so cold!

I spent a week in hospital receiving my treatment (four IV doses a day!) and although hospitals are scary places to be in, the nurses and doctors made me feel incredibly comfortable and made me laugh as they whizzed me around in my wheelchair.

Although it was a horrifying ordeal I cannot be more grateful to have come out of it with no serious after effects. I know that many people are left with permanent damage and some even lose limbs. The only problems I faced were getting back into my school routine in order to be able to take my AS levels. The overwhelming fatigue made it difficult for me to wake up in the mornings and put me back in bed at 4.30pm every day.  I suffered regular headaches and it was nine months before I was back at school full time when I began my second year of sixth form in September 2009.  My teachers were fantastic in helping me keep up with work and, despite missing a lot of school, I managed to take my AS and A levels and I have just started my first year at Sheffield University, which is where I had set my heart on before I became ill.

MRF is an organisation which promotes awareness of meningitis and supports research into this disease which is why it was my chosen charity. In the summer or 2010 my family and I went on holiday to Scotland and we stayed in Fort Augustus – a 20 mile journey from Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to raise money for MRF by climbing ‘The Ben’! Little did we know just how challenging it was going to be! But we all made it to the summit. To say my muscles ached is a massive understatement! The word agony is more appropriate!

The uphill climb was a nightmare on the thighs! The views were breathtaking and I didn’t believe it was possible to get any higher – but it was. Eventually we were at the summit, looking down on the hills that had seemed so high just a few hours earlier. The view from the top was unreal and kind people saw our t-shirts and gave us money for Meningitis Research Foundation!

The experience was one of a kind. None of us expected it to be so much of a challenge, but with our goal of £500 being well exceeded (we raised £1,000 in the end) we had a strong motive to keep us going.

My family kept me going through my difficult time during my illness and they certainly kept me motivated as we climbed Ben Nevis – I couldn’t have done it without the three most important people in my life, Mum, Dad and my sister Louise.
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