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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.

Louise Toms-Whittle

Meningococcal disease at 19

Meningococcal disease

At the age of 19 I was in my second year of studying medicine at university. On a Friday night out I started vomiting profusely and assumed I had food poisoning.

The next day I felt better if a little drained and took a train to the Quantock Hills to join my mother and sister for a 'relaxing' weekend away. Over the Saturday night I began to feel unwell again, very feverish and thought I was telepathically communicating with aliens!

The following day I assumed I was coming down with a virus and we decided to potter around a town rather than anything strenuous. I began to develop a severe headache and went to lie down in the car. By the time my mother came back to the car I remember just rocking and crying unable to do anything due to the pain. My mother took me straight to the local minor injuries unit; by the time we arrived there I was also vomiting profusely. At no point did I develop photophobia, neck stiffness or a rash.

At the minor injuries unit my mother told the GP running the unit that there had been several cases of meningitis at my uni. The GP gave me intramuscular antibiotics and got me a blue light ambulance to the local big hospital about 30 minutes away.

This is where my memory becomes hazy, I remember my 13 year old sister coming in the ambulance with me and being absolutely amazing. I have a vague memory of a doctor doing neurological testing and me becoming quite aggressive. After this I don't remember much as I developed septic shock and became unconscious. During this time my mother was told I was unlikely to make it and she called my extended family to the hospital to say their goodbyes.

However with the care I received I did make it and woke to hear a doctor telling his colleagues that three out of five people in my condition would not live. I think I gave all of them a shock when I said hello and asked for something to eat!

I know that I am very lucky to be here today and would likely not be if it wasn't for the quick thinking of my family and the medical professionals who looked after me, and the fact there was an increased awareness of meningitis at the time.

That is not to say that those seven years have been easy. I have suffered with recurrent infections and with balance and tinnitus problems which have led to me having several courses of intensive neuro-physio to help me learn to walk properly again.

I also know that my family have been through a lot, especially straight after my illness when all I wanted to do was block everyone out and had a rather over enthusiastic ‘live for the moment’ attitude; a time that I believe made them feel they had indeed lost me in terms of the person they knew before my illness. They, my friends, partner and colleagues have continued to be a great source of support over the last few years.

I am now a qualified doctor and currently in training to be a GP. I know that my experiences influence my practice greatly and I hope that they help me to be better at my job. My sister is currently training to be a doctor – a decision that was influenced by her experiences when I was ill, and something I am very proud of her for undertaking.
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