This is a story of deep sadness and yet great hope.
In telling the story I have to explain that Mel was a mum of two little boys at the time of her illness. Alistair was 15 months and Cameron was three years old. Mel was still 33.
It all seemed to start with an ear infection resulting in a family outing to the doctors. The doctor prescribed antibiotics which seemed to make Mel vomit but that was apparently normal for these antibiotics. So I (Craig - the husband) had the day off to play with the children. As a result I was not really aware of Mel's condition deteriorating.
She spent the day in bed, occasionally being ill, but mainly sleeping. She briefly appeared in the afternoon and laid on the sofa watching us in the garden.
Once I had put the boys to bed Mel did seem to be quite poorly. I rang her mum who advised me to ring the doctor as Mel was becoming non co-operative and not really making sense; even knocking a drink out of my hand. I am very glad I listened to her as you shall soon read.
The out-of-hours doctor arrived and having examined Mel, summoned an ambulance. I beat the ambulance to the hospital where Mel continued to not respond to questioning and was quite uncomfortable and writhing around. When Mel was admitted to a normal ward I was despatched home. I think I was home by 2am or 3am, only to be awoken by a call from the hospital at 6.30am requesting I get to the hospital as Mel had taken a turn for the worst.
I have never driven with lumps of lead for legs before. Somehow I got to the hospital to be told that Mel had stopped breathing for a period in the hospital, although for how long no one knew! They had taken her to theatre and gave her an emergency tracheotomy. You can see why I am glad I listened to my mother-in-law - the outcome of not calling the doctor would have been much worse than the embarrassment of a false alarm!
However, Mel was in a coma. They had no ITU beds at the hospital so she was transferred later that day to another hospital. She was continuing to deteriorate as there was tremendous pressure in her skull and she needed neurosurgery, and so had to be transferred to London.
On relieving the pressure in her head it was hoped she would improve but she did not.
The thing is, I do not really remember anyone talking about meningitis, even pneumococcal meningitis, which Mel had with septicaemia. Mel had none of the symptoms you would have expected, like the rash that won't go away under the pressure of the tumbler, but she did have the other symptoms that are less well publicised.
The hospital prepared me for the worst and were encouraging me to sign no-resuscitation forms, which I refused to do.
It was interesting that we spotted small improvements that the doctors would not. Mel was slowly responding to the audible stimulation even though her body was not responding to painful stimulus. I am sure it was the Harry Potter book I was reading to her and our many prayers! In the meantime we had an army of helpers from our church helping look after the boys whilst I travelled daily to London.
After about five or six weeks Mel was opening her eyes and responding. The doctors found that she was paralysed below the neck and unable to cope without the ventilator. That was not good news!
She was then transferred back to our local hospital. It was here that we had our first major breakthrough. An occupational therapist worked out how to communicate with Mel. She was asked how she felt and she responded by blinking out "pampered". She was asked what she missed most and she responded "chocolate" and if she had a message for me and the boys: "love". Although she had a physical problem, mentally Mel was as sharp as ever.
When it was realised that there was not going to be much further physical improvement, a place was secured for her at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in Putney. There she was taught some skills such as how to use a computer via a chin switch and showed possibilities in spite of disablement.
Mel was first admitted into hospital 12.06.2003 and was allowed home 22.10.2005.
We had been in the process of moving house just prior to her illness, so it was great to get her home. We had bought it with the thought of caring for elderly relatives in due course but little did we know that it had a more immediate use!
Since then Mel has slotted into a mad family lifestyle - two young boys now aged seven and nine. We have two people to look after Mel 24 hours a day - a nurse and a carer. Going out is a military operation with medicines, spare ventilator, suction machines and a tank of a wheelchair. We have a specially-converted Transit van that makes getting out possible. We can do most things but they do take planning.
We have had so much help from friends and relatives, whether it is childcare or a hot dinner delivered to the door, and we would have struggled without the financial help of various benevolent funds. But Mel has always taken the attitude that we do not only receive but also help others. We have therefore always been keen to help publicise the work of the Meningitis Research Foundation. Friends have formed a band to raise money for research and we have had numerous newspaper appearances and even the radio - twice! The more that people know about this awful disease the better.