I had just received my A level results, been working all summer and was looking forward to two weeks in Spain with my friends. It was August, July 1998 and 16 of us flew to Costa Brava to enjoy the sun and nightlife before going our separate ways in October to different universities.
Aged 18 and full of fun, the first week in Costa Brava was blissful. Getting ready to go out I felt unwell and very tired, I decided to have a lie down. A few friends stayed at the apartment and enjoyed the craic on the balcony, whilst I snoozed on the sofa.
After breakfast the next morning I was on the phone with my boyfriend to see how he was and to tell him that I was going to the apartment as I felt unwell. I clearly remember shaking and feeling like I had the flu. I had a warm bath and lay down; my friend came to check on me numerous times. One girl noticed a rash on my legs and thought I must be getting shingles. A short time later I began to deteriorate rapidly.
My friends, Leslie and Michael, phoned the travel company to get a doctor. They then sat with me as at that point I was full of pains in my legs, only to be described as knives stabbing me from the inside. I could not walk because of the pain and to my embarrassment, I had to be helped onto and off the toilet as I had diarrhoea and was vomiting at the same time.
Everything after this is a bit blurry, but I can complete the story from what I learnt afterwards.
I remember the doctor arriving whilst I was lying on the sofa, he examined me and asked questions to test my consciousness. I could not give him the correct answer to the questions he asked, the answers were all mixed up. I remember the concerned face of the doctor and him being on the phone for an ambulance. At this point I remember opening my eyes to the bright sun whilst being carried down steps. I tried to speak as I woke briefly, in the ambulance that shook me all over the place.
The next thing I remember was three or four people standing over me with blue gowns on, but I could not stay awake. After a day in a coma, I woke up in a hospital room. The nurse came to speak to me and said my Dad was waiting outside, to which I said something like “you can’t tell him I’m sick, he would be so disappointed”. I spent two weeks in hospital, with no Spanish language, recovering and eating food from Marks and Spencer’s that my Dad snuck in. My Dad cared for me in my hospital room, washing my hair and trying to entertain me.
We waited daily for the doctor to give us the all clear to fly home. The headaches in hospital, and for months after, were unbearable. Arriving home, an emotional reunion with my Mum certainly brought home how serious the whole situation had been. She had a lot of support at home and a supportive visit from MRF a few days after I came back. It was then I only released how lucky I was, considering the fatality of some.
Despite advice I started university in Dublin that October; the first few months were tough with tiredness and headaches. It was only some years after that I was in a position to contact the Foundation to offer some sort of volunteering – so far, information leaflet placement, helping with supplies and fundraising on my 30th birthday. Only a little help but something to go towards support as I feel very lucky to have survived meningitis with 100% health.