Susan McGeough

Pneumococcal meningitis at 52

Pneumococcal meningitis

The beginning of my story is a little different to most; I didn't have flu symptoms or any illness. I had been driving my car and was hit from behind whilst turning right, which caused a number of injuries including broken bones, one of which was my neck. I stayed a week in hospital and after a few days at home collapsed following a deteriorating mental condition over this time. The neck brace (Minerva collar) that I had to wear, plus my injuries from the accident, masked any symptoms of meningitis, unfortunately.

My husband and younger daughter (who had flown home to look after me) called an ambulance and insisted over the next few days that the confirmed case of pneumonia was not my only problem. Luckily the treatment for this also covered pneumococcal meningitis. I was in and out of coma and progressed from ICU, to HDU on to the ward and home over about three and a half weeks. My stay in hospital was pretty scary for my family and me, although I was largely 'out of it'. I did remember a few of my hallucinations whilst in the comas, although I have lost a few weeks of my life. I 'dreamt' that I was falling from a perpendicular bed, and that the nurses walked up the walls - relatively amusing with hindsight. This also explained why I was climbing up the bed and had to be tied down, further enhancing the weird dreams (being chased by police, etc!).

When I got home after this hospital visit I continued to suffer from chest infections and then developed pulmonary emboli. At this stage my daughter gave up her life for the rest of the year to care for me, I needed quite a lot of care. I was quite sick and had no patience or concentration, nor much ability to care for myself.

After 13 and a half weeks of torture, the Minerva collar (for the broken neck), came off and then I could start to recover and also begin to deal with the after effects of meningitis, which had seemed less important than the broken neck at the time. I have been left deaf in my left ear; have tinnitus and issues with my balance/ dizziness. At present I am trying to get my life back together and am hoping to be able to drive in the future. It is only now that I can read about the experiences that others have had, and find these comforting. I may even, in time, start up a New Zealand support group.

I have realised that this disease not only affects me but has had a huge emotional - and financial - cost on the whole family. I have also realised that to survive and recover from this you not only need good medical staff but a supportive family. I was extremely fortunate in this regard. I was in hospital for five weeks altogether and, despite the hospital being 100km away, my husband and daughters came every day. They were also great whilst I was in a coma; I know how important this is now and encourage others to talk to their loved ones as the message does pass through the barrier of consciousness (or lack of it!).

At 52 years old I get a bit sulky at having to use a walking stick, especially as my 80 year old mother doesn't, but remind myself that at least I am walking, and able to hear through one ear. I have found that this unilateral hearing has a strange side effect of noises always appearing to come from the exact opposite direction. Conversations in our house often seem to be peppered with "what" and "you don't need to shout". I can't imagine how disabling total deafness is, or rather, I can!