Meningitis in your words

Alex Brown's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Viral
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Hearing problems
Alex Brown
Until the age of 16, I was healthy and fit. Just as I was starting my last-but-one year of school, I spent three days without eating. I was violently sick, which made me even weaker. The pain in my abdomen was excruciating. My parents took me to see my GP, who thought it might be appendicitis. We went to the local hospital (I was living in rural France at the time), where the surgeon disagreed with the diagnosis.

Then the headaches started. I was transferred to the bigger hospital in the city for a lumbar puncture. A lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) involves a huge needle being inserted into the spine in the lower back to drain cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF), which normally forms a protective layer around the brain. My CSF pressure was extremely high, far beyond the normal range. 

"I knew it was serious because of how I felt inside and my parents lost their sense of humour."

I had to lie flat on my back for 24 hours after the procedure. I was put in quarantine because the doctors weren’t sure whether I was contagious. It was very scary to see my family come in wearing masks and keeping their distance when all I wanted was to be close to them. When the results of my blood tests came back, it turned out that it was “only” viral meningitis.

I knew it was serious, partly because of how I felt inside, but also because my parents lost their sense of humour. My sister drew a picture of me (not something she would normally do) and it was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m glad we haven’t kept it.

Since then (that was 2005), I have been partially deaf on one side and I am extremely sensitive to bright lights (this is called “photophobia”). I have been back to hospital several times and still frequently suffer from migraines.

But I try not to let it get me down. I know it could have been a lot worse. Other victims of meningitis fare a lot worse than I did, some being left completely deaf, blind or paralysed. Not everyone even survives. At the peak of a bad episode, when I can hardly open my eyes from the photophobia and I spend days in bed with migraines, I still remember that I am alive and largely unhurt.

Being abroad for the worst of it, I didn’t receive help from the Meningitis Research Foundation in particular. Since coming to study in the UK four years ago, however, I’ve become involved in fundraising for them, because I know how important their work is. I started going on collections with the Raise And Give group at my university. 

I find collecting addictive, particularly when it’s for a cause close to my heart. When I graduated, I didn’t want to stop collecting. I joined the Ragabonds, a group of friends from across the country who go collecting whenever they can. Lots of them started whilst they were at university and, like me, didn’t see graduation as a reason to stop.