Meningitis in your words

Ann Smith's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Adult 25-59
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Other
Ann Smith

I was admitted to The Mater Hospital in Dublin for surgery to my cervical spine on August 4th 2009. I was confident of my team in the spinal unit and expected to be in hospital a week to ten days. After surgery, I had a swelling on my neck but I wasn't too concerned at that point.

It was on a Sunday morning, my partner had just been in to visit and he brought me the newspapers. I just felt a slight headache come on and got into bed. The nursing staff watched me closely as headaches are often a sign of leaking spinal fluid. I started vomiting and became quite sleepy and uninterested in my surroundings.

It was then I was given a lumbar puncture. I remember time just slipping away from me from that point and the hospital’s infectious disease team being around when I was told I had bacterial meningitis. With all the drugs and the disease, I just couldn't really take in what was happening.

"Although I was on life support, I was still coherent, frightened and very isolated."

I was started on antibiotics almost immediately, and, to make things more complicated, the swelling on my neck was causing problems to not only my recovery but my breathing and swallowing. My consultant informed me I had to go back into theatre a third time and have all the metalwork opened in my neck and have the leak patched up.

I can remember my partner standing by my bed crying and I couldn't even reach out to comfort him, but I managed to tell him that we'd get through this. I went down to theatre still vomiting and full of morphine.

Thankfully, I did come out of theatre. In intensive care I was on a ventilator and hooked up to machines, and I had no front teeth. The anaesthetic team had problems intubating me in theatre and had to remove my front teeth to save me.

Although I was on life support, I was still coherent, frightened and very isolated. I remained there for at least five days, only seeing my partner 20 minutes a day, not seeing my kids and so out of it on morphine I had such terrible hallucinations and nightmares.

I felt so alone and every night I told all my family and friends in my head ‘goodbye’ because I was convinced I was still going to die. I prayed to be taken back to the spinal unit, only then could I feel like I was getting better. I got my wish and although I was back in familiar surroundings, I was far from out of the woods.

It has been a long road up from the initial disease. I spent 12 weeks in total in hospital, constantly on antibiotics, morphine, drips and blood transfusions. By the time physiotherapy could be recommenced, I could hardly walk or use my arms and I'd lost two and a half stone in weight and was having to be tube fed.

After a first discharge, I was readmitted due to my IV antibiotics poisoning me. Finally in December I started to feel like myself again. A little less hair, teeth and weight but so very grateful to be alive. I feel so different since my experience and every day counts for me now. I feel that it was being in hospital that saved me from meningitis, because if I had gotten that 'headache' at home, I'd have gone to bed and put it down to a migraine.

I intend to raise money for meningitis research this summer and hopefully someone else can get the benefit of my experience.