Meningitis in your words

Bridget Watson's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Group B meningococcal (MenB)
  • Age: Adult 25-59
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Memory loss
Bridget Watson
My story begins in January 2001 at the age of 43, when I began to feel unwell, generally out of sorts. As the year progressed, I developed a sore throat which did not respond to antibiotics.  

"I was found by my mother, practically unconscious on the sofa."

By June, I was struggling to cope, with home, work, and the ever-present sore throat. On General Election day, June 7th, the only time I have never voted, I was found by my mother, practically unconscious on the sofa. My memories of that day are hazy, but I was admitted to hospital with Group B meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.
Fortunately, I recovered, and six weeks later I began to write! Not something I have done in the past but nevertheless, I wrote a story that ended up as a novella.

I still had off days but did not know at that stage of the Foundation Befrienders existence, otherwise I would have made use of them, just to talk to someone - to have reassurance that the achy, rotten tiredness I was experiencing, along with the memory loss - was normal!

This is one reason why I included the quotation at the beginning of my poems, as I felt I wanted something to blot out the horrible feelings of inadequacy I was feeling, and that I truly was the only one who could "heal myself".  If I had known about the Befrienders, who knows, I might never have written anything.
I threw myself into looking after my family, although I have never again felt fit enough to return to work. Eighteen months after my recovery, I again began to feel ill - this time I was diagnosed with depression, which hit me hard. Once more, I began to write, this time a series of poems, which documented my feelings over the months of recovery from meningitis.
In time there became enough of these poems to make an anthology. I did half-heartedly pursue the idea of having them published but my poems are not what you could call mainstream! Perhaps they are better used in the Book of Experience!

Battle of Shadows

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased? 
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, 
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?"

"Therein the patient must minister to himself."
                            (Macbeth: Act V Scene II)


I can do everything! Just watch me!
Wash, iron, school run too,
Bit of work, here and there,
Shopping, meals to prepare, 
Take the boys here, collect them from there,
Pass my doppelganger on my return 
Across town and back again!
Bit of gardening, wash the car,
I am everything to everybody -
I am housekeeper, chief bottle washer,
Nurse and lover,
I'm a dutiful daughter, wife and mother-
I can do everything -just watch me!


A sore throat so bad it made me choke,
A temperature - so hot - so shiveringly cold -
Just want to sleep, be quiet, so quiet.
Just want to be quiet and cool - and sleep.

It's blissfully cold, down here on the floor,
I think I'll stay here, just for a while...
But I'm so thirsty...I must have a drink...
Oh, that's better...I'm going to be sick!

Can't stay here, down here on the floor,
Must go lie down, somewhere, anywhere...
I like it dark, so peaceful and black...
Don't put the light on! Just leave it dark!

Don't talk to me! I can't speak!
Just leave me be and let me sleep.
The doctor's here! I've got a stiff neck! 
Oh no! I know what this is! But I don't care ...

Don't talk to me ...just let me sleep.
Blissful peace ... so quiet and still.
The doctor's talking, strangely urgent.
Don't talk to me ...just let me sleep.

Crisis Point

Two men, two strangers, kind and strong
Lift me, wrap and take me...
Cold blast of air! An ambulance?
Must take note and tell the boys!
My mother's face so pinched and worried,
Don't talk to me! Just leave me be!

People stare - I don't like it!
Don't look at me - I don't like that!
I close my eyes and go to sleep.

Don't talk to me - just leave me be!
Let me lie here and go to sleep.
Blissful sleep where nothing happens -
Quiet, strangely peaceful ... silent.

Don't talk to me! Can't you just stop?
It's such an effort to think and speak!
I can't think! Just want to sleep.
Let me be! Just let me sleep!

High Dependency Unit. (Part 1)

Want a drink, I want a drink!
What's made me gag - I don't like that!
A shooting pain - it's in my back!
It's made me jump - I don't like that!
I want to sleep! Please, let me sleep!

My father's here! He's worried too.
A drink! He's got me a drink -
A stupid, silly cotton bud!
I want a glass, you daft thing!
Can't have a drink from a cotton bud!

A doctor's face - she's smiling, smiling.
Can't think why ... I'm feeling fine now.
Just let me sleep.
Please - just let me sleep.

I'm in a cupboard! Piles of chairs?
A funny place to be - it's junk!
Another drink - those stupid things -
I'm feeling fine. Just let me sleep.

It's dark. I like it dark.
Can't turn over - my arm won't work.
Noises. Bleeps. Thumps and beating...
What is it all?
Have I been dreaming?

People stand around my bed...
Sing hymns and start to speak ...
So many of them...I can't count.
Feel happy, sort of replete.
I try to sleep.

High Dependency Unit ( Part 2)

Splitting headache! Can't sit up!
Hooked up, drips and monitors.
I've been ill but feeling better,
Nurses kind, but, oh, so busy.

My husband's here. He smiles at me.
Sort of dazed he looks - and pleased.
My mother's here too, with tears in her eyes,
I've been ill, but I'm better now.

My head - it aches! So bad, so bad!
It's like my head's been split in two!
I need the loo and I can't make it -
My head - it aches - it's really bad -
Don't care who sees me, clothes awry -
Must lie down - my head's on fire!

Noises! Too loud man! Turn it down!
It makes my head spin, like it's in two.
The light's too bright - switch it off, please do.
I want to sleep -
It's strange ... I can't.


Home! I never thought I'd be here again!
So tidy, clean - the Mums have been busy.
Feel exhausted. Weary. Shattered.
My husband smiles.
The boys are whizzing.


So - now the hard part - IT begins - 
The long road of recovery!
Take each day just as it comes -
Hour by hour and week by week.
Don't plan too much - see how it goes.
Rest and sit and think awhile -
Six weeks from now and then six months -
See how much better I've become?
There's still a long, long way to go.
Memory loss? It's not too bad.
Jigsaw, crossword - what's the difference?
Headaches, tiredness, sore throats too,
I've got the shakes - my hands and knees -
I've done too much, too much today!
Sit and rest awhile and think -
I'm lucky to have a brain to use.
Hearing's improved -
Be glad to hear those noisy boys!

Glad to be sad!

Don't try to comfort me! I want to be sad!
Don't try to cheer me! I don't want to be glad!
I want to mope, to cry, not laugh -
So, please! Don't try to comfort me!

I am going somewhere I haven't thought of yet!
To No Place, elsewhere, anywhere -
So I can stand and stare - I bet you don't know where that's at!
I want to think - be gloomy and dark.
To brood, be glum, bad tempered too.
And there's no one else to blame but you!
I'm feeling sullen ... let me be bad and muse -
Not merry!
I'm happy being woeful - truly!
I want to be sad, not "Jolly! Jolly!"
Don't try to cheer me - I don't want to be merry!
I want to mope, to cry, not laugh -
So please -
Don't try to comfort me!


The boys are driving me up the wall!
Round the twist and out the door!
All I want is peace and quiet,
Time to sit and then be silent.
Why can't I leave home?
I have a headache now!
And then - I remember.
I might not have been here to nag and nag - 
"Have you done your homework yet?"
"What about your music practise?"
"Where's your mucky rugby gear?" - 
They may not have had a mother at all.
I try to remember once more
All that happened before
I descended into the pit of darkness
So very long ago.

My battery's run down

I have no energy - no zip!
My battery's run down.
There's no more juice left in this old feeble frame -
The river's run dry, no stars in the sky,
And ...I'm so tired! So weary... fatigued.
Is it a warning? My body's weak -
Push it too far and it will break.
My knees are jelly ... my hands - they shake!
A worn out, run down body this is!
The sun doesn't shine, it's cold and damp.
What would I give for warmth on my face?
The soft, caressing sound of waves on a beach!
I'll journey on - in my mind I am there!
No goose bumps with chills, no lights on at noon,
But only warm sand, sun and sea with
Laughs in the waves -
I can see it all now - even though
My battery's run down.


The shadows of that illness pursue me night and day.
The headaches a reminder of what might have been.

They lurk in dark corners to leap at me - unseen -
A stab in the dark by a foe unleashed to wreak havoc in my life.

The shadows of that illness would claw and pull me down
They slow and tire me 'til I would admit defeat!

A frustration borne out of that day eats at my every effort - 
An antagonist that battles at my resolve to overwhelm.

I'll fight with fortitude and grit - and banish those shadows of the dark!
Until they have no more a hold and I will live my life
Free from their dominion.

Death by default

I survived! The silhouette of that illness
Imprints on me -
That illness like an unwelcome guest
Crept unbidden in my tortured mind.
The scourge of that nightmare
Glides in a strange fantasy
A surreal time in an ethereal life,
I collaborated with death by default
A resonance in me for all time.

Imaginings of the physical were wed
With dark and wraith like beings
No respect for elements that positives bred.
But I survived - to create a new set of possibilities -
An awakening of spirit - aware of the good -
But to know all the better things in life -
An ideology in my quest for sanity.

My alternative self

This is me - now!
More strong, confident, bold -
I look the world in the eye, live life for the now!
With new hairstyle, new clothes, tight jeans, pierced ears,
I attend rock concerts with my teenage sons.
Might try hash - or blow - or maybe not!
I drive slow cars fast and stamp my feet,
Wear sunglasses in the  rain and sandals when it's cold.
A creative spirit, free in my mind from society's conventions,
I'm a dreamer, fey, some say plain daft, eccentric even -
I don't care - they can think what they like!
My other self - quiet, unprepossessing, boring -
Sits and peeps from net window, at her other alarming self
And doesn't dare say "boo" to that goose!
Sometimes the curtain twitches - she watches me - enviously,
But I don't look back - the future's forward!
Yet who's to say, maybe sometime soon
With horse and bedroll in the high country
In the company of another wild soul,
I might just find another - alternative self!

Written by: Bridget Watson
April 2009