Meningitis in your words

Emma Henry's story

  • Location: Scotland
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Co-ordination problems
Emma Henry

I contracted bacterial meningitis in 2003, two weeks before my 19th birthday. It was when I was revising for my first year exams that I began to feel unwell. To begin with I was just dizzy and nauseous. I then developed a headache, started vomiting and had very stiff and sore joints. Later, my neck began to become sore and I developed a rash on my torso. 

I was aware of the symptoms of meningitis, but I didn't believe I was feeling ill enough to warrant concern. 

The next day, I wasn't feeling much worse, but nor was I any better. However, because I had an exam that day, I decided to go to the University Medical Centre. On examination, they noticed the rash, my dislike of bright light and my inability to touch my chin to my chest (as well as the vomiting, headache and joint pain). However, they simply decided to keep me in for observation. I couldn't help but feel I was being regarded with suspicion, especially as they tried to convince me to sit my exam and one nurse suggested I return to Halls. I hate to cause a fuss, and normally I would have left. However, although I didn't know what was wrong, I just knew I didn't want to leave.

"I remember being so tired but I wasn't scared because it felt so much better to "go under" rather than battle to stay awake and endure the pain in my head and neck."

I remember beginning to feel worse by lunchtime, and by 3pm I had developed a blinding headache, a pain like nothing I had known before - or since. My temperature shot up and I couldn't stop shaking or being sick. My neck had become so stiff that my (then) boyfriend had to hold up and support my head whilst I was sick. By this time, about two hours later, the doctor decided to call for an ambulance just as I was beginning to lose consciousness. I remember being so tired but I wasn't scared because it felt so much better to "go under" rather than battle to stay awake and endure the pain in my head and neck.

I was in a coma - relying on a respirator - for three days. The hospital discharged me after ten days and told me to rest for three weeks.  However, it was actually a full year before I felt confident in my recovery and even then I still suffered from ill health. Most significantly, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2006, which I have been told is probably as a result of the illness.

My family have offered me great support throughout this time. I tried to continue my studies in Reading but I found it too hard to be so far from my family and home, especially as I felt particularly unsupported by the University. In 2005 I transferred my course to Glasgow University. I found great support there and in summer 2008 I finally graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Classics. I feel so lucky to have achieved this, especially as my parents were warned to expect the worst. Also, in my immediate recovery I suffered from memory loss, co-ordination problems and severe headaches.  I feel so lucky to have made the recovery that I have, and sometimes I find it hard to accept or believe.

I became a member of the Foundation as I wanted to support a charity that matters to me. I enjoy raising money for the cause, and recently I completed a tandem skydive. I think the Foundation provides a great service and support to those affected by meningitis and septicaemia, and I am keen to offer as much help as I can, especially as I have experienced its horror first hand.

Emma Henry
March 2009