Meningitis in your words

Harriett Jane Pittam's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Baby 0-1
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Harriett Jane Pittam

Harriet was just 18 months old when she sadly died, the date 7th December 1993, a Tuesday. Ironically she was born Tuesday 7th April 1992.

Harriett awoke slightly later than normal for her and appeared a little congested with a cold; I wasn't too concerned and offered her breakfast, which she declined, but was quite happy to drink fluids so I didn't push the issue. She came out into the lounge and started playing with her elder brother Joshua and not long after this decided she wanted to have a nap; again I wasn't too concerned as I assumed it was due to her feeling under the weather.

By lunchtime I was beginning to think I ought to take her to see my GP as she had vomited and had diarrhoea once and was becoming increasingly drowsy. I managed to get an appointment at 2pm and when getting her dressed to take her I noticed that she was very pale and her hands and feet were cold, but she had no rash at this point or high temperature. She was still drinking fluids and, as a qualified nurse, no alarm bells were ringing.

I left the house at 1.45pm and by the time I reached the surgery she was very drowsy and moaning occasionally. I was shown straight into the GP as I was worried now; I started to undress her at the same time explaining her symptoms to our GP when I noticed she had large deep purple spots all over her torso. I knew as soon as saw them what they were and so did our GP.

She immediately rang for an ambulance and then spoke to a consultant paediatrician at the hospital who advised her if Harriett could be at the hospital in less than ten minutes there would be no need to give her a dose of antibiotics.

"The ambulance driver took her off me and ran up the corridor to where the doctors were all waiting."

We were transferred to the hospital with the sirens blaring and lights flashing which frightened Joshua. Harriett was unconscious by the time we arrived and unresponsive; the ambulance driver took her off me and ran up the corridor to the children's ward where the doctors were all waiting. They took her into a side room and attempted to resuscitate her, giving her oxygen and trying to put up a drip.

I was left anxiously waiting with Joshua in the playroom as he was too distressed to leave with anyone. Someone contacted my husband who arrived as quickly as he could, I couldn't really tell him anything as I didn't know what was going on other than I remember saying, "she is not going to make it".

I can vaguely remember my in-laws arriving and us all being ushered into the staff coffee room, a consultant arrived to tell us that Harriett had died, I remember shouting NO! and Joshua stamping on his foot, this all happened very quickly - two hours from us arriving at the hospital. As my parents were coming from Wales they agreed to keep Harriett on the ward so we could all say our goodbyes, my father was distraught.

I can't remember getting home or the rest of that evening but the next day I noticed some information I had been given by the hospital which had the number of the helpline for the Meningitis Research Foundation, which I rang because I wanted answers, I talked to them for ages and many times afterwards.

It has taken me many years to overcome the guilt of not knowing something more serious was wrong and blaming myself for letting her die.

After 10 years I eventually agreed to counselling following an episode of horrendous flashbacks of that day, and finally,after 15 years, I can now talk about Harriett with great happiness for all the great times we had as a family albeit very short.

I have been involved with Foundation for many years and am now a trained Befriender.

Debs Pittam
May 2009

Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia
Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia
A major cause of meningitis