Meningitis in your words

Henry Oliphant's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Baby 0-1
  • Relationship: Child
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Hearing problems
Henry Oliphant

Henry had been a little unsettled and unusually cranky all day, and when he started to be sick I knew that something was wrong. 

We called NHS Direct and they advised that we take him to the Out Of Hours service. The Doctor there believed that Henry had a virus and that we should take him home and monitor his symptoms. We were advised that if they got any worse we should pay a visit to the Doctor’s surgery the next day. 

He slept fitfully that night and the next morning he threw up each and every milk feed. He was restless, kept arching his back and I just couldn’t settle him. We walked his sister to pre-school and on the way home I called the Doctor and booked an emergency appointment, as Henry wouldn’t stop being sick and his moans had turned to a constant, high pitched cry.

I raced him to the surgery where the Doctor listened to my concerns intently. I knew that something was wrong, this wasn’t my baby. Henry had a fever but it was only just over the ‘normal’ levels, however, because he was just 3 months old the Doctor immediately referred us to the paediatrician at our local hospital. 

The triage nurse at the hospital instantly knew that something was wrong, Henry’s screams were now ear-piercing and there was such pain in his cry. He was quickly becoming floppy and unresponsive and I was very scared. Meningitis hadn’t even crossed my mind at this point, but I later learnt from the nurse that she thought it straight away.

The Junior Doctor assigned to Henry asked immediately for permission to perform a lumbar puncture and explained that he felt it necessary as he believed Henry was suffering from meningitis. 

"My whole world fell apart",- says Kathryn Oliphant.

I couldn’t hear another word that he said as my ears were ringing and all I could think was the worst. 

From that point on things happened so quickly. Henry had a cannula inserted and was whisked away for the lumbar puncture. The team advised me not to attend the procedure, and I was glad not to have been there - he was two rooms away but I could still hear him screaming. 

When they returned him to me he was so lifeless. He was deteriorating so quickly, and we needed to move fast. We were placed into isolation in a side room and Henry was hooked up to all sorts of different machines to monitor his oxygen levels, vital signs and to administer fluids and medication. I couldn’t believe what was happening. 

At this point I hadn’t even had a chance to call my Husband to relay the news, so I waited until he arrived that evening with our two year old daughter. It was then that we started to worry about Ruby and whether she would catch the disease too. Luckily the Doctors assured us that because meningitis has no incubation period, if Ruby was to have contracted meningitis she would be showing symptoms by now.

Henry's mother explains: "The diagnosis of bacterial meningitis came back to us within a few days, and so Henry stayed on the life-saving medication that he had been originally prescribed."

His temperature was highly unstable and would drop dramatically throughout the day and night, so he was constantly monitored every hour for a week until he stabilised and finally started to show signs of improvement. 

After a fortnight in hospital we were allowed home, but had to return each day for another fortnight so that Henry could have his medication through his cannula. His hands were so swollen after all the medication and fluids, but slowly that started to return to normal. 

A month or so after we were fully discharged we were called back to the hospital for a routine hearing check, and it was at this check that we were told it was likely that Henry’s hearing had been affected by the meningitis. We have had three follow-up hearing tests since that point and unfortunately Henry’s hearing is deteriorating and there is fluid building up behind his eardrums. We have been advised that Henry will need grommets and/or hearing aids to enable him to hear fully. 

We will always be eternally grateful that we caught the disease so early, and that the Doctors and Nurses listened to my instincts that something was wrong – as Henry’s story could have ended up far, far worse than the situation we now find ourselves in.

Kathryn Oliphant
September 2016