Meningitis in your words

John Hutchinson's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Pneumococcal
  • Age: 60+
  • Relationship: Wife
  • Outcome: Bereavement
John Hutchinson

John was 66 years old, he loved life, he loved all animals and the countryside, he walked miles and knew every tree and where the squirrels were likely to be. He was a countryside warden.

Monday 2nd February 2004

We were in the middle of decorating the staircase (we laughed when John told me to stand on his shoulders to reach the high parts) and had run short of emulsion paint, so off he went to Newcastle for a tin.  When he came back he said he felt rotten, went off to bed and I phoned the doctor who duly arrived. I suggested he had some kind of infection and probably needed antibiotics, but he said John had the 'flu and antibiotics weren't given for that, but he would have to drink plenty of fluids. We naturally took his word and John stayed in bed.  He had no appetite and really sweated (but that was what the 'flu was like).

The following Friday I phoned the surgery to ask for the doctor to come out as John was no better; they asked if he was well enough to go to the surgery as the doctor was busy. The doctor phoned later and spoke to John and told him he had been diagnosed correctly.  He did pay a visit and immediately apologised for his attitude when he saw John. He told us John did have an infection and prescribed antibiotics.  He took them as prescribed through the night and on the Saturday morning said he would like some tea and toast. After this he had a warm bath and decided to come downstairs saying he felt a bit better.

Our daughter, Mandy, had been ringing all week to see how her Dad was, and I kept telling her not to come over because they were going to Austria skiing and I didn't want them to get the 'flu. When she rang on the Saturday morning I told her Dad was loads better and off they went quite happy. 

John told me he would like some scrambled eggs. I cooked the eggs and took them into the sitting room where I found John kneeling on the sofa with his head in a cushion saying his head felt like it was going to burst. He was distraught.  I phoned the emergency doctor and they asked if the light was bothering his eyes, it wasn't. Dd he have a rash? He didn't.  Eventually a doctor came out by which time John had a raging temperature but said he was freezing and his feet and hands were cold. The doctor said we had to get his temperature down and the headache would go. He gave him Ibuprofen. The doctor stayed about 45 minutes and said if his temperature went up he would have to be admitted to hospital.

"Meningitis was never mentioned and was the furthest thing from my mind."

I got John back into bed, he was delirious and then he was sick. A friend of ours came and I asked his opinion. When he saw John he immediately called an ambulance. 

At approximately 5pm the ambulance took John and myself to Hexham General Hospital. When we arrived he was semi-conscious, consultants were called out and they kept asking me different questions, but meningitis was never mentioned and was the furthest thing from my mind.  A consultant told me he was very sick and would have to be transferred to The Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, and until then he was taken to the critical care unit.

When he arrived at the RVI they put him onto a ventilator and said they would assess him in the morning. They told us meningitis was a possibility but would know more the next day.

Sunday 8th February

My daughter rang from Austria to see how her Dad was. I told her he was comfortable but was in hospital. She rang the hospital who told her to get home as soon as possible.

When my son, Michael, and I went into the hospital a doctor took us into a room and told us she had done a brain stem test and that John was brain dead. It still doesn't seem real.  She explained another test would be carried out by a doctor from another hospital and if the findings were the same, the ventilator would be switched off. In my mind I thought they were talking possibly weeks or months before they switched it off, but when I asked when this would take place, she said, "this afternoon". It felt like a big stone had flattened me. I said they couldn't do that until my daughter came home. I can't remember very much of what I said, but we just sat with John and talked to him and I still expected him to open his eyes because he was breathing with the help of the ventilator. 

Monday 9th February. 1am.

The doctor said it was time to switch the ventilator off and Michael and I went into the ward. I was silently willing John to breathe when the machine was switched off but after several minutes his heart stopped and I knew we had lost him. 

Mandy and her family arrived about half an hour later and went to see her Dad - we were all in pieces.

"Apparently they don't expect a healthy man of his age to get meningitis."

Meningitis is a silent menace and the symptoms aren't always apparent. There was no rash, neither did the light hurt.  I honestly feel if John had been given antibiotics in the beginning, his immune system would have been strong and he would still be here. 

His death certificate stated he died from (a) pneumococcal meningitis (b) pneumococcal pneumonia. Apparently they don't expect a healthy man of his age to get meningitis.

After the funeral I had a phone call from a meningitis befriender, she had experienced the same scenario as myself. 

I went for training as a befriender which I found most enlightening. I haven't been called upon to date, but I would like to think I have broad shoulders should anyone need me. 

When I'm on a bus or anywhere where there are a lot of people (especially in the winter months), I am almost paranoid about people sneezing without covering their mouth. I believe the bus is where John picked up whatever it was.

Iris Hutchinson
March 2009

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