Meningitis in your words

Karen French's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Adult 25-59
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Co-ordination problems
Karen French

At 43, fit and healthy, I was unprepared for a diagnosis of septicaemia and for the impact that it would have on my life. 

In mid March 2008 I'd been to work as normal, returned home, had a meal, watched some TV and gone to bed. I woke in the middle of the night with such severe hip pain that I couldn't keep still, so went to sleep on the sofa.

The next thing I remember was being on my hands and knees at the foot of our bed, waking up my husband. I was rushed to hospital but have no recollection of my journey or my experience in A&E. I was discharged with antibiotics and a suspected urinary infection. I don't remember anything of the next 24 hours, though my husband says we stayed at home together, and it wasn't until the following day - around 36 hours after first feeling ill - when I was found unconscious by my parents, that I was rushed back into A&E and later admitted to intensive care. After a good deal of deliberation, I was diagnosed with septicaemia, eventually traced to the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureas. This bacteria lives harmlessly on the skin of many people and is better known as the SA in MRSA, but causes septicaemia when it enters the blood stream. Fortunately my bacteria wasn't the type resistant to antibiotics. 

"I don't remember any of the time I spent in intensive care, apart from having hallucinations of moving wallpaper on the ceiling."

To this day, no one has been able to determine how this occurred in me, despite examining me for puncture wounds. I don't remember any of the time I spent in intensive care, apart from having hallucinations of moving wallpaper on the ceiling. I woke up in a general ward with a catheter and no idea of why I was there. 

Whilst on the general ward I was very confused for the first week, didn't eat for the first eight days and my husband had to keep telling me what had happened, and what day it was. I was unable to shower myself, read or watch TV as I couldn't concentrate and suffered severe neck pain. I had problems with my vision, had difficulty walking due to the collection of blood in one of my feet and became very weak due to severe anaemia. I felt depressed and miserable though I couldn't explain why. I was allowed to go home after 14 days of intravenous antibiotics and spent 14 weeks at home recuperating, initially needing a seat in the shower, a walking stick, and a wheelchair to get out of the house. 

My blood count returned to normal after a month of iron tablets, but reading and writing was impossible for the first eight weeks and I still have days now when I can't write the letters of familiar words in the correct order. Reading anything but a short paragraph or two is still a problem as I can't remember what I've just read and I still have severe memory problems, confusion and disorientation and weakness in my limbs. 

It is only with the help of the Meningitis Research Foundation that I have established that all of these things can be side effects of both meningitis and septicaemia. My husband found the Foundation's website when I reached desperation point. Having returned to work on a part-time basis, I found I could no longer do the work I'd previously done, and my hospital consultant just put it all down to stress. Fortunately my GP referred me to a neurologist who also confirmed the symptoms I was experiencing. I contacted the helpline to talk about the emotional effects of the illness and after six months of feeling awful, I started to find ways of dealing with what had happened to me. I'm now waiting to see a neuro-psychologist to find ways of dealing with my memory problems.

Karen French
March 2009