Meningitis in your words

Kath Easton's story

  • Location: Scotland
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Full recovery
Kath Easton

Alice was six and a half and enjoying being in primary 3 at Coldingham Primary School in October 1998.

I received a phone call from the school to my work at a nearby school to say that Alice was not well and I arranged for our childminder to pick her up and left work sharp at the end of the day.

When I picked her up, it was clear that Alice had a high temperature and I managed to get her seen at the local health centre. The GP advised that I should give Calpol and that it was possibly a viral infection.

That night Alice continued to be poorly and my husband arranged to take the morning off work to look after her at home and I arranged to come home at lunchtime to look after her in the afternoon.

So the next day, when I got home at lunch time, my husband said that Alice was no better and that she was ‘half sleeping’ on the sofa. I was very concerned because there was a distinct change in her presentation. She seemed floppy and I needed to carry her to the toilet when she asked to go. Lifting her onto the toilet, I noticed an irregular dark mark at the base of the back and also another on her lower leg.

My husband had left for a meeting at work. I phoned the village surgery and as luck would have it, the GP who had seen Alice the previous day had just arrived in.

Within 2 minutes, Dr Dorward was at the house and was clearly concerned about Alice’s condition. He phoned for an ambulance and while I got some things together and made arrangements for my other 2 children to be looked after, he administered antibiotics intravenously. By now Alice was only semi conscious. Our journey was 50 miles up to Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital.

Dr Dorward who kept Alice monitored accompanied us in the ambulance. He explained his concerns – meningitis and septicaemia and although I had started to think that this was the problem it was very shocking to hear. Dr Dorward phoned the health centre to cancel his afternoon surgery from the ambulance – this was serious!

From the ambulance, I was able to contact my husband who was going to head to the Sick Kids. The journey was very fast – blue lights and a police escort through the city with traffic lights taken care of.

Arriving at the hospital, staff assessed Alice and spoke to Dr Dorward about his treatment so far but most of the next few hours are a bit of a blur to me.

Alice was admitted to Intensive Care dept and was given the greatest care imaginable.

My husband and I were given a flat to stay in next door to the hospital and after 2 days Alice was transferred to a ward. Our daughter had managed to beat the meningitis and was now out of danger. It was the greatest relief.

After 10 days, she was able to come home and we needed to attend out patient clinics at The Sick Kids, for twp main side effects – treatment for the two main septicaemia bleeds on her buttock and leg which needed dressed and persistent, heavy nose bleeds.

We were delighted to have Alice home and she returned part time to school and was in the Nativity play before Christmas, which was a special moment for me as her mum.

We received ongoing support from our local doctor, who we owe such a lot. Without his quick arrival and giving antibiotics before we were ambulanced to hospital, things might have been very different.

"My next encounter with meningitis and septicaemia was in 2005."

My son Matthew (18), had started his first week at Edinburgh University and was staying in Pollock halls of Residence. From the brief phone call mid week, he was loving it!

It was out of the blue that he phoned us at home on the Saturday evening to say that he was not feeling well – sore head and flu like symptoms. He was in bed and was not going to go the Freshers’ Ball as result.
I was immediately concerned - it was not like Matthew and he sounded tearful on the phone. I told him that his dad would come straight up and bring him home.

My husband set off and I stayed at home (Alice was in bed asleep).

Within 15 minutes of my husband leaving, I received a call from the warden at Pollock Halls to say that an ambulance had been called. One of Matthew’s friends had looked in on him and he was very distressed - severe headache and vomiting.

Matthew was taken to the Western General and I contacted my husband to break the news that Matthew was in hospital. I was left at home without transport but got Alice up and phoned a family friend to ask for a lift to the hospital.

My husband described Matthew as very distressed and thrashing about on the bed when he arrived at A&E. Matthew then suffered from a seizure and was quickly taken to Intensive Care where he was put into an induced coma and ventilated.

I arrived with Alice at the hospital about 11pm and my other daughter, who was also a student in Edinburgh, came to look after her.

Matthew received excellent care in IC and 3 days later he was woken up and taken off the ventilator.

My husband I took day about being with our son and were accommodated in the hospital. Matthew, like his sister, had fought very hard.

It took a while in hospital to get Matthew well enough to convalesce back home. He struggled to eat and drink and struggled to walk – he was extremely weak – a boy who had been a successful rugby player!

After 2 weeks though, Matthew came home. My husband had met with the university to discuss whether Matthew would be able to join his course the following year.

All credit to Matthew though, he joined his intended course of study later in the autumn and although very tired did very well. Five years later, he gained a first class masters in mechanical engineering!

Doctors at the Western and Royal Infirmary were keen to look at the fact that two out of three siblings had both had the same meningitis and septicaemia.
The 3 children all went to RI for blood tests and both Matthew and Alice were found to have a complement deficiency. (There is a lot of recent research worth reading about this) but basically, complement deficiency greatly reduces a person’s ability to fight infection. White blood cells don’t receive the signals they need to start fighting!

Matthew was advised to take antibiotics if he was moving into new environments e.g. trips abroad or moving house/work.

As a mother who has gone through the nightmare situation twice, I feel very fortunate that the outcome was a good one and I know only too well that it could have been different.

Alice is more willing to talk about her experience even though it was a long time ago and has raised money for Meningitis Research through taking part in running events and I donate every Christmas to the charity. Alice also supports the Sick Kids Friends Foundation and when she gets married next year she is going to make a donation to Meningitis Research rather than having table wedding favours.

Matthew never ever speaks about his illness and prefers to lock away in the past.

Finally, a few small events that proved vital in getting the care my children urgently needed meant the difference

  • Matthews Uni friend looking in on him because he knew he wasn’t well and going out with the crowd and thus raising the alert
  • Coming in from work and noticing the change in Alice which might have been harder to recognise if I had been with her all morning
  • Our wonderful GP who administered the antibiotics at least an hour before Alice got to hospital

Kath Easton
September 2017