Meningitis in your words

Maureen Ellson's story

  • Location: Northern Ireland
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Maureen Ellson

Thursday 14th February 2002, St Valentine's Day, we were all well at home, my husband James, sons Conor and David, and me. We didn't do anything special for Valentine's Day as we were having a party the next night to celebrate both my husband's and my promotions at work.

The kids went to bed as usual, David at 7.30pm and Conor at 8pm. I wasn't asleep long when I heard David 'moaning', it was about 12.30am. I went in to him and asked what was wrong, he was only two and half

He said "sore leg mummy". I said: "Did you get it stuck in the cot again?"

He replied yes so I gave it a wee rub and said "all better now" to which he agreed, and I went back to bed.

About 30 minutes later he cried again.  I went in and he seemed a bit warm; I asked if he would like some milk and he said yes.  I got some milk in a bottle and brought up his inhaler and some Calpol and Nurofen just in case.  At this stage both James and I thought he was sickening for something but nothing serious as he wasn't too bad.  He took some of the milk and some Calpol and settled down again.

He woke again, this time he was getting warmer.  We brought him into our bedroom to take some of his layers off and check his temperature; he vomited up what appeared to be the milk he had taken earlier.  After this he appeared to cool down and brighten up a bit, we assumed he had picked up a stomach bug at nursery.  It was now after 2am and he went back to bed for a while, but not for too long.  He was a bit grizzly and wouldn't settle in bed so James took him downstairs.  We had already checked for a rash and irritability to bright light but there were no signs of either, as far as we were concerned it was a tummy bug and nothing more serious. 

"James woke me about 6am and I went downstairs to be with David and he went to bed. He had been sick again and slept on and off while James had been with him. When I went down I noticed that his hands and feet were cold, but it was February and he didn't have his warm pyjamas on, so I put a blanket round him."

By the time Conor woke at 8am David was sleeping but both James and I felt we had to either see his GP or take him to hospital as we thought the tummy bug was affecting his asthma.

We drove to the Ulster Hospital at 8.45am and went straight to the Children's Rapid Response Unit.  David seemed to deteriorate drastically in the five-minute drive and my husband recalled him going limp in his arms as he carried him in.  When we explained to the nurse his symptoms she showed us straight into a side room where doctors and nurses seemed to just appear.  When they removed David's pyjamas there were large red dots appearing right before our eyes on his torso.  It was obvious very quickly that David was very ill, and they told us they suspected meningitis and were treating it as that until they could confirm it.

They did a thumb prick test for blood and although they had started to inject him elsewhere all he said was "sore finger mummy" when he saw the tiny bit of blood. They were his last words to me. I told him the doctors were going to make it all better.

Things seemed to move very quickly, the doctor told us David was seriously ill and would need to be transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children by ambulance.  He was anaesthetised before the transfer and James and I had to go in a taxi, as there was no room in the ambulance.    

The next few hours are all a blur.  It seemed like ages before they would let us in to see him.  By that time he was linked up to so many machines all with wires leading in and out of him and the 'rash' had spread over his body.  The doctor told us he was very ill and they had struggled to stabilise him after the transfer.  Even at that point I couldn't believe he was going to die. 

"I didn't think it was possible that something so bad could happen to our family, we were good people and surely bad things don't happen to good people."

David died shortly after 3am on Saturday 16th February 2002.  The death certificate states, fulminating septicaemia and meningococcal disease as the main causes of death.  I felt completely powerless, I was told there was nothing I could have done to prevent this tragedy and yet as a mother I was convinced I had failed to protect my son from this horrific disease.

My sister-in-law called into the Foundation's Belfast office shortly after David died and gave them our details.  Diane called with us shortly after and the relationship began.  The office were very supportive to us as a family, especially Diane who called with us a few times.  I used the telephone befriending scheme and was paired with a fabulous lady, Mary Nash, from Dublin.  We spoke on the phone for well over a year and Diane arranged for us to meet once after that.  The Foundation's support has at times been a lifeline for us and now my husband and I try to something to raise funds every year.  We have hosted three charity BBQs, I have done a parachute jump and an abseil and signed up to do.

Maureen Ellson
February 2009.

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