Meningitis in your words

Nina Pottell's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Hearing problems
Nina Pottell

I don’t remember much past the muffled music on CD:UK and laying on the bathroom floor insistent that I was in bed. And then nothing for three days. Just gone from my life. No idea of what happened in that time.

It had started on the Friday and for years after I avoided M&S turkey and ham sandwiches and Cadbury’s Mini Eggs bizarrely convinced that this is what had caused my illness.

The bacteria had obviously started slowly taking my hearing, destroying my ears by the time Cat Deeley was introducing the now distorted music.

What happened after that I don’t remember. My Mum was off visiting my cancer-stricken Nan in hospital and my Dad was left to look after me, letting me sleep. When Mum came home at 8pm my deep sleep had turned into unconsciousness. With the family GP at my house in minutes and an ambulance arriving soon after I was whisked off to hospital.

Feeling like an extra from a disaster movie, isolated in a darkened room, a dressing over one eye allowing it to rest whilst it fought its way to correct itself, I lay for two weeks. My family and the doctors wore gowns and masks that obscured their mouths, so with my one eye I read the words they wrote on notepads.

"I was 18 at the time, about to start living"

Meningitis. The kind that attacked the brain and had obviously affected my hearing and my wandering eye. And my legs.

It’s a really difficult thing to explain how you want to move your legs but that you can’t. The doctors scraped sticks up the soles of my feet looking firstly at my legs, I suppose for signs of movement, and secondly at my parents. I kind of made out words like, stairs at home, wheelchair, paralysis. Surely they couldn’t be talking about me?

And then there seemed to be movement. So off to physio I went, where I stumbled and fell but eventually put one foot in front of the other, somewhat resembling walking. I remember being applauded by the other patients on my ward when I made the short distance from bed to bathroom on my own two feet, propped by my Mum and a nurse but no wheelchair.

I was 18 at the time, about to start living, with ‘A’ levels due to be sat and Uni to think about but all that changed.

Those weeks shaped my future. With physio, speech and hearing therapy and bright flesh-coloured hearing aids, I embarked on adult life.

And 20 years later I am who I am. I love my life and I love who I became and if meningitis hadn’t got me when I was 18 who knows where I’d be?

And the legs? They started working properly although there is numbness, which is actually a benefit in leg waxing. I’m also a little prone to falling over even without a couple of vodkas. And my right leg is a little more uncontrolled and heavy footed then my left which my boyfriend endearingly calls ‘slappityfoot’ syndrome.

And the hearing? Well, despite being told by the doctors that it would come back, which led to years of waking up ‘in hope’, it didn’t. A profound loss in the left ear and a mild to moderate one in the right which now sports a more discreet in-the-ear hearing aid. Over the years I’ve missed conversations, been called stupid and ignorant, made my own lyrics up to songs I can’t hear properly, been stared blankly at by people and even been known to take my hearing aid out when I don’t want to listen to someone, but I cope and it’s made me who I am.

And the word that my family, friends and people who know me use the most when talking about me: resilient.

Nina Pottell
July 2010