Meningitis in your words

Noel John Heather's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Child 6-12
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Full recovery
Noel John Heather

Meningitis in 1956 - personal memories - After the headaches and nightmares. 

I woke up one morning in 1956 in a glass room and saw my parents behind the glass with face-masks on. Mind you, being six, I seem to have taken this mostly in my stride. My late father was a salesman and not really very practical, and though I was only six at the time I've never forgotten how I immediately noticed that my father (very typically) hadn't even managed to put his face-mask on properly - the tape was hanging down on one side. Precious memories now of course - especially as I only just made it apparently. 

The GP's secretary forgot to tell the doctor - it was just a slip - when my parents rang the surgery, and he eventually came after three days when they rang again (you tended to be less pushy in those days of course). The GP (who had earlier officiated at my birth) said the delay might have been a good thing as he might not have diagnosed meningitis had he come in the earlier stages and thought it just the flu. 

Later there are memories of waking up on a trolley in the corridor by myself (I'm sure this wouldn't happen now) coming round from the light anaesthetic after a lumbar puncture. (I always then conceptualised - and told the staff - the lumbar puncture was 'knives and forks' being put into my back which no doubt helped me to cope with the situation.)

I have never considered myself ever to have been lonely since then: not after being enclosed in that glass room waiting for the nurse whose baby was similarly ill and kept in the glass room behind me. When she came in I would with difficulty twist my head back to look behind the pillow to see her through the glass and she would smile. 

I had my first baked potato ever in that glass room - this was the 50s - and think of it often when I have one today. On Sunday evening - when I was moved into the ward - some good church folk came and sang 'Holy Holy Holy' and I always remember this when I sing this in church these days of course. 

The staff insisted (kindly) I eat lunch even when the headache was almost too bad. Then there was the endless saga surrounding bed-wetting. Just before sleeping would I trouble these patient nurses and tell them they needed to change the sheets yet again? Sometimes I did and occasionally I didn't, I seem to remember. It all lasted two weeks in the local Children's Hospital in Southampton (now long closed) which I remember as excellent. At the last moment before leaving I was told I couldn't take the large pile of comics I had accumulated next to me home for hygiene reasons. 

For about six months after I had injections every two weeks and waited with a sinking feeling in a park, where we sat near the outdoor park aviary (the birds no doubt a distraction device used by my mother) in Southampton, for the moment to go into the surgery for the injection (big needles in those days of course!). I still remember that sinking feeling when near that park today - though less so now they've (long ago) removed the aviary. 

"At least I survived childhood and am indeed very glad to be here."

At least I survived childhood and am indeed 'very glad to be here', and have now retired early from a very interesting career in academia. 

Noel Heather
June 2009

Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia
Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia
A major cause of meningitis