Meningitis in your words

Noortje Nelemans's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Young Adult 20-25
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Noortje Nelemans

Our daughter Noortje moved into digs in September 2009. She had just spent her holidays together with her boyfriend in Crete, Greece, in July. They had had a wonderful time together.

In September she continued her Social Studies at the AVANS College at Breda, the Netherlands. She was a third-year student and had found a trainee post at a nursery for mentally handicapped children. She was responsible for five kids. The nursery staff were very pleased with our daughter’s contribution. She did very well and the kiddies loved her. She turned out to be a very talented trainee. The right person in the right place, and socially fully aware and involved.

Her future wish was, to find a suitable job, to buy a house and start a family together with her friend. She gradually developed into an independent 21-year-old lady.

Both on Christmas Day and Boxing Day she came home to have lunch together with her grandpa and her grandma. After New Year on the 2 January she came home and had dinner with us and stayed until 22.00hrs. She complained of a slight earache

"Why on earth did her merry, healthy, and warm life end so abruptly?"

The next morning (Sunday) I rang her in the morning at 10.15hrs. On the phone she told me that there was some blood that came out of her ear. I was a bit worried and called the GP early in the afternoon. That particular day he was off duty and I was transferred to the GP Centre at the hospital. I spoke with a doctor’s assistant. She told me to give my daughter acetaminophen and nose drops. Her diagnosis was that her eardrum was damaged. That’s why some blood came out of her ear. A typical otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear). We simply had to wait for two days. If her condition would not improve after these two days, she would have to be seen by a doctor.

Later in that very same Sunday evening our daughter rang us again and told us that her other ear was in the same horrible condition and that she had a terrible headache and a temperature of 38.8 degrees (Celsius). We transferred this once again to one of the assistants, and they gave us the same advice as early in the afternoon. Otitis media can occur in one or two ears.

On the following Monday our daughter still suffered severe headaches, although in the afternoon when my wife paid her a visit, she could still drink and eat and had even done some difficult homework. We, as parents, were not alarmed by her symptoms.

My wife went back home by four o’clock in the afternoon. In the evening by 18.30hrs we received a phone call from one of the other lodgers, telling us that it would be wiser to pick up my daughter and to put her in her own bed in our house, so she could be taken care of. The other lodgers had not informed us of her terrible condition. Later we found out that she had vomited and had been delirious.

Once she arrived at our house she immediately went upstairs into her own familiar bed. As she could still walk up the stairs and went straight to her bedroom, we did not get suspicious. It may sound strange, but we still thought that she had a terrible flu together with an ear infection. We put on her pyjamas, gave her something to drink and tucked her in, hoping she would feel better the next morning.

The next morning our 23-year-old son found his sister dead in her bed. We have such a huge sense of guilt. Why didn’t we take her to the hospital on Sunday evening when both her ears were infected?

The provisional autopsy report says that she had developed a mastoid in her ear. The final report will not come earlier than in June this year (2010). We’ll have to await the results of the CT scan, the toxicological and neurological examinations. We still believe that we could have rescued her, if we would have seen a doctor. But doctors also have difficulties in making the correct diagnosis in these particular cases. We think she died of meningitis or encephalitis, but we shall have to await the final report in order to know what bacterium, virus or infection struck her.

Why on earth did her merry, healthy, and warm life end so abruptly? We shall never know.

Wil and Ans Nelmans
March 2010