Meningitis in your words

Oliver Dixon's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Baby 0-1
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Full recovery
Oliver Dixon

The date 10th December 1992 will be forever etched in my memory. The previous evening my wife, Kathryn, and I, were visiting family friends with our newborn son, Oliver, only 10 weeks old. Oliver seemed off colour but was peaceful and relatively undisturbed.

During the night Oliver became agitated and Kathryn decided to cradle him in her arms. There was nothing unusual or extraordinary although Oliver’s fixed stare and the nature of his whimpering was different. At only 10 weeks old our poor son was unable to communicate the extent of his discomfort.

Kathryn’s motherly instinct and presence of mind told her that the symptoms should not be ignored and a visit to the GP would be worthwhile. I went to work assuming that everything would be ok when I returned in the evening. Thankfully a young doctor, Anne Beaumont, instantly identified the danger signs.

Dr Beaumont insisted Oliver was sent direct to Birmingham Children’s Hospital. My elderly mother drove Kathryn to the children’s hospital, where, to her surprise, medics were ready, expecting Oliver’s arrival.

The agonies then began. By this time Kathryn’s concerns were growing as Oliver’s condition deteriorated and worries started to escalate. Our 10 week old baby had now curled into a ball to relieve the pain in his spine. My wife was told a lumbar puncture was required to confirm Oliver’s suspected meningitis and the screams from Oliver, as his back was straightened to obtain the lumbar puncture, were agonizing for a mother to hear.

"I completely broke down, knowing that my new born baby son could be taken from us within 24 hours."

I continued at work in ignorance of the situation until a normally cheerful colleague took me to one side and, with a serious tone in his voice, firmly told me to head to Birmingham Children’s Hospital instantly.

The reality of the situation hit me when my mother (65 years old at the time) and a smart lady for her years, appeared from behind a partition in tears.

Bacterial Meningitis was diagnosed and whilst I knew the condition was serious I was unaware of the full implications until the medical staff informed me that Oliver was dangerously ill and the next 24 hours would be critical.

Oliver was handed to me, wearing only a nappy, his body being searingly hot. I completely broke down, knowing that my newborn baby son could be taken from us within 24 hours.

Oliver had a set of tubes emerging from his skull. These were for antibiotics to be administered as, by this stage, his veins were suffering peripheral shutdown which prevented the antibiotics being injected in the usual way. Kathryn and I could not bear to leave our son and we both stayed on camp beds at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in Oliver’s isolation room for 10 days.

Antibiotics were administered every 2 hours during the night and this mild intrusion was always welcome in the knowledge Oliver was receiving life saving treatment.

"The trauma of the experience has made me a profoundly better person and I have the utmost admiration and sympathy for any parent less fortunate than myself"

At 10 weeks old our beautiful son was unable to communicate and we were totally reliant on the wonderful staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. If Oliver survived we would be unable to establish whether any of his audio or visual senses had been impaired until he was older and able to communicate. As each day passed our distress eased little by little. After 10 days in isolation we were informed we could take Oliver home for Christmas and that whilst there were no assurances, we could be cautiously optimistic that Oliver might emerge unscathed. This would be the best Christmas present any parent could wish for.

The trauma of the experience has made me a profoundly better person and I have the utmost admiration and sympathy for any parent less fortunate than myself. Kathryn was calm, assured and practical throughout. I did not know how I would have coped had Oliver not survived. Thanks to a mother’s instinct and the alert diagnosis of young Dr Beaumont, Oliver is leading a full and active life. Oliver is completing a politics degree at Sheffield University and is due to embark on a law degree in London in September 2014. In between he has been a teenage cricketer for Warwickshire and has toured Japan as a scrum half on rugby tour.

Grant Dixon
February 2014