Meningitis in your words

Sheila Lewis's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Young Adult 20-25
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Full recovery
Sheila Lewis

One year ago (May 21st 2009) I was 21and I suddenly felt very cold while I was in the passenger’s seat on my way to get my nails done at 4pm. Suddenly my body was in a lot of pain that I could barely handle, so my boyfriend took me home.

The hours between 4pm until midnight I spent mostly sleeping and waking up often due to the pain. I thought I had a bad flu so was hoping cold and flu relief tablets would have done the job. I remember being alone that night as my boyfriend left me to rest; my bed was small and thought it would have been better if I had it to myself. That was the worst night of my life as I kept waking up every hour in a lot of pain. Every hour, I was worse. I remember crawling to the toilet as my legs no longer held the weight of my body. Thinking about it now I realise the state I was in as, at the time, I didn't even think about the fact I couldn't walk anymore – my only thought was "I need to get there!”

The worst was waking up and being very thirsty. I couldn't get out of bed as I had no strength and my vision was very blurred. I also did not have the strength to call out for help to my flatmates who were sleeping upstairs as my voice was very weak. I rang the NHS who asked the usual questions and told me I should have made my way to hospital. I remember begging them to send a doctor to me but them saying they could not do that as I did not show signs of it being meningitis (YET!) ie. rash, stiff neck...It was awful. When I hung up, my phone fell to the floor and I thank God my flatmate heard me moan at 6am as she was preparing to go to uni, as I could not reach it any longer to call my boyfriend for help!

"Doctors kept telling me they never expected me to survive"

She called an ambulance and my boyfriend. I don't remember how but I managed to get up and as soon as my feet touched the ground I fainted. When I woke up I remember doctors around me and my boyfriend holding my face telling me to stay awake. I could see he was scared but I couldn't feel my body anymore which was a huge relief after the many hours of pain, so all I wanted to do was close my eyes and rest. Luckily I did stay awake and was rushed to hospital where I was induced in a coma. The minutes in hospital were sad as the pain came back and a doctor held my face and gently explained my situation. I remember crying as he was telling me "we are going to take care of you and do the best we can" and feeling a mixture between wanting to be put asleep so the pain would go away and not wanting to be put asleep as I wanted to see my family beforehand.

My parents (who live in Italy as I am Italian) were told over the phone it was a miracle I'd made it this far and that the next 24 hours were crucial, but hope was very low for me. It was awful for them. They rushed to the UK and found me in the ICU of Bristol Royal Infirmary. My lungs had collapsed and by that point the rash was all over my body.

To everyone’s surprise I pulled through, not a single after effect, just a small scar on my leg from the rash. Amazing! Doctors kept telling me I was extremely lucky and they would have never expected me to survive, let alone without any after effects.

Waking up was hard and painful and I couldn't remember much. I couldn't see for the first few hours but luckily my sight came back. I was under the effects of all the drugs and had visions and nightmares of all sorts but it didn't matter, 24 hours later I was on my feet and the day after that I was showering alone in Ward 7, a whole world away from the fearful ICU.

Meningitis is an awful disease, and I was one of those ever so lucky people. I wish to do all I can to help and love being involved with MRF's wonderful projects.

Sheila Lewis
July 2010