Meningitis in your words

Sophie Bell's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Meningococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Sophie Bell

It was Easter weekend 29 March 1997 and Nick was working. Sophie and I went out for a walk and met up with some friends. We came home and Nick arrived shortly after us.  We spent a really nice afternoon in the garden, Nick and I pricking out seedlings and Sophie treading in the plant trays we had spent all afternoon planting. She thought it was hilarious and of course we couldn't tell her off, not with that cheeky grin.

We decided to go in, make some tea - in Sophie's case a large beaker of milk - and have a snack.  We allowed Sophie to have one of her Easter eggs a neighbour had brought round for her.  Sophie was absolutely covered in chocolate; her face her hands and most of the furniture.  

I cleaned Sophie up and she sat on my lap and went fast asleep.  She slept for about 30 minutes then suddenly woke with a start and vomited everywhere.  We decided at that point that we would never let her eat a whole Easter egg again!  Although Sophie had been sick she looked generally well in herself and was soon back to dancing around.   

She started to look really hot so I took her temperature: it was 38 degrees.  I took her socks and jumper off and gave her some juice, Nick phoned primary care and they said we should take her down just to be on the safe side.  In the primary care department we went straight in to see the doctor; he gave Sophie a thorough examination and told us to give her Calpol to reduce the temperature and if we had any further worries to take her straight back.  Whilst in primary care her temperature reading was lower, it was 37 something.  

We took Sophie home, gave her some Calpol, gave her a bath, sang some songs with her and put her to bed. We told her we loved her and she said ""sove su"" - this was toddler for love you.   After an hour I went up to check and she was fast asleep and didn't appear to have a temperature any more.  At 10pm Nick and I went to bed, we checked in on Soph and stood by her bed for a while.  We commented on what it was like to have a carefree world - little did we know what we would wake up to the next day.

Sunday 30 March 1997: Nick got up for work as usual at 4am. I was woken at 7.30am by the phone ringing, I ran downstairs to try and catch the phone before it woke Sophie up, Nick had forgotten the clocks had gone forward so she wouldn't wake for another hour.  He said to let him know how she was when she got up.  I went back upstairs and into Sophie's room and I knew immediately as I entered the room that something was wrong.  Sophie was on her stomach with her head slightly turned to the side and she was a strange colour, her skin just somehow didn't look the right colour, it was more of a cream colour.  I ran over to her bed and turned her over; Sophie was obviously dead. I picked her up and turned her over as I couldn't stand the thought of her face being partly in the pillow and partly turned to the side. I screamed - I think I was hoping somebody would come and knock the door. 

I ran downstairs and phoned Nick and told him Sophie was dead, he said he knew something was wrong when I phoned back so quickly. I put the phone down and ran next door to the neighbours and shouted, "Sophie's dead". The neighbour phoned for an ambulance and ran round to the house, ran up the stairs two at a time and went into Sophie's room. You could see the horror on his face when he realised I hadn't got it wrong and there was nothing he could do.  He sincerely thought Sophie was really ill and he was going to be able to save her, or at least do something for her.

The ambulance arrived and the two crew ran straight upstairs, they obviously knew there was nothing they could do once they entered the room. I dropped to the floor sobbing and asking them to do something. I really knew there was nothing they could do and I really don't know why I said it.  The neighbour got down on the floor with me and hugged me.  

The next thing I knew the police arrived and a police photographer; they have to come out to any case where there is a sudden death. The neighbour's wife arrived to see if there was anything she could do.

The photographer went upstairs to take photos and a doctor then arrived to certify the death. I said to the doctor, "whatever are we going to do?" He said, "God would help you", unfortunately for him this was really not what I wanted to hear and what I said to him was probably not what he wanted to hear!  

I then felt the urge to get my life back to normal and started washing up, it was really bizarre when you look back - my daughter had died, the house was full of people I didn't know and I was stood in the kitchen washing up in my pyjamas!

Nick arrived home and went straight for the stairs but the policeman told him he couldn't go up. As you can imagine Nick told him to move otherwise he would move him.  When Nick arrived in Sophie's room and saw Sophie he dropped to the floor; he had central chest pain, was given oxygen by the ambulance crew that were still at the house and they ended up taking Nick to A&E.  My mum went with Nick, he had phoned her and his parents on the way home, although I can't remember when she arrived at the house.

The police needed to fill in an incident form and were trying to get the details.  However, I just couldn't concentrate and went to get the washing off the line, I sat back down with the policeman and answered a few more questions I then put the washing back on the line.

Nick and mum arrived back from A&E, Nick was OK.  A funeral director arrived to take Sophie, Nick carried her down the stairs and the funeral director (Simon) carried her out to the car.  Sophie went off up the road and virtually the whole close watched her go.

Nick's mum and dad arrived at the house, they had to make a long journey to get to us.

The next few days were a blur; I can't express myself enough to describe the gut-wrenching torture we were going through.  The worst feeling that I couldn't get out of my head was that Sophie was a really kind little girl with a lot to look forward to in life and this was taken away from her.

"Sophie was a really kind little girl with a lot to look forward to."

Meningitis Research Foundation contacted us to lend their support.  They had heard of our plight through a friend of the family.  Sarah from the Foundation drove one and a half hours to come and see us to try and give us some help.  She was very informative and was able to answer a lot of the questions we had; she appeared to be more knowledgeable than the doctors!

The Foundation kept in touch with us and we rang them whenever we needed to.  It was a relief to know that we had somebody to turn to who knew what they were talking about.  Sophie died of meningococcal septicaemia.

My mum, to deal with her grief, threw herself into fundraising for the Foundation in order for further research to be carried out.  She was determined that she would help others. To date she has raised over £12,050 for the Foundation, and a further £765.50 has been raised in memory of Sophie by other people.

I now befriend others who have suffered a loss similar to ours.  This is arranged through the Foundation and with their support.  This support gives those who have suffered the help they need to move on and deal with the horrendous situation they find themselves .

The befriending has also helped me as I was really concerned about the amount of pain that Sophie would have been in.  I have spoken to a survivor of meningitis who assured me that the feeling was like having flu and she didn't know what was happening.
 On a much happier note it is now 12 years since Sophie died and we have two gorgeous boys who are nine and ten. They have a fantastic life and are really happy.  They are fully aware of Sophie, and, although they didn't know her, they often speak of her.  This has resulted in me nearly crashing on the car on more than one occasion when it comes out of the blue.  

Lorna Bell
April 2009