Meningitis in your words

Sophie Hannant's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Teenager
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Sophie Hannant

A New Year's Eve Kiss

Christmas holidays in our house of teenagers meant whisperings, makings and doings; impatient notes of warning to keep off the just-made fudge; deals and pleas for extended loans; flurries of anxiety about who likes who and if this or that person would be at this or that party. Child-like excitement still existed about stocking presents, cracker makings, fetching and decorating the Christmas tree - all activities we shared now that the actual mystery had disappeared.

Into this happy crowd fell the toxic meningococcal bacteria. Luckily, Christmas was great but on New Year's Eve Sophie had some friends in her room for a sleepover; just before midnight we allowed them ('Oh pleeease Mum') out into town to cheer in the new year (1996). All home by 12.30am, hugging and kissing and happy-new-yearing. 

Depressingly, the end of the holidays loomed: those pesky assignment deadlines and back to normal feelings fell over us and we were all a little jaded. So it came as no surprise when on 4th January Sophie got up complaining of feeling tired. 

By mid-morning Sophie had gone to bed with a hotty. By lunchtime she was shivering, vomiting and had a grey and sticky pallor. I had never seen anyone so ill and called the surgery asking for a home visit - something I had never done for any of my children before.

While I was waiting I tried to reduce her body temperature by bathing her. Her legs ached and she didn't want me to touch them, her tummy was slightly concave but not alarmingly so; I could only say that she was the wrong colour with the wrong energy about her. I just knew she was very ill.

By 2.30pm a reassuring doctor came to examine Sophie and she was barely able to answer his questions resorting to body language to signify her responses. A different doctor came early evening and left: Sophie had rallied a little. I went to bed in her room at about 9pm - she was restless and eventually got up to go to the loo where she passed out and had to be carried back to bed. I tried to keep her conscious by asking her questions while we waited for the doctor who gave a massive shot of penicillin when she arrived. Looking at me, with her hair masking her face, the young doctor told me that she had called an ambulance.

Sophie was showing no symptoms of meningococcal disease until we got to hospital when some slight blood blistering/rash of the type associated with meningococcal septicaemia began to appear. She didn't have meningitis and so showed no symptoms. Sophie rallied overnight having been treated for medical shock. I lay beside her telling her stories, our hair falling and mingling on the pillow. Her brothers came to see her in the morning and gave her chewing gum and magazines - she told them she loved them. 

"This was the first indication to me that Sophie's life was in danger."

The paediatrician said Sophie should to go to ITU 'for observation'. I didn't appreciate the implications. At 11.50am I had to say goodbye while the team - what a thoroughly professional team - prepared her. Outside the paediatrician slapped me with the words 'We nearly lost her on the way down'. This was the first indication to me that Sophie's life was in danger. She lay with tubes, monitors, wires, constant vigilance, her heart racing, forcing the blood around her closing-down body. 

'The next 24 hours.' 'The next 12 hours.' 'We just have to wait now.'

There were phone calls paediatrician to paediatrician from our hospital to St Mary's, Paddington. They tried their ideas - 'cleaning blood' - but had to 'wait for platelets to ..' what? 'Heart-lung bypass' someone said, but a journey was involved...she wouldn't make it.

With dry mouths, aching hearts and already under the heavy mantle of loss, four days after she had been taken ill, we all held her close as Sophie's challenged heart gave up at the same time of day that she was born, 15 years and three weeks before. 

A kiss at new year?

Jenny Mulligan
April 2009

Wave of Life

Lying alone to fight your last fight,
So beautiful, so young, so brave,
Never before seen so little light 
In that body that gave and gave.

So many people would have given so much,
But the tide may never be turned.
The wind will not stop for anyone's touch -
And death may never be spurned.

The sea and the mountains are here today
And here till eternity comes.
Were I never to see the snow and the spray
Inside me they would never be gone.

You are scattered now on the beach, in the sea,
In the ocean where time has no call.
You live on in my heart, in me,
In the waves, that rise and crash as they fall.

Written by James, aged 17 in January 1996 when Sophie, his sister, died.