Meningitis in your words

Stephanie Carter's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Adult 25-59
  • Relationship: Self
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Headaches
Stephanie Carter

Wednesday 6 January 2010 was my first week back to work after having 12 months off on maternity leave.

On Thursday I felt I was coming down with either a cold or the flu so headed straight for the ibuprofen and paracetamol.

On Friday I went to work as usual with no cold or flu symptoms. Friday evening I went to the theatre with friends. At 3am, I woke with the most painful headache I have ever had. My eyes just didn’t feel like they were attached in my head anymore and wherever I looked it seemed as though my eyes wanted to go elsewhere. I took some paracetamol and immediately fell back to sleep.

By 7am when the boys woke I still had the headache, I was cold and felt like I had been hit by a train. I thought I had flu; I took some ibuprofen to see if that would help, it didn't, and now my aches were so bad that at 8.30am I rang NHS Direct with the telephone on loud speaker as I was unable to move my head. NHS Direct were extremely helpful and suggested that I try taking codeine as this is more effective. I really struggled to sit up it was so painful, almost impossible to sit up.

"Lying there on my own in the room with no friends or family was very upsetting."

The following four hours went by very slowly. The codeine didn’t seem to have helped so I contacted NHS Direct again. The nurse that I spoke to suggested that I attend A&E as the headache was so severe and not responding to any pain relief I had taken. At this point I was starting to get scared but also trying to rationalise the situation.

I really don’t know how I managed to get dressed and into the car but can remember holding my head with both my hands as if it was going to fall off.

I didn’t have long to wait in A&E but did fall asleep in the triage area. Each doctor that came to me seemed to have to wake me up between examinations. I was asked if I had taken anything I shouldn't of. I was given a cocktail of drugs in the hope that the 'migraine' would go. It didn’t and my blood pressure dropped and my temperature rose to 39.2.

I can remember hearing the nurse and the doctor; they then just wanted me to answer yes or no to a quick-fire round of questions. Then it seemed as if every doctor and nurse within the department were around me, taking blood, putting me a drip in, retaking temperatures, looking for a rash; it was a very scary situation.

The doctor suggested that it could be meningitis, so at 7.30pm he requested that I be put on IV antibiotics. He sent me for a CT scan to rule out a bleed – the results of that were clear and a lumbar puncture was the next test. Two were done at around midnight and within an hour I was being moved into a side room. It didn’t compute as to why they were doing this until a nurse and doctor came into tell me that my CSF showed high levels of protein and white cells so they were going to continue to treat me for meningitis.

I just broke down. My thoughts then went to my boys, what if they were poorly? It would be my fault, I was in panic mode. The pain seemed to go for a short moment while the enormity of what was happening kicked in. I was given more IVs and was moved to the infectious diseases ward where I stayed for the next five days.

The headaches still kept coming and the pain from the lumbar puncture was incredible, I’m not sure how I managed to sleep or for how long. I was constantly being monitored by the doctors and nursing staff. The Public Health team were involved and my husband and two boys were contacted and asked to come to the ward to collect some antibiotics to take as a precaution.

I wasn’t allowed to see the boys because of the risk of infection. Lying there on my own in the room with no friends or family was a very upsetting time. I’d been told I had a serious illness and for that time I was having to cope with the emotions and physical side of it on my own.

For the first two days when either a nurse or doctor came to see me I just cried. It was as if when the door was closed and I was on my own, I could have been in any room feeling poorly, but when the uniformed staff entered the room, it brought home to me where I was and why I was there.

The following Wednesday, 13 January (my 32nd birthday) I was allowed to go home to continue with the IV antibiotics for a further 10 days to be administered by my local OHPAT team at home.

I was helped to get dressed and sat waiting for Paul. When the door opened and I saw him, I broke down into tears again. He held me tight and I clung to him with all the strength I could find, I just didn’t want to let go.

Now as I write this (Sunday 7 February) I am feeling well, with just a little back pain and headache. Ewan will be one tomorrow and I feel so incredibly lucky to be here to share it with him.

Stephanie Carter
February 2010