Alistair Borthwick

Bacterial meningitis 60+ Recovery with After Effects Hearing Problems

I suffered bacterial meningitis, sepsis, and hydrocephalus in late January 2022. The symptoms of sepsis came first, in that I spent an hour or so in bed experiencing shivers (just like when I was a small child having a fever) with cold hands and feet. Gill (my wife) and I didn’t think anything more about it at the time because the symptoms disappeared.

A day or so later, I went down with an earache (which I thought was bacterial), followed by a headache, and lay down on the bed in the late afternoon of Saturday 22 January, a band of pressure surrounding my head. I must have fallen unconscious. Gill thought I was sleeping, until she looked in about 10 pm to find my breathing was awful (the so-called death rattle). She phoned 999, and the operator told her how to apply CPR, which she did until three ambulances arrived!

Thanks to Gill recalling that I had said the earache was bacterial, the paramedics started me on penicillin immediately. I was taken to Derriford hospital, Plymouth where I spent three days in the emergency ward (from Saturday night until Tuesday, with Gill and my son Gerard taking it in turns to keep me calm and restrained). A grommet was inserted in my ear – I can imagine the whooshing sound as the pressure in my head reduced to atmospheric. I was then moved to a medical assessment unit after I came out of a coma (again thanks to Gill who talked me out of the sleep).

Alistair Borthwick

The day after I came round, my part of the ward became closed to visitors, owing to a nearby patient contracting covid. I persuaded one of the nurses to remove my catheter, and then, when no-one was around, I got out of the bed and started exercising – small amounts at first, and later up to 40 minutes walking (behind the curtains). As a semi-retired academic with access to a laptop, I also started to reply to emails, and wrote several reference letters starting on the Wednesday. I then worked on drafting some academic papers, one of which has since been published in Nature Communications. (For this reason, I was able to self-certify my absence from work as being only two working days – unusual for someone with BM et al.).

After about a further 10 days, I was discharged home, and spent another (more heavily monitored) week on drips. Since then, I have made a nearly complete recovery, except for one ear that is partially deaf. In retrospect, I should have known better what was happening at the time, especially as my father was a doctor. (I am an engineer, aged 65.)

I am incredibly grateful to Gill (my saviour) and the paramedics, nurses, and doctors who fought so hard to give me a chance to recover. Fortunately, I have amnesia concerning the first three days. Gill suffered PTSD (as nightmares) for some weeks afterwards. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to BM.

Alistair Borthwick

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