I was 4 months old when I was diagnosed with meningitis, so this story was told to me by my mother.
I became very ill very quickly and my father cycled to the doctor’s house and asked him to visit. He came immediately and diagnosed possible pneumonia, gave medication and left. My mother had heard of meningitis and suspected that the doctor had been mistaken in his diagnosis. She looked up ‘meningitis’ in an ordinary encyclopaedia and was convinced that this was what I was suffering from. Apparently I had a rash and a fever and she described my eyes as “falling back into your (my) head”. She said I was lethargic and unresponsive.
My father got back on his bike and once again the doctor called. He agreed that this may indeed be meningitis. He took my Mum and I to hospital in his car. I was given huge amounts of penicillin and kept in hospital for a month, during which time my mother cycled backwards and forwards to the hospital to continue breastfeeding me. My father had to work and my sister was only three years old, so she couldn’t stay in hospital with me, although there probably was no opportunity to do this anyway.
My parents were told that there was only a 40% chance that I would survive, but that I would almost definitely be left with a disability.
I was one of the lucky ones who did survive this awful disease and have been left with very little disability (if any). I did not thrive well throughout childhood and had many minor illnesses and was always the smallest in the class at school. My parents worried about me and I was rather overprotected. The doctors told them that I should not be allowed to do any sport or become overtired, which of course, would not be the advice today.
I am not a person with a great deal of stamina and I don’t have a great immune system, but this is thought to be as a result of the amount of antibiotics I received in hospital and throughout my childhood. I now resist antibiotic treatment if at all possible.
I still have the encyclopaedia with the meningitis entry (photo attached). I believe it saved my life, together with my Mum’s instinct that the doctor had made the wrong diagnosis, her confidence to question it and her determination to get a second opinion.