At 7.30am the following morning, Bruce called in on Max before leaving for work. Max was delirious, asking for water. Bruce fetched him a glass, but Max had no recollection of asking for it, and could not see it. I called the doctor immediately but was told he couldn't come until late morning, after his surgery. Although we did not know it at the time, had we waited for the doctor Max would have been dead long before the doctor arrived.
Being a mother, I am aware of the symptoms of meningitis . I checked closely for signs of a rash - no rash. I did notice however that his feet were very cold. By now it was about 8am and our other two children (Joe and Louis) were ready for school. It was then I noticed a small 'freckle' below Max's left eye, which I had not seen before. Bruce carried him to the car and we drove him to the surgery immediately. Why that rather than call an ambulance I don't know. Perhaps we are programmed to go first to our own doctor rather than to casualty, which, even then, all seemed a bit too dramatic and unnecessary.
On arriving at the surgery, we were told bluntly to sit down and wait our turn. Bruce ignored this and pushed his way through the swing doors to find a doctor. The doctor told Bruce to put him on a bed and said "let's have his pyjamas off". It was now about 8.25am and Max's body was covered in bruise-like blotches about the size of ten-pence coins (the 'rash'). It was then the seriousness of the situation really kicked in. The doctor, thankfully, injected penicillin, and Max fell unconscious. An ambulance took Max to St Peter's Hospital, Chertsey.
The team at St Peter's were wonderful. All hands on deck, fighting to keep Max alive. Huge syringes were used to pump fluid into his body, to try to stop his vital organs failing, but not so much as to crush his brain. A team was scrambled from St Mary's Hospital, London - one of the leading centres in this field - and during their journey along the M4, St Peter's reported Max's vital signs, so the St Mary's team could assess the situation and give instructions. We were told later that the doctor told the driver to slow down, as Max's situation was so advanced that he would be dead before they made it. Nonetheless, make it they did, and Max was still hanging on, barely. The medical teams spent the next five hours fighting to save his life, whilst we were sat down and prepared for the worst. Bizarrely, I remember at one calmer point in the proceedings, having tea and toast within the team from St Mary's, discussing Scotland, work and where we went to University, but we were gathered round the bed of a blood-soaked, bloated child in a coma, with tubes going into orifices on his body, natural and those created by the medics. It was like living someone else's nightmare, these rare things "always happen to someone else".....but it was OUR nightmare.
By 3pm, Max was stable enough to be strapped to a special stretcher and moved to St Mary's to their Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We were told if he made it through the next 24 hours, there was hope, if he made it through 48 hours, there was real hope. He did both, and after five days on life support they began to wean him off the machines and see if his vital organs were functioning. Although they didn't let on, the PICU nurses were worried that his brain had been damaged, as he had not been responding well to various tests and was taking longer than normal to 'wake up'. Eventually, after many hours, he was able to breathe on his own, and slowly, slowly opened his eyes. He stared at the clock (3pm) and mouthed (he couldn't speak having been intubated for five days) "Where are Joe and Louis?" Those five simple words told us his brain was still in working order.