For 4 days she just lay there - her body limp - staring into space. She was kept in isolation on the children's ward. Anybody who came in had to wear aprons and wash their hands with alcohol gel. At first we thought this was so no-one caught it from her but it turned out it was because her immune system was so low they didn't want to risk her catching anything else as they didn't know if her little body could cope. Martin and I were given antibiotic tablets to kill any of the virulent bacteria that might be living in our throats. This was so the bacteria wouldn't go on to cause us, or others we came in contact with, an infection.
On the 4th night she let out a cry. She started screaming with agony and kept crying all night. We felt a sense of pure relief to hear her cry. The drugs were working and she was starting to recover. She was given ibuprofen and paracetamol to keep her pain under control and was kept on antibiotics for another 6 days.
She was moved to a bigger room for the remaining 6 days as one of us was with her at all times and it was getting a bit cramped in the tiny room she was in. All of the staff were absolutely brilliant. They brightened up her room with Christmas decorations and gave Rhianna and us a pile of presents that had been donated by local businesses. It made us feel much better and cared for - nothing was too much trouble. On day 6 we got Rhianna started back on solid food - it was her favourite - porridge with mango chunks for breakfast and banana custard for dinner...we didn't care what she ate as long as she ate!
In the next few days Rhianna seemed like brand new. We started to look forward to getting out of hospital, but I still felt scared. The care she had received had been so thorough - what if I missed something and she got ill again?
We got out just before New Year's Eve and decided to have our own special Christmas - albeit a few days late!
Rhianna is two years old now and is happy, mischievous and full of life. She has had her follow-up hearing and eyesight tests. Fortunately it looks like she has no after effects, other than some discolouration of her teeth. We expected this though as the antibiotics she was on had been known to do that. She has had chickenpox, coughs and colds, but she seems to be strong and easily fights off any infections. She is in the top 2% for weight and height for her age.
The health visitors say her speech is developing as normal and her coordination is brilliant. We are so glad to have our little girl with us. We were so close to losing her.
I think it is so important for parents and doctors to know all the symptoms of meningitis. It is also very important to know that you don't always get a rash - Rhianna never had one. Its absence was one thing that gave us false reassurance. I have learned recently that only around 40% of children with the disease who are younger than a year old get the rash. Some types of bacteria don't cause the rash and if the bacteria are mainly around the brain and not the blood the rash can also be absent. Our local GP didn't realise you didn't have to get the rash and she found that when she asked the other doctors in her surgery. Only two of them knew this!
I would like to tell parents never to be afraid to take your child to the doctor - The doctors would much rather see a child unnecessarily than see one too late! We tell everyone we come across about the disease and have distributed literature from the Meningitis Research Foundation to our local Nursery. We believe research can inform parents and health professionals and we hope that other parents will read our story and know the symptoms to look for. If Rhianna's story can save even one child then all that she went through will of been worthwhile - after all that child could be yours.