I still felt sick and was being sick, my head pounding, and the drips and diodes and all else that was stuck into me being changed in my arms, wrists, neck, old ones coming out, new ones going in, another day of this, and then another, and so on, every time I turned my head or tried to move in the bed I had this sense of pulling on the ones in my neck, tied down by these horrible strands, like Gulliver, and if I sat up they jangled like cheap plastic chains. But bit by bit I got better, was awake more, talking more. I was clearly in the clear, enough for pa and sisters to go back to London, via Manchester, I think. Ma stayed on to finish up and bring me home.
I was moved out of IC and up to a small room upstairs, with a TV and things, and I was now able to eat and drink a little. My head still hurt, but where I’d gone from crossing the road to Death’s door within 24 hours, within a week of coming to hospital I was up and about, eating, drinking, and being lined up for discharge. I think the morning of the day I was discharged though I wandered about a bit on my floor and came across a large ward with old people in it, very old people, on their way out mostly I’d have thought at the time. The ward was cast in this yellowy light coming through the drawn curtains and there was such a fetid smell, which isn’t really fair on them to say, but they looked like ghosts, and I felt like one. It terrified me to think it’d all end here some day, again, having already done so so nearly, and made me think I never wanted to come back to a hospital, ever.
I’d lost a stone in that week, and looked gaunt with black rings around my eyes, looking like Death – who’d had his little game then fucked off to Bristol and Southampton that same week and cut down a handful of other young lives, as my ma told me on the train home from Liverpool, she’d genuinely tried to cheer me by putting it in context with a newspaper story about a slew of deaths and maimings by meningitis across the country in recent days that showed how lucky I was, but I said I really didn’t want to hear it, and sitting up was killing my head so I went and lay down in the wheelchair space next to the vestibule, eliciting comments from passers-by about ‘bloody layabout students’ or words to the effect of, which I didn’t hear but ma did, much to her upset.
And my own upset, that’d take a while to surface. It was nice to go home early for Christmas, our last at 208, everyone was there, extended family, all pleased, but shaken, in shock, relating how they heard the news, but it was all good and well now, and I had a sense of elation, ‘phew, that was a close one, eh?’ … but over the days at home I forgot how many times I’d just find myself staring at a wall or at the floor, replaying it all … I got quite a few get-well-soon cards from people, even my uncle Richard’s mother, Hilda, who sent one with a picture of Labrador puppies on the front, and inside she wrote how good it was that I’d gotten through it and then asserted the real point, that ‘aren’t these puppies sweet?’ And I thought that was brilliant, almost cried with laughter as I had to agree, ‘yes, yes, they are.’ Friends came, and said I’d been attacked by these evil little creatures called ‘menings’.
The first night I was allowed to drink after three weeks of antibiotics we went to an art students’ party and I got absolutely trashed, as I ended up doing time and again afterwards. At the party one chum had a middle-aged woman come up to him and give a flyer about meningitis, and he said no it’s fine, I know about it, my mate him over there literally just had it, and he’s OK. And this lady looked over and saw me barely standing, ginned out my mind, and said how pleased that made her, as her son was a student and had had it a couple of years before and it’d killed him, and hence she spent her time raising awareness. He felt so bad afterwards for being so glib, but he wasn’t to know.
The knock on of depression smashed in a few weeks later, I gamely went back to Liverpool but very very quickly the game was up. Got to see the student counsellor, such a nice warm woman, all the more so contrasting with her coldly lit office, and we chatted and within minutes I just sat and wept while she said how bad and frightening it must have been, and how much stamina it must have taken to get through. Left the university a couple of weeks later to transfer to Manchester and cut all ties with Liverpool, just wanted to forget it all, which wasn’t wholly fair, for Mike, Tom and Dan were good guys, Dan had been so sweet and helpful to my pa and eldest when they went to the flat to get my stuff. It wasn’t their fault, but … for months afterwards I couldn’t even watch the opening titles to Brookside, with that strangely maudlin opening tune over the shots of what’s such a beautiful, romantic city, hauntingly so.
Seriously, it’d come on Channel 4 and I’d have to turn the channel over. Simply the speed of the decline made a mark. A few months later I read an article about Alzheimers, and then had this horrible dream where I went to the doctor’s and he said I had ‘Menzeimers’, in which I had 24 hours to remember who I was, from which of course I woke up in terror.
One of those occurrences that years and years later I can end up doing some kind of 1,000 yard stare thinking about it. I have only one official record of it in my possession, a note from the hospital to the personnel department at the museum where ma worked to say she was with me all those days, while I was ‘dangerously ill’. Not sure why but I’ve recently sought to find out about the spate of cases around that time, and my own case, having phoned the hospital who said they may well have microfilmed the case, and the Meningitis research foundation very kindly said they might be able to find info. A lovely woman she was at the latter, and I said I was a journalist, but that was incidental, then found myself trying to justify why I wanted to know about the others from those days in December, ‘one can interrogate one’s motives, and yet … I, I don’t know really know why …’