Judith Auld

Viral meningitis at 30

Viral meningitis

Friday 7 December 1990 was my last day of health before I got meningitis. I went to a Christmas drinks party on the Saturday evening but did not stay long or drink much. The following morning I had a sore head - I must have drunk more than I thought!

By Monday I wasn't feeling well. I thought it may be viral meningitis as some colleagues at work had it. I wasn't too worried thinking that it wasn't the serious kind and just meant a few weeks off work. I phoned the GP surgery - they were busy with winter colds and I spoke to a nurse - she suggested I drink flat lemonade as I couldn't keep down anything else. I didn't insist on speaking to a doctor as they were busy and I didn't think it was too serious. I could not keep down the flat lemonade and vomited it up immediately. The same happened when I took two painkillers. This was unusual as I normally have a strong constitution.

I phoned my mother and asked her to come for a few days to look after the children (aged four years and eight months). My mother is a nurse and was immediately concerned when she saw me. She phoned and asked for a doctor's visit. The doctor came quite quickly, immediately diagnosed meningitis by lifting my head from the pillow - which I found painful - and called for an ambulance to take me to hospital.

In hospital a lumbar puncture was taken - it confirmed the diagnosis of viral meningitis. However, I was unable to pee and this was the first sign of something more seriously wrong.

On Friday morning, I was transferred to the intensive care unit of the neurological department. My central nervous system was shutting down - I had encephalitis, an attack on the brain itself. I was on the danger list. The last I remembered was being numb from the waist down. My family stayed with me all the time, even when not conscious, which I believe made me feel safe.

The hospital was carrying out tests to find the cause - at the eleventh hour, they identified a rare micro-organism which could be treated by an antibiotic. After four hours it was the difference between living and dying. The IV was painful as my veins had collapsed, so the medication was given orally. I relapsed, but recovered when IV treatment was restarted so there is little doubt that my recovery was down to the medication.

I was very depressed when I started to improve, particularly missing my children. I was shocked when I heard I had almost died - I had no idea. However, there was a clue from the nurse staring unbelieving at a potty I had filled without a catheter, clearly believing my system would not work again. And from a consultant being called to the ward in the night when my face looked to be collapsing with dropsy.

Neither of these things happened - I was very thin and weak but got my health back over time, although was bed-ridden for months and my mother lived with us and nursed me. For three years I suffered excruciating head pain from inflammation of the meninges, which recurs intermittently. A small price to pay in exchange for my life.

It was a harrowing experience for my husband and family holding Christmas celebrations for my brother's and our small children, with me so dangerously ill. It took a long time to get my career back on track. Mainly I was grateful for my children to grow up knowing their mother.