KEEP MENINGITIS AT THE FRONT OF YOUR MIND

THE DAY WE HELPED SAVE OUR SON’S LIFE.

I am writing this blog partly because it’s helping me to get things off my chest, but mostly because I want to pass on my knowledge and experience of the dangers of bacterial Meningitis.  My hope is that by reading this blog, ‘Keep Meningitis at the front of your mind’ (I have called it this as we should all be vigilant and aware of the symptoms), other parents and carers of young children will be able to recognise the symptoms of Meningitis and Septicaemia and how quickly it can progress.  It may just help someone else save their child’s life.   I hope by telling my story, it will help to dispel some of the myths about Meningitis.

When our five year old son, Jude, woke my husband and I at 2am on Friday 18th October complaining of a headache, little did we know that in a matter of hours it would turn into something life-threatening.  Believing at the time that it was a simple dehydration headache, I did what every parent would do – I gave my son a drink of water and some Junior Nurofen.

He went back to bed and then fell asleep for another four and a half hours, before waking us again at about 6.45am again complaining of a headache and rubbing his forehead.  I gave him some more water and another dose of Junior Nurofen.  After finishing his drink, he was laughing and joking with his big brother who by this time had also woken and had come through to our room.  All seemed fine.  Jude just had a bit of a headache.

About half an hour later Jude was sick, not much.  I just assumed it was a stomach bug (there had been one going round at school) and I decided not to send him into school that day.  I took his temperature, it was normal, within the 37c range.  I then tucked him up into bed and phoned the school to say he would not be in.  Not long after that he got up and staggered into the bathroom where he was a little bit sick again.  He said he felt a little bit dizzy and was unsteady on his legs, so I helped him back in to bed.  He complained that his headache was worse and so I gave him a few more sips of water to drink.  Half an hour later, he was sick again, violently this time.  But it was the colour of the vomit that alarmed me – bright yellow, watery bile.  He appeared to be bringing up the water I was giving him.  In my ten years experience as a mum, I had never seen anything quite like it.

My first thought was that perhaps he was reacting badly to the Nurofen so, a little later when it was safe to, I gave him some Calpol SixPlus (it was the only other alternative I had in our medicine cupboard).  He threw this up almost immediately, along with the water I’d given him – still the same yellow, watery bile and almost odourless.  It just didn’t seem right and I began to worry and contemplated phoning the G.P.  After Jude had been sick about four or five times in a very short space of time, I texted my husband who was now at work and told him that it just didn’t seem right – the frequency of the sickness bouts and the colour.  The thing that sprung to my mind was that perhaps he was suffering from a very severe migraine, although he rarely suffers from headaches usually.  My husband agreed it sounded serious and asked if I’d called the doctor…I said I was about to!

I called our surgery and explained that Jude had been repeatedly sick and had a severe headache but NO HIGH TEMPERATURE.  They said the duty doctor would call me back in a few minutes.  As I went to put the phone back in our bedroom, I heard Jude calling me – he asked me to “turn the light off on the landing mummy, it’s really hurting my eyes!”

My heart skipped a beat and I immediately rushed in and lifted his pyjama top up to check for a Meningitis rash on his torso.  His skin was fine, I felt relieved.  I sat on his bed, stroking his forehead, this must just be a bad migraine, surely?  But somewhere, deep in the back of my mind an alarm bell had started ringing…could this be MENINGITIS??  The sensitivity to light, the bad headache, the sickness but surely he’d have a raging temperature wouldn’t he and besides, I’d had both my boys vaccinated for Men C and Hib as babies.  My mind was racing with any number of possibilities and then the phone rang.  It was the duty doctor. I explained Jude’s symptoms to him, which as of 11am were:

A very bad headache, repeatedly sick, a normal temperature but a DISLIKE OF BRIGHT LIGHT.

He asked me to bring Jude down to the surgery to see him immediately, (thank God he did!), as he said he wanted to “rule out Meningitis.”  I quickly dressed Jude and he and I then raced out of the door and into the car bound for our surgery about 6 miles away.  By this time it was about 11.30am.

He threw up again in to a bag in the surgery car park when we arrived.  I quickly rushed him inside, notified the receptionist that we had arrived and we were asked to take a seat.  When I sat Jude down I immediately noticed that his LEFT EAR HAD TURNED PURPLE!!!!  I knew then that this was serious and my GUT INSTINCT told me it had to be MENINGITIS.  The duty doctor performed some tests on him and then sought a second opinion from another G.P who specialised in Paediatric health.  She initially thought the rash was a bruise and asked me if he’s knocked his ear.  I told her he hadn’t.  The two doctors then proceeded to type up a referral letter admitting Jude to hospital.  They told me they suspected it was Meningitis but that they would not give him any antibiotics at this stage so as not to alter any later tests which may be performed once he’d reached the hospital.  Why did the Paediatric doctor believe at first that it was a bruise – had she never seen Meningitis manifest itself in this way I wonder??  I have since leant that a Meningitis rash can appear ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE ON THE BODY AND NOT JUST ON THE TORSO WHERE EVERYBODY THINKS and it typically resembles a PURPLE SPECKLY BRUISE.

Jude and I then left the surgery at about 12.15pm to head for the Children’s A&E Department at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.  We met up with my husband on route.  Jude was seen by a triage team and we were then ushered into a private treatment room and placed in the care of a wonderful doctor.  She checked him over, notified his symptoms and wired him up to a heart monitoring machine.  Our little chap lay there helplessly, covered in wires.

I remember the doctor’s words clearly, “I don’t know exactly what I’m treating at this stage, but I’m going to give him some very strong antibiotics.”   The fact that Jude had a blinding headache, photophobia (aversion to light) and a “non-blanching” rash in his ear (non-blanching means that it does not disappear with pressure), made her fairly certain that it was Meningitis, but she herself made the comment that she had never seen the Meningitis rash appear in the ear before and his lack of a high temperature and fever was unusual.

Jude’s hands, lower legs and feet then went very cold and I pointed out that his toes had gone slightly grey.  He then started to develop a temperature.

From his knees down to his toes, Jude’s body felt icy cold, his face appeared pale but his temperature  had begun to soar and his heart rate had gone up.  His neck had also become very stiff and painful to move.  The doctor attempted to fit a cannula in his arm to administer the antibiotics, but this proved impossible as he had now become so dehydrated from the sickness.  She immediately hooked him up to a drip – more wires – and for the next 1 hour and 40 minutes or so, his little body was slowly but surely rehydrated again. He never once lost consciousness and despite being covered in restrictive wires, was able to lift his hand to wave at us…just to let us know he was still there…still with us.   By this stage the doctor had been called away to deal with Public Health England to organise for myself, my husband and our elder son to receive antibiotics to give us some degree of protection in case we had become infected.  We were told that this would not protect us from contracting Meningitis but would simply stop the bacteria from spreading if we had have become infected.  We had not been infected, although this thought had been furthest from my mind at the time.

Once rehydrated and at about 3.30pm, Jude started to receive life-saving antibiotics.  Very quickly after this, his extremities started to warm up again and become pink in colour once more.  By this stage, the HDU Consultant, Senior Registrars and a Paediatric Consultant from the Children’s Hospital were swarming around Jude like bees.  This was serious.

As Jude started to respond to the antibiotics, he was moved to HDU (the High Dependency Unit), where he spent Friday night being monitored at every 1/2 hour.  It was truly heart-breaking to see our precious little boy crying out in pain.  All we could do was stroke his forehead, hold his hand and reassure him that we were there for him and that we loved him.  We never left his side.  We felt numb and we couldn’t cry.  We had to be strong for him.  It was the longest and most terrifying night of our lives.  Neither us nor the medical staff really knew at this point what the prognosis would be.

By dawn he had made a significant improvement and by mid-morning he complained that he felt hungry and wanted some toast!!!  The nurses advised liquids only at this stage, so we gave him some diluted lemon squash through a straw – his head and neck were still too painful to move.  By early afternoon, he had made such good progress that the doctors decided he should come out of HDU and be transferred to a private, isolated room on the ward where we were able to stay with him.

Now comfortable and responding well to the antibiotics, Jude continued to be monitored very regularly. He was still attached to a heart monitoring machine and continued to receive the powerful antibiotics intravenously every 24 hours.  Neurological checks were performed regularly throughout the day and night.  These were to check brain function, cognitive skills, memory and reflexes.  All were fine.

Jude remained in the Children’s Hospital for the next three nights and was finally discharged on the evening of Tuesday 22nd October, after having spent four nights and five days in hospital being treated for bacterial Meningitis and Septacaemia.  He continued to receive his antibiotics intravenously via a Community Nurse who came to our home until 31st October.

I strongly believe that by acting as quickly as I did on that Friday morning, we have been lucky enough to have a child who has come through this terrible ordeal completely unscathed and with no ill effects.  We are now able to get on with life with a happy, fit, healthy and exuberant five year old once more.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS I DIDN’T KNOW:

Meningitis can be viral or bacterial

There are as many as 12-15 different strains of Meningitis

If you have your child vaccinated, they can still contract Meningitis

The Meningitis rash can appear anywhere on the body and is often one of the last symptoms to appear

Meningitis can kill within hours if not treated quickly

DID YOU KNOW?

According to Meningitis Now, up to 34 million adults in the U.K are risking death by believing that the main symptom of Meningitis is a rash.  A further 5.3 million adults in the U.K cannot name a single symptom of Meningitis.  Isn’t that shocking?!

TOGETHER, LET’S RAISE AWARENESS!

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3 thoughts on “KEEP MENINGITIS AT THE FRONT OF YOUR MIND

  1. This information is so clear and so important that it deserves to be published in magazines as well as the social media. Meningitus UK should get a copy. The more people know about this disease and the imperative of acting quickly the better. Let’s hope with this knowledge more young lives can be saved and the serious conseqences of the disease avoided. Thanks, Louise for this clear description and the signs to watch out for. It is great too that we have such dedicated doctors and nurses.

  2. Dear Louise
    This was very moving to read.
    Thankyou so much for sharing your experience – and I hope you are managing to get back to normality after such a trauma.
    Dorothea x

  3. Thanks for posting. It is always good to keep reading these things. Was it the blood tests that showed it was bacterial, or the fact that he responded to the antibiotics? Is bacterial easier to treat than viral or do the strong antivirals work just as well?

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