When Megan was 16 weeks old, my ex-partner’s father died. At the gathering after the funeral, I noticed that Megan became very unsettled and hot. On the way outside, trying to cool her down, a swing door banged her head. Megan began screaming in pain and I noticed her fontanelle (the soft spot on your bay’s head) seemed to be bulging, so I rushed her to the hospital.
“When we got to casualty, Megan’s temperature was more than 40°C. The doctor gave her infant paracetamol and moved her to the children’s ward, and she was checked for signs of meningitis.
“I knew something was seriously wrong”
The doctor who examined Megan said she just had a virus. But I wasn’t convinced. She was vomiting violently and screaming with pain. I knew something was seriously wrong.
We remained at the hospital with her condition deteriorating rapidly. An hour and a half later, I asked a doctor to check her again and he decided to keep her in overnight. With her temperature still at 40°C, I insisted on staying in the parents’ accommodation.
“She has meningitis”
At 5am, 12 hours after Megan’s admission, the phone rang. I was told to come immediately. I arrived to find Megan in a private room off the ward. She was unconscious, strapped to a heart monitor with an oxygen mask over her tiny face. The nurse explained gently, ‘We need your permission to perform a lumbar puncture [where a small needle is passed between the bones of the spine to collect a sample of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord]. We think Megan has meningitis.’ Outside the room, I overheard someone talking about advising me to arrange Megan’s funeral.
After the lumbar puncture, Megan was transferred to a specialist children’s hospital five hours’ drive away. I wasn’t allowed to travel with her and I don’t drive, but my lovely brother dashed 100 miles to take me to her side.
When I arrived and saw Megan in intensive care, I fell to the floor. My tiny baby was covered in tubes and wires. The doctor said that, until they knew which strain of meningitis she had, they’d give her ‘human Domestos’ – a ‘kill-all-germs’ antibiotic. He told me to prepare for the worst.
“My baby might die”
Finally, the doctors diagnosed meningococcal meningitis – the worst type. Megan also had septicaemia and broncholitis. I had to face the truth that she may die. Even if by some miracle she pulled through, the doctor warned me of the likelihood of complications – amputation, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, brain damage. The words stabbed my heart like a knife.
I felt helpless. The only thing I could do was express milk so Megan could be fed through a tube. She spent the next 10 days in intensive care with me holding her hand. At night in the hospital chapel I prayed for a miracle.
“The nightmare went on”
After 10 days, Megan seemed to improve and was transferred to a high-dependency ward. But a few days later, her temperature began to soar again.
I asked the doctor to perform another lumbar puncture. And my fears were confirmed – my little girl still had meningitis. The doctor said they needed to do an MRI scan to check if there was a pocket of infection in her brain. If so, she would need either an antibiotic injection into the brain (not always successful) or they would have to drill into her brain to drain the infection (which would be extremely risky). I sobbed, horrified by the decision I might be called on to make.
“Mums should know”
Thank God the MRI scan showed no infection and I never had to make that dreadful choice. The medics continued to give Megan intravenous antibiotics and eventually the infection was beaten.
Megan stayed in hospital for four weeks but it took three years before she was given the all-clear. Now 4, she has no physical impairment – something doctors describe as a miracle.
When Megan was born, the health visitor gave me a card with the symptoms of meningitis on it. I threw it in the bin thinking, ‘That’ll never happen to us.’ But it did. And that’s what I want other mums out there to know.”
What is meningitis and how to protect your child?
Meningitis: know the symptoms