Meningitis Now staff member Helen Hillier

Abigail's experience

Helen Hillier 7th June 2016

Abi had a nine day stay in intensive care when she caught meningitis in March 2016. As well as many physical symptoms, she experienced terrifying hallucinations and nightmares, brought on by ICU Psychosis


Psychology student Abi, 19, was home for Easter when she started to show the symptoms of meningitis.

She had a sore throat, a high temperature, cold hands and feet, shaking and aching limbs for a day, before she developed a rash. Thinking it might be something more serious than flu, her mum called the NHS helpline, who immediately called for an ambulance. The next nine days in hospital were something of a blur for Abi, but she tells the story of what happened to her here:

“I woke up on the Saturday before Easter with a sore throat, a high temperature and aching limbs - little did I know that this was the first signs of meningitis.”

“The next morning, my symptoms had worsened and I’d developed a rash. My mum called the NHS helpline and they sent a first response paramedic, and within minutes the ambulance came. At the hospital, the doctors took a lumbar puncture to diagnose which kind of meningitis I had.” 

I didn’t feel like somebody with meningitis

“At this point my mum and dad were allowed to see me and I noticed that my mum had been crying. I knew then, that they had been told my diagnosis. I didn't feel like somebody with meningitis - I was talkative and smiling. I did feel a little rough, but nothing seriously wrong and all I wanted to do was sleep.”

“Later that evening I was put into a coma as my condition had deteriorated rapidly. My blood pressure was dipping dangerously low, along with my oxygen levels, as my organs were being attacked by the bacteria.”

Slowly improving

“I was moved into a separate room, with life support machines doing all of the work and placed on a dialysis type machine, to clean my blood. Luckily, my condition was slowly improving. As the doctors brought me round from sedation, my body reacted very badly. I only found out later, that I was screaming and was experiencing terrifying hallucinations and dreams brought on by ICU Psychosis.”

“On top of this I was suffering from photophobia, an extreme sensitivity to light, caused by the meningitis.  This was a very frightening time for me and for my family.”

“I was visited by a psychiatrist, as I struggled a lot with these psychological effects. The photophobia made me 'blind' for a few days and as the light was too painful for my eyes, I had to wear an eye patch or sunglasses.”

“In my nine days in hospital, I had lost nearly two stone in weight, which was almost all muscle. I had become very weak and had to learn how to walk again. My skin was very fragile from the sepsis rash but I was fortunate that I didn’t lose any limbs.”

I have been very lucky

“Although there were lots of falls along the way, I’m glad to say that I can now walk again. I still struggle with bending and walking up stairs, but I have been very lucky. Since leaving hospital recovery had been difficult as I'm still very weak. But I have gone back to uni in Birmingham and will be sitting my first- year exams in August.”

“I know how lucky I am to have survived, not to mention recovering with hardly any side effects. It just shows the quicker that you recognise the symptoms, the better the outcome.”

“I would like to say, that I'm as healthy as I can be now, and stronger mentally than ever. The support I received from all my family, and also the dedication of my parents, has helped the most with my recovery.”

Abi wants other young people to know that when she contracted meningitis she was very stressed with deadlines and part-time work, and that her doctors thought that this had weakened her immune system.

“It’s not just babies that can have meningitis, young people and students also catch it because of stress and being run-down. So do whatever you can to avoid stress and look after yourself.”