The 21 year old woke up in intensive care faced with the knowledge she had contracted a life threatening disease and faced the challenge of piecing together what happened to her.
Surviving the disease is not where her experience ends - Ashleigh then had to face her life after meningitis. She told us about her experience and the impact it has had.
“It all began on 1 November 2015. I thought I had sinusitis and was suffering from facial pain and aches. I bought some medicine and fell asleep, planning to visit my GP or dentist in the morning. Little did I know that the following day I wouldn't remember waking up.”
“My partner tells me I awoke (unbeknown to myself) and was sick in the toilet. I tried to make a cup of tea but couldn’t put the plug in the socket which woke him up. I collapsed and he rang an ambulance.”
Ashleigh was put into a medically induced coma and underwent a variety of procedures including CT scans and lumbar punctures, before it was confirmed she had contracted pneumococcal meningitis.
“Whilst in intensive care, I was moved to another hospital and I contracted pneumonia. I was put on a ventilator to assist my breathing, a central line and a catheter was inserted, I had a naso-gastric tube to feed me and other medical paraphernalia.”
“After five days I woke up and I am still unsure if I was hallucinating. I told my family that I had been in a machine, which they think was the CT scanner, and I knew I had meningitis (how I knew this, I don't know.)”
After waking up Ashleigh thought life would carry on as normal but she soon had to face the impact meningitis had upon her life.
“When I awoke, I felt groggy (like a hangover but 1,000 times worse) and I couldn’t read as my vision was a complete fuzz. It was as if I was there consciously watching but not fully aware of what was going on.”
“Initially I wanted to go home straight away - I didn’t realise how severely ill I had been.”
“After a few days I began to get bored, frustrated and angry. People say I’m lucky but I don’t think they quite understand how incredibly unlucky I have also been.”
“I had to receive intravenous antibiotics as an outpatient; I couldn’t wash, dress or do much for myself. I felt like a liability to my family and I was constantly worried about how my life would pan out - uni, living in student accommodation, driving – basically all the things you do daily that you take for granted.”
“I was excited to return to uni but deflated when Occupational Health said I’d need a phased return … I wanted to jump back into reality and carry on as normal.”
“When the time to return to uni arrived, I tried working on assignments but realised I just wasn’t ready to return to normal… I didn’t feel normal. I still don’t feel normal.”
“I daren’t be on my own for hours or live independently because I live in fear, but I’m starting to return to who I am.”
“I decided to take a gap year because I realised that uni, a career and owning my own place can wait. I decided it was time for me to make the most of my life and do things that make me, as a 21-year-old, happy, before returning to university.”
Since deciding to take some time for herself, Ashleigh has made the most of her year off, experiencing things she has always wanted to, like climbing Mount Snowdon, running charity races, attending festivals, inter-railing around Europe and booking trips away.
“Life is definitely for living and this is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt. Every day I feel lucky to be alive and be surrounded by the people I am. I don’t let commitments dictate my life, because I no longer take life for granted.”
“Eventually my body will heal and even though the fatigue and after-effects have frustrated me, I’m not letting them stop me.”
“Meningitis Now has supported me emotionally to make decisions about my life, and provided me with useful advice about meningitis, its symptoms and after-effects. The charity has helped me realise that I’m normal and I'm not alone.”