Meningitis Now Young Ambassador Jemma Pressman

It'll never happen to me

Jemma P 4th November 2015

In August 2012 I got my A-Level results and found out I got into the University of Leicester to study law

Itll never happen to me
I had so many mixed emotions, I was excited to start a new chapter of my life but I was also scared, I would be living miles away from home, in a place I had never been to and with no one I knew. But nevertheless I was looking forward to my new adventure.

The first year flew by, I met some amazing people that I shared so many memories with. We had so many laughs, we had ups and downs through the stress of our degrees but at the end of the day we all supported each other and that is all I wanted. 

Studying law I would keep up my interest of daily affairs, I would watch the news, read articles that interested me and be aware of what was going on. I would see stories of people who had to fight for their life because they were so ill and people that went through trauma that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. 

I remember feeling so sorry for them that they had to go through that but the one thought I always had was "that's awful, but it would never happen to me". I remember seeing a story on the news about a little child that contracted meningitis that meant they lost some limbs through the infection, I honestly can tell you that I thought "oh meningitis only happens in children and you only know you've got it when you have a rash that if you put a glass on it doesn't fade".

Anyway I had an enjoyable summer in 2013 then in September I started to get everything ready to start my second year of university after achieving three firsts and three 2:1's in first year.

I went back on the 30th of September and did what all students do, I enjoyed fresher week! I had so much fun being back at uni with all my amazing friends and I was loving the fact I was back! 

On the night of Sunday 13th I began to feel unwell, I had a stiff neck, I ached so much, I was vomiting and felt generally rubbish. So that Monday morning I went to see my doctor who assessed me and came to the conclusion it was probably mumps, so they did a blood test to confirm that and the doctor suggested I go home to rest until I felt better. Which I did. 

My mum picked me up on Monday evening and I spent the rest of the week at home, with the homely comforts, having your family around you and I began to feel better. 

However on Friday 18th I had a really bad headache which made me sick. The pain was indescribable, but it went and again I started to feel okay.

In the early hours of Saturday 19th the excruciating pain in the back of my head came back but this time it wouldn't go, I kept being sick, I couldn't stand light and I ached so much. 

So my mum rang 111, I spoke to a doctor and he advised I go straight to A&E. My mum took me.

The last thing I remember was talking to the triage nurse and her asking me to rate the pain on a scale of 1-10 and me saying 12. 

I was seen by multiple doctors who were trying to find the cause of my pain, however my condition deteriorated and at that point the doctors made the decision that it was safer to sedate me. They sent me for a CT scan and found that I had significant swelling in the linings of my brain. 

They rushed me to Southampton General for emergency brain surgery and put a drain in my brain to relieve the pressure. The fluid that was drained they tested and established that I had meningococcal group Y and encephalitis. I was sedated for three weeks while the swelling reduced and then I gradually began to come around.

I don't remember much of the early days, I was confused, didn't understand where I was or what happened, I couldn't move anything when I first woke up but as time went by I started to be able to move my right arm and right leg. At this point I still couldn't move my left side. I was connected to a ventilator because I couldn't breathe without assistance of a machine. 

I slowly began to understand what was going on, I had to relearn to do the basic things, I had to learn how to swallow so I could eat and drink. I had to learn how I could move my arms and legs, I had to learn to breathe again. 

After three and a half months I came off the ventilator and was able to breathe on my own. My right side was getting stronger and slowly my left side was starting to move but it was very weak, the movement in the left side didn't come back the same as it did with my right side. 

In February 2014 I went to a rehab unit to undergo intense physiotherapy. I had to learn the simple things like sitting on the edge of the bed, standing up and eventually practicing walking. Because I spent so long in bed unable to get out I lost a lot of muscle, it wasted away so I had to build all that up as well but that is a very slow process and I'm still working on that, as well as remembering what muscles need to fire to achieve daily tasks. The daily tasks that you learnt when you were little and now don't think about it. 

If someone asked you what muscles do you use to walk, stand and get yourself dressed you wouldn't know because you don't really think of it, it's something you've always done and it's just a natural part of life. But that part I couldn't remember. 

After nearly spending a year in hospital I finally went home on October 13th 2014.

I thought everything would be OK when I got home, everything will get back to normal and everything will be fine. But I was wrong. Spending almost a year in hospital meant i forgot how daily life works. I was scared to go outside and go to the shops, I felt vulnerable and useless so I didn't think there was any point in doing anything because I couldn't do what I used to do at home. I felt like a failure. 

It took a lot of support and eventually counselling to get me in a positive mindset, feeling like I've got a purpose in people's lives and I'm capable of a lot more than I realised, I just had to try and see if I could. 

Currently I'm still working on it all, I go horse riding once a week which is strengthening my muscles and I get to meet new people. I practice walking with a frame and I'm also volunteering for Meningitis Now. 

I am using the skills I learnt in first year to do something positive and try and raise awareness. 

The Meningitis Now 'Off to uni' campaign is making students aware that the Men ACWY vaccine is available to students, which could protect you from all four strains that are life-threatening. I'm also talking to students and making sure they are aware of all the symptoms associated with meningitis, and educating people that meningitis can affect any age and any person. We need people to stop thinking meningitis only affects children and you only know you've got it if you have a rash. 

The more people know about meningitis, the more lives we can save. The quicker you act, the more of the person you save. 

I was like most students that think:

"I'm fit and healthy. Yes I get the occasional cold or a tummy bug, but apart from that I'm absolutely fine. And yes of course bad things happen to people but do I think it's going to happen to me... No. Why would it? I'm living my life building my future, why would it happen to me, it just happens to other people." 

I guess you can say I was naive and almost blind to what could happen to me. 

I had no idea the amount of meningitis strains there are whether it's viral or bacterial, and most people have no clue about any of it. 

But students that are starting uni this year have got a massive advantage. They've got the vaccine available that could prevent all this. I wish I had it before I went to uni but unfortunately it wasn't available. 

But it is now! 

So I'm asking people to book yourself in for your vaccine, a small five-second jab could prevent "oh it's never going to happen to me" event happening.        

It's better to be safe than sorry.