Belle, an English and Drama student at Sussex uni, knows first hand the heartbreak meningitis can have after she witnessed her best friend Mat (one of our fantastic YAs) battle Men Y when they were teenagers
We spoke to Belle about the impact of the dreaded 'M' on family and friends
"Mat was a few days into being 17 when he first fell ill, which meant I had just turned 16."
"We had both just started our AS Levels."
"Mat has been my best friend for ten years now, ever since we were 11 and rode the same bus to and from school everyday, but when he didn’t get on one morning I didn’t think too much about it. It was only after a few days of not seeing or hearing from Mat at all that I started to worry about him, because usually we would speak everyday, even if we didn’t see each other.
"On around the fourth day, a friend called me in the evening to say she had heard that Mat had been hospitalized after collapsing and having a fit at his home where he lived with his Mum. I can’t explain why, but my first reaction was, 'Is it meningitis?'. She told me it wasn’t, but that the doctors also didn’t know what it was."
"I later found out that on admittance, Mat’s doctors had told his parents that his body was preparing itself to die, and that his kidneys and his liver had started to fail. They said his platelet count was six, whilst that of a healthy person is between 150 and 400."
"I had always been taught that if a patient had meningitis, you had approximately 24 hours to diagnose and begin treatment, otherwise they would die. After a week of being in a coma, we were told that Mat did, in fact, have meningitis and was very lucky to have survived."
"I couldn’t bring myself to go and visit Mat whilst he was still in a coma, because I knew that if I went I would have to think of a way to say goodbye to him, and that wasn’t something I knew how to do. But then Mat woke up."
"He woke up and as soon as I could, I went to visit him. At this point, Mat was paralysed from the waist down."
"Despite all of this, he was still making jokes. He said to me as soon as I walked in that he’d been shaved all over, which was 'really nice because the nurses are really fit'. But then his dinner was brought to him, and the nurse allowed us to be alone for a while."
"It was watching Mat try and eat dinner that made me realise the impact which the illness had had on his brain. Mat couldn’t even tell the difference between a knife, a fork and a spoon. Trying to eat frustrated him so much that he burst into tears. I think that when I found out Mat was ill, my heart began to break, but seeing him so vulnerable finished it completely."
"There aren’t enough words in the world to explain how I felt when I received the call saying that Mat had woken up, but even though he was awake we had no idea how damaged his brain might have been, or if, given his state of paralysis, he would ever walk again."
"I can’t remember whether my school work was affected or not, I suppose it must have been for a while at least. It never really occurred to me to think back about the impact which Mat’s illness had on me, so I can’t really remember much of how I felt."
"I think visiting Mat weekly and helping out with his new daily routine made me grow up very quickly. Coming so close to losing my best friend showed me how much love I am capable of feeling for another person, which I’d never really considered before that moment, but also how dependent I am on him."
"I never had to take any precautions myself with regards to contracting Mat’s illness; I had not been in direct contact with Mat for at least a week prior to Mat being admitted to hospital because we had both been on half-term holiday, so Mat’s doctors told me I didn’t have to take any of the preventative antibiotics which some of our other friends had had to complete courses of."
"The most beautiful thing that I was lucky enough to witness whilst Mat was in hospital was the day he regained feeling and movement in his toes. I don't know if its true, but I've heard that when a person is paralysed, if they begin to regain movement from the top down, it’s impossible to know how far this recovery will reach. If, however, the movement begins at the bottom, you can be almost sure that it will progress all the way up, and that eventually the person will become fully mobile again."
"I’ve never cried the way I did when I saw him twitch his toes. And then just a few months later to see Mat take his first steps; that’s not an experience I know how to describe. On my 18th birthday Mat and I danced together without him needing any support from his walking sticks."
"I am a firm believer in silver linings, because without them life becomes very bleak indeed. Through Mat’s illness, every boundary which we had came down. There is no taboo left for us to tackle: I’ve seen and heard it all. And that’s why, even though Mat and I now live 179 miles away from one another, whenever we are able to see each other, it’s like we’re 16 again. But better."