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Adrienne's story

22nd May 2015

Following an emotional week commemorating the birthday of her late husband, 26-year-old Adrienne Quinnear feared for her life when she contracted bacterial meningitis and septicaemia

Adrienne's story

Luckily, she didn’t give up her fight and recalls her terrifying experience.

“It had been a difficult week emotionally as it was my late husband’s birthday. I felt fine on the Friday night and went to bed as normal. I started to notice that all the rings on my fingers were feeling tight, so I decided to take them off, including my wedding and engagement ring. I thought; ‘What harm could it do? It's just one night’.

I woke up on Saturday 28th March at about 6am feeling terrible. I was incredibly weak and dizzy, I couldn't see very well and I had to scramble to the toilet to be sick.

I planned to go to Wembley that afternoon with my dad for a rugby game that we were both really excited about, but I knew I wasn't well enough to go. I attempted to call him but I had so little energy that I couldn’t even lift my mobile phone off the table next to my bed. I thought it would be fine, I’d just sleep it off and he would realise I was unwell.

When I woke up again it was 6pm, but I still couldn’t gather the strength to contact anyone.

The next thing I knew it was 6am on Sunday morning. I was convinced I just had the flu so wasn't going to waste another day in bed. I’d just had two weeks holiday from work, and was due back the following day so I felt I needed to get myself up and get prepared for the working week. I also really wanted to watch the Formula 1 on TV.

Even though I was still incredibly weak I forced myself to get up. I held onto the window sill and walls to support me. I slipped my phone into my pocket, and, as I walked past the front door to my flat I unhooked the security chain.”

Alarming symptoms

“When I got myself to the living room I collapsed on the sofa. The street light outside was too bright and hurting my eyes but I couldn't get up again to close the curtains so wedged myself into a position where the light was blocked by a line on the window frame.

I was repeatedly sick whilst lying on the sofa, but, desperate for the toilet, forced myself to get up. Whilst in the bathroom I noticed a dark purple rash on my thighs, but in my exhausted I thought nothing of it.

My face was very grey when I looked in the mirror but again, in my confused state, my only thought was that my complexion looked better than normal - you couldn't see my acne scars and I didn't have my usual red cheeks and oily forehead."

A vital call for help

“I got myself back to the sofa and at 08:12am I had a spurt of energy. I was able to lay my phone flat on the floor and type out a coherent text to my mum who lives nearby. I told her I was really unwell and asked her to come over. She was the only one who had spare keys to my flat.

Within 10 minutes mum was with me and I remember her asking me how long I’d had the rash on my hand but I couldn’t recall having it. She immediately called NHS Direct for advice.

At some point the phone was passed to me but I don't remember being able to speak to answer any questions. Paramedics were called and a medic was on the scene in less than four minutes.”

A very confusing and painful race against time

“I remember being poked, moved and injected. Every movement was agony. I had an oxygen mask put on my face but I felt trapped and screamed for it to be taken off.

My mum tried to keep me calm by talking about nonsense things, but it annoyed me so I didn't answer. In my head this was ok, and I thought everyone would understand, but it caused the paramedics to panic. Everyone started shouting at me, trying to make me talk but I physically couldn't.

The next thing I remember is being loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher, feeling freezing cold. The paramedics told me that they were doing their best to look after me but they were honest and said they'd never treated anyone who was so unwell.

When I arrived at the hospital I saw my dad waiting for me but I couldn't say or do anything to acknowledge he was there.

I was taken into resus, fighting with the staff because I was convinced I just had the flu. They tried taking off my clothes but I didn't want them to. They asked me to roll onto my side but I couldn't do it, so they moved me and I screamed in agony. I thought they were hurting me on purpose.

My memory is fractured from this point, but I do remember ripping out my cannulas. I was convinced that I shouldn't be having anything via IV. My husband had passed away seven months earlier from bowel cancer and I thought they were giving me his chemo by mistake. I wasn’t able to talk to tell them what was going through my head.

Eventually, my parents could explain my personal situation which enabled the staff to help me. They told my parents that if I had spent another 30 minutes at home untreated it would have meant that the paramedics wouldn't have got me to hospital in time.”

A fight for life

“I wanted to give up. I didn't want to fight through the pain. I was so scared and had never felt so unwell in my life.

I remember waking up in intensive care and telling a nurse that I needed the toilet. She questioned me because, apparently, I had already ripped out two catheters.

Doctors were injecting me, and talking about putting central lines in my neck but as I was unable to move my neck they opted for my groin. Four attempts later, they finally had a central line placed and stitched to hold it.

I was kept in intensive care for five days before being transferred to a high dependency unit where I received IV antibiotics and painkillers. The lights had to be switched off, although some of the doctors were unsympathetic and turned them on every time they walked in.

I had physio teams come to help me move again and by the seventh day, I was able to sit up and eat solid food.”

Returning home

“On Easter Monday I was discharged but still received home care and district nurse visits twice a day.

I now see an osteopath to help me walk properly and have been referred to ENT as I have suffered hearing loss and am experiencing a constant whistling in my ears. This went unnoticed until I was discharged due to the noise levels in hospital.

I'm still not able to return to work as my energy levels are very low, and I am terrified of becoming unwell again. What I thought was a simple flu nearly killed me.”