It has been 18 years since Anna’s ordeal but she can still recall her horrifying experience.
“It was 1st September 1997, I was 18 and went to bed with a sore wrist. I woke in the night feeling a bit worse so my parents gave me paracetamol. I will always remember thinking ‘at least I won’t be at work in the morning’ as it was my day off.
I thought my sore wrist was due to working in the boarding kennels and maybe a dog had pulled too hard on the lead.”
My condition took a turn for the worse
“I woke up in the morning in excruciating pain. I had a rash of tiny red pin pricks that spread up to my elbows and knees (later I would learn how these pin pricks had all joined up together and my arms and legs were completely purple) which was very painful.
My mum took one look and went to ring the doctor. I just lay on the sofa thinking how tired I felt and how I wanted to sleep. It took a long time to realise I could be dying.
The doctors couldn't come out until later, it was only 8am and I remember my mum saying she wasn't waiting. She helped me up the stairs to get dressed. At 18 years old, she hadn't done that for years.”
I woke up after eight days in ICU
“When we got to the doctors, there was nowhere to park so mum dumped the car in the middle of the car park and helped me walk to the entrance where my GP was waiting with a wheelchair. I was put on a stretcher in the treatment room and given an injection of penicillin in my stomach.
The doctor took my mum aside whilst paramedics helped to lift me onto another stretcher and my mum asked him ‘is it what I think it is?’. ‘What do you think it is?’ he asked, ‘meningitis’ my mum replied and he said ‘yes, it looks like it’.
The next thing I knew we were off in the ambulance, although I thought I got to hospital by train because of the rocking motion and how fast we were going.
I remember being on a stretcher, bursting for a wee, and a cardboard toilet being put under me but I couldn't go.
That's all I remember until I woke up in ICU eight days later, pulling my breathing tube out and downing mouthwash like it was a shot of whiskey, not knowing I had to swill it and spit it out.”
My mental state started to deteriorate
“I was in ICU for another few days for observation. Nurses tried to make me sleep with a pillow between my knees to stop the rash, which by now had developed into large lesion type abrasions and were slowly falling away from my legs and arms, sticking to the other leg, creating more scars.
But I wasn't having it. It wasn't comfortable and I kept pulling the pillow out.
It wasn't until I was moved to a ward that my mental state started to deteriorate.
I started to get paranoid that people were talking about me and I had horrific nightmares, so much so that I thought ending my life would be a better way. I just felt so alone.”
I reached a turning point
“I tried discharging myself, walking as far as the hospital reception in my dressing gown with a bag of bits, my brother trying to stop me. That was the turning point.
A very close friend at the time, who I'd managed to ring in hysterics during discharging myself, made me realise what I had gone through but also, how much I had to live for.
I settled back down then and started looking forward to getting out of hospital and going home. I had physiotherapy to get my joints moving again and had cream to rub into my sores from the septicaemia.”
“After only 16 days in hospital I was allowed home and it was an amazing feeling. I was still weak and my mum was flapping but who could blame her? My dad and brother fussed too but I just wanted to get back to normal.
I broke down a couple of times, the emotions were too strong.
A counsellor visited once, asked me some run of the mill questions and left. He wasn't very helpful but the aftercare I received from the nurses was brilliant. I can't fault them and they helped me get back on my feet.
I felt guilty, asking ‘why me?’, and guilty for surviving. It was a very lonely experience, but one of my nurses suggested I write my experience down as it may make a difference, so I did.
It helped to write it down.”
“It's been 18 years since I contracted meningitis and there have been many things over the years that have been brought up since my experience, which also affected my family.
I stopped breathing three times in ICU and my GP didn't think I would even make it to hospital.
I was hooked up to 16 machines at one point and my mum could only hold three of my fingers. The doctors had shut my body down to save my life.”
Awareness and vaccinations are crucial
“We were put in touch with the Meningitis Trust, as they were at the time, and the work they did, and still do as Meningitis Now, is so valuable. Knowing you don't have to be alone in any aspect of meningitis, no matter what strain you get, is vital and knowing how it affects different people in different ways - some in the worst possible way.
I was told I may never have children but I now have a daughter who is nearly two and has had her vaccinations against meningitis. I don't ever want her, or anyone else I know, to ever go through this.