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Ashleigh's story

23rd January 2016

When Ashleigh Browes, 21, of Lincolnshire, was suffering with intense facial pain, discomfort and tiredness, she went to bed with the intention of visiting her doctor the next day

Ashleigh's story

Little did she know that she had in fact contracted pneumococcal meningitis and would be rushed to A & E the following morning, spending the next five days in intensive care. She recounts her story here.

“On Sunday the 1 November 2015 I thought I had sinusitis and, by 8pm, the facial pain and aches had got worse so I bought some over the counter medicine and fell asleep with the intention of visiting my GP or dentist the following day. Little did I know that the following day I wouldn't wake up.

“From this point, I have no recollection of what happened to me, which makes it extremely difficult to understand exactly what my family and partner have been through.

“Piecing together the information I have gathered... I awoke the next day (unbeknown to myself) and was vomiting in the toilet. I tried to make a cup of tea and could not put the plug in the socket correctly which woke my partner up. I collapsed and he rang an ambulance.

“In A & E I was so distressed and agitated that they had to put me into a medically induced coma before they could reach a diagnosis.

“After CT scans, lumbar punctures and other investigations, they confirmed I had pneumococcal meningitis and had to stay in a coma to reduce the effect the swelling would have on my brain.

I was unsure what was real or if I was hallucinating

“Whilst in intensive care, I was moved to another hospital as the second hospital specialised in meningitis and a crash team had to be used to move me in case I failed to breathe on my own. Once moved, I contracted pneumonia.

“After five days of being in a medically induced coma, with a ventilator to assist my breathing, a central line and a catheter being inserted, a naso-gastric tube to feed me and other medical paraphernalia, I awoke and I am still unsure if I was hallucinating when I woke or not.

“I told my family that I had been in a machine, which they think was the CT scanner, and I also told them I knew I had meningitis (how I knew this, I don't know).

“The medical team had tried to wake me the day before, however I was acting inappropriately - how anyone can act appropriately when they have inflammation on their brain, I will never know.

“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 and tried to get up to go to the toilet as normal, as I didn’t realise how severely ill I had been.

I was frustrated, angry and depressed

“After a few days, reality had sunk in and I had begun to get bored, frustrated and angry.

“Although people have since said how lucky I have been, I don’t think they quite understand how incredibly unlucky I have also been. Although pneumococcal meningitis can affect anyone, most cases occur in babies and young children under 18 months of age. At that time, to catch the disease as an adult, I was quite frustrated, angry and depressed.

“I had to receive intravenous antibiotics as an outpatient; I couldn’t wash, dress or do much for myself. I felt a liability to my family and I was constantly worried about how my life would pan out, i.e. University, being in student accommodation, driving - basically things you do daily that you take for granted.

“After I was officially discharged, I was excited to return to university but then I became deflated after Occupational Health said I’d need a phased return to university placement… I wanted to jump back into reality and carry on as normal.

I’ve learnt life is for living

“When the time to return to university arrived and I’d tried working on assignments; I 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 near enough a year out from university because I realised that university, 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.

“I’ve decided to make the most of my year off by climbing Mount Snowdon with my best friends, running Pretty Muddy charity race, going to Leeds festival, going to Bruges, inter-railing around Europe for a month and booking other trips too.

“No longer do I let commitments dictate my life, because I’m no longer taking life for granted. Eventually my body will heal and even though the fatigue and after-effects associated with being in intensive care and meningitis have frustrated me, I’m not letting them stop me.

“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.

Meningitis Now has supported me emotionally to make decisions about my life, like taking a break from uni. The charity has also has provided me with useful advice about the physical symptoms of meningitis and allowed me to meet others who struggle daily with the after-effects of meningitis; like migraines and fatigue, which has helped me realise that this is normal and I'm not alone.”