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Ben P's meningitis story

11th August 2022

Former actor, now novelist and writer, Ben was a drama student when he became ill with what he first thought was a nasty cold. But he felt much worse very quickly and when patchy red spots appeared his then girlfriend, Emma, decided it was time to get medical help – an act Ben is convinced saved his life

Ben P's meningitis story

Ben, from Morden in Surrey, tells his dramatic story here.

“Tuesday 18 June 1996. I was supposed to be working on a presentation project with four fellow students as we finished our first year as drama students at the Guildford School of Acting. Whilst my colleagues beavered away, I wasn’t much help as I found myself in football heaven when Teddy Sheringham smashed in England’s fourth goal to stuff Holland 4-1 to move into the last eight of Euro 96. It should’ve been a glorious moment, but something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, only that I wasn’t 100%.

“The next day, during our presentation, I felt a lot worse. Tired, nauseous and feeling like I was coming down with a nasty cold, I stumbled through our group project and was given permission to go home.

“As the hours progressed, I really began to feel unwell. Sleepy and feverish, I began to vomit occasionally. I was somehow managing to bring stuff up even though I hadn’t eaten for a while. I didn’t have an aversion to bright light and I don’t remember stiffness in my neck or limbs. It felt like the flu mixed with a rough hangover.

Several patchy red spots on my face and chest

“Emma, my girlfriend at the time, was nursing me and we decided a bath might help me feel better. As she ran it, the last thing I remember was stripping off to get in and looking in a mirror. I saw several patchy red spots on my face and chest.

“‘What the hell are those?’ was my last thought as I stumbled (literally banging into the walls of the corridor) and collapsing onto our bed.

“Next thing I know, it’s about two days later and I’m in the Royal Surrey Hospital with my parents (they’d travelled up from Cornwall) and Emma beside me. ‘What are you doing here?’ I slurred as I saw my dad. ‘I came to see you,’ was his response. Sleep took me once again and I passed out for several more hours.

Took one look at me and called for an ambulance

“I don’t remember anything of the time I was unconscious. After I collapsed as the bath was running, Emma managed to carry me to her car and drove me to our local GP and heaved me inside. I was seen immediately and the doctor took one look at me, gave me some penicillin and called for an ambulance.

“At the hospital, I had a lumbar puncture (apparently, that hurts but luckily I wouldn’t know) which confirmed meningococcal septicaemia. I was hooked up to various drips and Emma phoned my parents telling them to come immediately. Would I be alive when they arrived? It was touch and go. As a parent now myself, I know how hellish that long journey from St Ives must have been for them. Sorry, folks.

“Thankfully, I was incredibly fit back in those days. Only 19 and years of playing squash and being a recent graduate of Millfield School where I was a National Schools Squash Champion had left me in pretty nifty shape. I responded well to the treatment and woke with a banging headache and a ringing in my ears. I’d also lost a bit of weight from all the vomiting and lack of food, but apart from that I, somehow, was fine.

Discharged from hospital

“The headache slowly diminished and I was discharged from hospital about five days later. Just in time to watch England crash out to Germany on penalties. A few weeks of recuperation worked wonders and I was back at GSA in September ready to continue my training that would eventually take me to a successful, but brief, acting career.

“I’ll always be grateful to my doctor and the staff at the Royal Surrey for helping me, but even more grateful to Emma for undoubtedly saving my life. It must’ve been incredibly difficult for her to lug me around (I’m 6ft and she’s 5ft 4) and I’m so thankful she did.

“I’m very aware of how lucky I was. I know many people have died from meningitis even before they show signs of septicaemia. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of meningitis before I had it.

“Afterwards, Guildford School of Acting had leaflets and numerous posters up around the campus showing what to look out for and helping to raise awareness. They now have digital displays showcasing the relevant information.”

Ben, a former regular in The Bill, Band of Brothers, Holby City and Emmerdale, has recently published his debut novel, Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George, an action-adventure novel aimed at 10 to 15-year-olds, described as ‘Harry Potter meets James Bond.’ It is available here from Amazon.