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Bernadette's story

26th December 2016

Bernadette was booked in for an elective c-section and her son Elijah arrived safe and well. But at the same time she became ill with a rare form of meningitis and has little recollection of his birth and the preceding weeks. Despite ongoing tiredness she’s recovered well though and is grateful to be around to watch her children grow. She tells her story here

Bernadette's story

“The 14th January 2014 was meant to be one of the best days of our lives, and it was - our son was born.

But thanks to meningitis I don’t remember his birth.

“I was booked in for an elective c-section, and arrived at the local hospital in the morning. Elijah arrived safe and healthy at 12.49pm, and we were both later transferred to the maternity ward to rest. My husband, Neil, left at around 9pm to go home and get some sleep himself.

“The next morning, Neil got a phone call from the hospital to say not to panic, but to come to the maternity ward asap. He made his way back, to the news that I was in an induced coma with suspected meningitis and things weren’t looking good. Elijah was in SCBU receiving antibiotics as a precaution.

“Apparently, whilst on the maternity ward the night before, I had a severe headache, high temperature, nausea and vomiting, but the midwives thought these were side effects from the spinal block.

Slipping in and out of consciousness

“When they checked on me first thing in the morning I was slipping in and out of consciousness. They raised the alarm and I was rushed to ICU where they put me on a ventilator and in an induced coma whilst they found out what was wrong. A lumbar puncture was done, which later revealed I’d contracted a rare form of bacterial meningitis; streptococcus salivarius, following the spinal anaesthesia.

“I was in a coma for a few days and then the decision to take me off the ventilator and bring me round was made. I was very responsive, trying to rip my tubes out. The doctors were hopeful, but my memory had completely gone. I had no idea who I was, where I was or that I’d just had a baby.

“It took a few more days before it started to come back, but in a way it was worse having a patchy memory. I would have lots of naps, and every time I woke up from one, I would think it was a new day. Sometimes I would remember my name, or why I was in hospital; other times I’d be back to square one. I was on four hourly IV antibiotics, and was still healing from the c-section. No-one knew whether my memory would return.

“One of the worst things was that I’d forgotten that my mother had passed away, in the same hospital, 11 months previously. My sister was visiting when I casually asked “how’s Mum?” and she had to break the news to me. It was like starting the grieving process from scratch. Some of the nurses who had cared for mum were now looking after me, and they were amazing at offering comfort and support.

Still talking a lot of nonsense

“After a week, I was transferred to a dementia ward to continue my recovery. I was still talking a lot of nonsense, as my memory hadn’t completely returned. I would get very upset when my dreams would blur into reality, and got so confused not knowing what was real and what wasn’t.

“After around 10 days, I was finally making enough progress to be able to see my two-year-old, Theo. He seemed massive! My memories suddenly came flooding back, and despite arguing with everyone for the past few days that I had definitely NOT had another baby, when my husband showed me the birth photos on the camera I finally believed him that we had a new baby son. I felt like I’d won the lottery! I couldn’t wait to meet him and start bonding.

“Neil had kept a diary, so I could learn all about the days I’d missed, and did a sterling job of looking after everyone at such a difficult time. All my family pulled together to help with childcare, as Elijah had been discharged from hospital after three days, as thankfully he hadn’t contracted the meningitis.

Luckily, my memory returned

“After a total of two weeks, I was allowed home to continue my recovery. I was very tired for a long time, and had residual headaches. I also had sensitivity to light so wore sunglasses everywhere for a few days. Luckily, my memory returned completely (though I still had the renowned ‘baby brain’ to contend with!).

“For months after, I felt a little down about the fact I’d missed the first two weeks of my baby’s life, but my lovely GP reminded me that we had the rest of our lives together. I feel very lucky that I have no after-effects from the meningitis, apart from it perhaps knocking my self-confidence, and I do get tired easily some days.

“My strain of meningitis is so rare that the consultant who looked after me in ICU did a case study, which was then published in Anaesthesia Cases. The doctors say I was just very, very unlucky to contract it when I did. I feel I owe my life to the NHS; if it wasn’t for the swift action of the nurses on the maternity ward, I might not be here to watch my children grow up.”