“I was 36. Just back from holiday with my wife Sarah and 2-year-old daughter Holly. I went to watch some wrestling in Preston on the Friday.
“Myself and Sarah went to a wedding on the Saturday and then a family barbecue on the Sunday. I also had my first tennis lesson after joining my local club to make up for my retirement from rugby on the Sunday. A perfectly normal and enjoyable weekend. I am (was?!) an incredibly well person, having never missed a day of school or work through illness since at least the age of 11 (seriously, not even one day).
“I popped to the shops in the morning on Monday after the previous day’s tennis lesson and bought some tennis clothes. Around lunchtime I started having a headache. I then decided to have a nap to feel better. I woke up later and began vomiting and felt extremely cold. Food poisoning no doubt I thought. I went back to sleep. Then I woke up in hospital unable to speak or move.”
Thought I’d been kidnapped
“I thought I had been kidnapped to have my organs harvested and vaguely recall trying to convince the doctors I was a doctor and knowing they were not telling me the truth.
“What had happened in between was that somehow I had walked downstairs and sat on the sofa just staring (I remember none of this). Sarah found me not responding to any stimuli and beginning to drift in and out of consciousness so she rang for an ambulance. I somehow then went back upstairs to bed with Holly now in bed shouting for her Daddy.
“The paramedics eventually got me in the ambulance. When I arrived at hospital I was immediately put into an induced coma on a ventilator as I was struggling to breathe and also given cardiovascular support to help get blood to my limbs. It was decided I had a form of meningitis or a brain haemorrhage. So they took a lumbar puncture, CT scan and also began treating me for different types of meningitis. There were no intensive care beds in my local hospital so I was moved in an ambulance with six staff to another where I was given a bed.
Very likely would have died
“I have been told if I'd slept all night at home I would have died, perhaps within the hour. I was in the coma for two days before they woke me, a terrible time for my family and friends. The first attempt at taking me off the ventilator was unsuccessful, but I was eventually awoken. I remember nothing until a day later when I finally had recall and meaningful interactions with people. I was apparently quite committed to pulling out any of the tubes I could reach once awake. As I say I thought I had been kidnapped.
“I was soon convinced otherwise and spent the next two days unable to move or communicate well, having some incredible hallucinations on the drugs I was given and largely only able to quote from the television series Father Ted to talk bizarrely. When I started to talk I struggled with simple questions, thinking it was still the 1990s. This got better soon luckily!
“By the Thursday I was able to get out of bed with help, and by Friday was holding onto things myself to slowly walk around. On the Saturday I was moved to a ward and stayed there for the next nine days.
“On the Sunday I’ll never forget sitting in a wheelchair in the hospital garden chatting to some friends on the way back from the camping trip I missed. As a surprise Sarah arrived with little Holly who ran over and jumped up for a cuddle. She sat quietly for an hour on my knee before she skipped away with Sarah to go home. I couldn’t wait to get back home.
Needed a lot of support
“After the course of antibiotics I was able to go home but was pretty much confined to limited movements and needed a lot of support. Luckily any concerns of major after-effects were avoided because of how early it was treated; amazing given how I was okay and then nearly dead within hours.
“It took a slow and long four months to get back into work as a Science teacher at Christmas on a phased return, which built up to a full timetable by Easter.
“I started to play tennis in this time. It was great to get out but running was not easy, so I was pleased about doubles tennis and the limited movement. It was great to be outdoors and feel like progress was being made. I even managed to win a doubles tournament at the club a year after meningitis which I was very proud of.
“I eventually took back my full role of Head of Science in September. My school and staff were very supportive throughout the whole process. All of this was hard work and my head was the main issue with constant headaches and the feeling I needed to rest. The tinnitus was also a constant reminder of not being right.
Cognitive behavioural therapy helped
“I frequently spoke to doctors about my concerns and cognitive behavioural therapy helped me prioritise what is important to me and got me started on taking control of my mental wellbeing. I was starting to get quite frustrated with my constant inability to be back to normal with my weight also going up with inactivity.
“Sarah particularly along with family and friends were so supportive and I am so thankful they helped me through. I was even allowed to buy the lego Death Star to keep me occupied for a couple of months (it’s huge!).
“After last Christmas I decided to try and blow away the constant headaches and lethargy and push my boundaries (after checking with doctors) and began to run and consider aiming to play rugby for my club's veterans team before the end of the season.
“In January I signed up to do eight weeks’ wrestling training with Preston City Wrestling and then have a wrestling match against a professional in November, 10 months away! I was confident this was doable and was assured by doctors I could do nothing to make my head worse in terms of my meningitis after-effects.
“So, since February I am pleased to say I have nailed a diet and exercise programme called Focus T25, 25 minutes a day for five days a week. I also played rugby in March and April, as well as continuing with tennis, where from April to July I played for the club league teams for the first time, even captaining a team to promotion!
Wrestling twice a week
“I started wrestling training twice a week in June and right now am 11.5 stone (I was 16.5 stone in February!). All of this is focussed on having visible abs for my supporters in November for my match.
“I'll be raising money for Meningitis Now and I want a lot after all this effort.
“I am pleased to say despite the head and tinnitus still being a pain the therapeutic nature of exercise and fitness has totally helped me get back on track. I am hopeful that this time next year the head pains may not even be noticeable.
“I love life and want to share that with others! I'm happy to share my experiences, and also as a teacher I will happily do assemblies for pupils in school on health and communicating how you feel with others – I can only imagine if Sarah did not know I was feeling unwell what could have happened.
“I also demand they all get their injections. And at least I must be one of the few physics teachers who can teach CT scans and actually show a 3D image of my own brain.
Every day is a blessing
“Every day is a blessing I value. My daughter is now 4 and I would have not seen her develop into a lovely little girl. I also have had over 650 extra days with the ones I love, and hopefully many more.
“It seems like I was the only not young or old person to get this form of the disease so I might be in a good place to say if you get through it you can still have a rewarding life and don't let a bad head or any incapacity stop you doing what you are still capable of. I'm not letting meningitis leave me wallowing in self pity! I choose life.
“One bonus though is if I drink alcohol my brain feels terrible soon after I stop. So I tend not to start. Very useful for weight loss and getting up early to enjoy life every day.
“I didn’t know about the support available from Meningitis Now – shame no one told me. I only used the website to see what I should be checking out via doctors in terms of after-effects. I’ve followed up on all the areas suggested for further checks after my illness. Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Despite its length there is so much more I could have written.”