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Hannah R's story

20th December 2016

During a trip to the seaside earlier this year 7-year-old Hannah, from Coventry in the West Midlands, complained of earache. Her symptoms deteriorated and her parents Liz and Carl took her to the local hospital. But it took a few more hospital visits before Hannah’s illness was finally diagnosed and she received the treatment she needed. Thankfully, she responded well. They tell their story here

Hannah R's story

“We were on our journey for a one night stay in Bournemouth when Hannah complained of earache. We stopped en route to buy calpol and Nurofen.

When we arrived she appeared to be a bit better, so we spent an hour or two on the beach before heading back to our hotel for a shower before going out for our evening meal.

“After a shower and hair wash, Hannah began to cry and complained of earache again. Assuming water was making it worse and as more calpol was due we gave her another dose. On the way to a restaurant she said her ear hurt so much she didn't want any dinner … this was completely out of character as Harvester restaurants were her favourite!

“Thanks to smartphones and google we found the local walk-in centre, where we saw a GP. An ear infection was confirmed, but we were told they didn't give antibiotics any longer and it would heal itself, although the eardrum might burst as it was so inflamed and her temperature was high despite the calpol.

Decided to head home

“We decided to collect our belongings from the hotel and head home. That was when Hannah started an ear-piercing scream with pain. So we stopped, this time at the local A&E. During the normal wait time she appeared to settle, and when she was finally seen they confirmed her ear drum had burst and began antibiotics. She did seem much calmer but now at 10.30pm we continued to head for our home in Coventry.

“Little did we know that bacteria were now travelling through her burst ear drum and into her brain.

“Arriving home after midnight we all settled into bed, but shortly after, Hannah started vomiting bright yellow vomit and complaining of a headache. I comforted her but put it down to antibiotics, dehydration and exhaustion.

“By morning she was no better and clearly something was more wrong with her than a tummy upset or standard headache, though her earache had subsided. As my previous nursing experience and mother’s instinct told me I drove straight to our local A&E.

“After the standard waiting and vomiting in the waiting room she was triaged and then seen by a junior doctor. He queried gastroenteritis but referred to his senior. Her temperature was now 39.8, she was continuously vomiting and sensitive to the bright lights of A&E. We were told she could have more calpol and see if she improved and sent home.

Made to wait again

“The Registrar explained if she was no better by 7pm we were to go back to be admitted as he would be on duty still and could fast track her. At 6.30 she was still vomiting, becoming pale and drowsy so we rang them and went back. We were made to wait again...despite the advice of 'fast track'.

“At 9.30pm we were seen by a different doctor as the previous one had finished their shift. By this time she had a sore neck, on top of all the other symptoms, which had not subsided. Again, she was dismissed as a bad ear infection, which was causing all the other symptoms.

Screaming in agony

“When I questioned about the admission that was previously discussed the doctor dismissed me. When our daughter was screaming in agony, saying ‘it hurts mummy’ despite having calpol and nurofen, and me asking for something stronger, the same doctor dismissed me and said they didn't give anything stronger for an earache.

“I refused to leave. We were moved to a side ward where Hannah eventually fell asleep and stopped vomiting. The doctor merely said, ‘see, I knew calpol would work’. Hannah had fallen asleep through utter exhaustion and nothing else, I said. If they wouldn't help her when she woke up, then I would take her home again, so I did.

“Her high-pitched screams and headaches continued. When the GP opened I rang them as I had lost faith in A&E and started to wonder if I was going mad! The GP saw us immediately and rang ahead to A&E. We knew then, deep down, this was serious. We guessed meningitis but you don't want to overreact! Again we waited. Hannah was so drowsy her dad carried her in and lay her on the benches. We were triaged and waited … again. Finally, a consultant called out her name and we knew then we would get answers.

“She was admitted primarily for fluids and rehydration, but the blood tests that were taken showed a huge, raging infection which they said was unlikely to be from her ear. The consultant said she would keep looking for the cause and not stop until she had found it.

Brain scan and lumbar puncture

“Meanwhile they started strong IVAB. She had a brain scan at 10pm that night and we were told if it was clear they would do a lumbar puncture the next day. At 11pm we were told the scan was clear. We knew then, our beautiful daughter was desperately ill.

“The lumbar puncture the next day confirmed meningitis, but due to high levels of both white cells and viral cells it was unclear if it was viral or bacterial, so antivirals were added to her prescription and she began them and continued with the antibiotics. From that point on many different healthcare professionals were involved in her care. Our faith in the NHS was restored. Late night discussions with on-call microbiologists and paediatricians and also Public Health England who arranged prophylactic treatment for both of us and Hannah's younger sister, Eva, aged 4.

“The following day haemophilus influenzae was confirmed, and bacterial meningitis with meningococcal septicaemia from the blood cultures. All we could think to ask was, 'what are you going to do to fix her?' She responded very well to treatment and after three days in isolation her younger sister was allowed to visit.

“After nine days as an in-patient we were allowed home but had to return daily until she had completed two weeks of IVAB. She was and remains a fighter. She never had a rash and in hindsight that's what we were all waiting for. I should have been more persistent but in the end you feel like no one believes you about how ill your child is.

“Hannah has made a full recovery, her hearing tests show a slight decrease in the burst ear drum side but this hasn't affected her. Her behaviour changed immediately afterwards, saying out of character things with some confusion and we noticed a change in her personality. She had memory problems at first but the school sees no issues in the classroom now and the odd vacant episodes she had are now very few and far between.

“We now know as parents if your child is not getting better but steadily getting worse your instincts kick in and persistence for help can improve the outcome. You know your children, the doctors, although medically trained, don’t know them like you do.

“We have our beautiful little girl back. I struggle to forgive A&E for repeatedly sending us home but we thank the hospital for ultimately saving our daughter. We have now after further tests found the meningitis to be haemophilus influenzae type F, which is very rare and is just 'bad luck' to those who carry it and it travelling to the brain. Our advice is trust your instincts, fight for your children and don't wait for a rash.”