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Jessica H's story

31st December 2016

Jessica was looking forward to a holiday in Spain. But she’d only been there a day when she woke up with a headache, which got steadily worse. It was the start of meningitis, but thankfully over time the 32-year-old from Leigh in Lancashire made a good recovery. She tells her story here

Jessica H's story

“I flew to Spain with family friends on 19th July 2015 for a long-awaited holiday.

I was so excited! We were staying in my best friend’s dad's villa; I'd been before with them, a small village in the hills. Sunday was a lovely day and we ended it with a glass of sangria on the terrace.

“The next morning, Monday, I woke up with a headache. I'm not a big drinker so put it down to the sangria and the 40 degree heat. I dosed up on paracetamol and ibuprofen and went out for the day. But the headache didn't subside, and as the week went on it became progressively worse. A Spanish pharmacist prescribed soluble paracetamol. A further pharmacist (with the help of my friend’s Spanish speaking step mum) advised it was my sinuses and prescribed saline to inhale, to help clear them. But nothing worked.

“We had gone away for 10 days and weren't due to fly home until the following Wednesday. By Friday, a shingles rash appeared on my body and by Saturday I felt dreadful and booked a flight home for the following day (an extra flight had been put on at a fraction of the cost of any others - someone was watching over me) and booked an appointment with my GP for the Monday.

Light hurting my eyes

“I landed in Manchester on the Sunday afternoon and my parents took me straight to the walk in centre. There was an hour wait for triage. The nurse barely looked at me. At this point I was squinting so much as the light was hurting my eyes and I had had a chronic headache for seven days. She said I could wait to see a doctor but it would be four hours, and that I needed to book an eye test and the headache wasn't linked to the shingles. I was exhausted and in agony, so went home.

“On the Monday, I visited the GP in the evening. He was a locum, very nice, quite thorough. He mentioned meningitis and said if the headache got any worse to go straight to A&E but I should be fine. He prescribed Naproxen and I went home. I was in so much pain. Mum got my prescription as well as some of the 'kool patches' to place on my head. It provided some relief and I had the best night's sleep I'd had all week.

“However, Tuesday morning I was woken by the most searing, agonising pain in my head. I rang mum screaming, who drove round instantly. My mum's a nurse and was going to ring an ambulance but I told her no! After all, this was just a headache! I was in so much pain but didn't want to waste the paramedics' time.

The words wouldn’t form

“Her and dad drove me straight to Bolton A&E. By this point I couldn't open my eyes much at all. I was rushed straight in and just remember saying 'get it off me!' I was trying to say turn the light off but the words just wouldn't form.

“I started vomiting. I remember two ladies' voices (a junior doctor and a nurse) asking what day it was. I could only form the word Sunday! I knew it wasn't Sunday! I was trying to say Wednesday (it was actually Tuesday). Total confusion kicked in and only babble emerged from my mouth. I was rushed to CT.

“I remember a lovely lady covering my face with my hoody because by this point, my eyelids weren't enough to block out the light. After CT I remember shivering a lot and then nothing. My temperature had plummeted and I was hyperthermic. I woke up hours later in a side room with my mum and dad.

Just one of those things

“I had varicella meningitis, caused by the shingles. Apparently this is rare in a healthy 30-year-old. Many tests were done for immunosuppressive conditions but it was just one of those things. A lumbar puncture that evening revealed a white cell count of just under 1,000.

“The staff at Bolton were amazing, as were the Hospital at Home nurses from Leigh who after my stay, visited me three times daily to deliver IV antivirals through a PICC line.

“It took a few months to fully recover but I've never looked back. It could've been an awful lot worse. I see the images of babies with bacterial meningitis and what I went through was nothing in comparison. But it goes to show that even NHS staff (the nurse in the walk in centre) don't always recognise meningitis. I had no neck stiffness. Just a headache and photophobia. The shingles rash was also an indicator.”