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Karen's story

4th July 2016

Karen, 35, from Hemlington, Middlesbrough, has fought back from a frightening and agonising meningitis experience and turned her life around

Karen's story

This July she will open a holistic wellbeing, fitness and health studio for others who might have had similar experiences to her. She tells her story here.

“It was November 2008 and I was three months into my first job as a qualified teacher – my school was difficult, my boss was difficult, the workload was challenging and I was feeling quite overwhelmed.

“It was a Monday and I had been poorly all weekend with a chest infection. I considered not going in but I had no real choice. The day was awful. By 2pm I was throwing up in a cupboard while teaching year 9 Textiles. I bailed out on the Staff Meeting, sloping out and hoping no one missed me. I went straight to bed, and that was the last thing I really remember about my, pre-meningitis, past-life, former self.

“The following day my temperature had risen to 40, I was dehydrated and could keep nothing down. I called my GP who triaged me and prescribed sickness tablets; they didn’t help. I felt dreadful. The GP told me to call back in 24 hours if there was no improvement, but by midnight the vomiting became relentless. The pain was unbearable; my hips felt like someone was stabbing me from inside, with shooting pains going down my legs. I could barely stand.

Take me to hospital

“I felt very angry and as my mother told me to stop being so dramatic when I pleaded for her to take me to hospital, my movements became jerky and my speech slurred. Eventually, as I deteriorated, I was taken to the out of hours GP as a compromise and the doctor called the hospital and told them to have a bed available. He sent me by car, rather than ambulance. He thought it was appendicitis and would be quicker to get there if my father drove.

“At 3am we arrived at hospital. My daddy carried me into A & E. I was semi-conscious. I was left laid over a bench being sick into a paper bowl and I could hear comments being passed by two ambulance drivers suggesting I should be at home as I had a sickness bug rather than A and E. I was furious but unable to speak. No bed was available. No one was aware of the phone call the GP had made.

“I was carried by my daddy into a side room and left with no pain relief. I was crying in pain. Daddy fell asleep. At 5am a young doctor came into the room. My daddy awoke to see his face and knew immediately something was very wrong. The doctor on site started shouting and I was rushed away.

No one believed how poorly I was

“I don’t remember much but I do remember no one believing me about how poorly I was. I was fighting for my life and fighting for my credibility until the consultant arrived, who I happened to know, the following morning. He took one look at me and sent me for a lumbar puncture and CT scan.

“The lumbar puncture was performed by a registrar, who didn’t take into account my hyper-mobility. I felt everything. She missed. Twice. I drew blood in my fiance’s hand with my nails, yet I can’t remember the pain. My sample was pink and cloudy and my fiance knew what this meant, but no one could say until the results were back. Unfortunately the results were contaminated, so we never found out which strain I had.

“For the following few days I was given antibiotics, my ketones increased and I was still vomiting. I couldn’t take pain relief other than intravenous paracetamol without a severe reaction. I lost the ability to speak and then to see and I was getting worse by the day. I opened my eyes and nothing, just fuzzy greyness. I was scared.

The best place possible

“A team of medics gathered around and someone took my hand and told me I was in the best place possible and that really hit home. I was in the best place possible and I was dying. The consultant took the decision after speaking to my family to try a double dose of antibiotic cocktail. It was make or break. It was a Friday and he told me later that he had a sleepless weekend, unsure if I would still be there by the Monday.

“The risk was real but there was no decision – without trying I was most certainly not going to survive. Within hours my temperature dropped, I began to feel like I was back in control of the illness.

“I remember someone stroking my hair. I used to like that, but while I lay in my bed, my heightened sensitivity took over and I yelled out in pain.

“Eventually I was sent home – a new challenge. I still couldn’t eat or walk. My speech was slurred and stuttered and I had no short-term memory. It took months and years to retrain. I had a strict diet and a strict routine. Even the clock change sent me into meltdown. For months I had a limited quality of life.

Two steps forward, one step back

“Slowly I began to regain confidence, but it was always two steps forward, one step back. My energy levels and eating patterns had to be carefully planned. It took a year to get back to my job and a further year to regain energy levels to somewhere near to where they had originally been.

“I no longer wanted to move to Australia with my fiancé and our relationship fell apart. I am still struggling now with my memory and if I get tired I stutter. My memory is not as sharp as it once was and I have one or two other side effects as a result of the illness.

“But I changed my career so I could feel more normal. I now teach Pilates. I take care of myself. I try not to sweat the small stuff and I am opening a new studio in July in Stokesley, which will bring holistic wellbeing, fitness and health under one venue for others who might have had similar experiences as me – somewhere people can go and destress and get advice. I want to use the studio as a platform to promote health and get people to understand how important relaxation and movement is for our immune system.

“Meningitis Now helped throughout my illness and recovery by reminding me that there is hope and there are others out there who understand. It gave me the confidence to keep going and not let this disease beat me.”