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Oliver's story

6th March 2015

Paul and Nicola, from Keighley in West Yorkshire, had just arrived on holiday in Portugal with their 21-month-old son Oliver when he became ill. Fortunately they had a doctor who spoke good English and they received fantastic health care and quick treatment. Nicola recounts their dramatic story here

Oliver's story

“We had just landed in Portugal on holiday. It was our first family holiday abroad after a tough year with my husband Paul and our 21-month-old son Oliver.

On the second evening Oliver started with a temperature. I tried both paracetamol and ibuprofen but neither helped. In the morning I knew something wasn't right as he always responds to antipyretics.

I made an appointment with a doctor in the local town, but whilst we were waiting for the appointment Oliver gradually deteriorated, sleeping more, making jerking movements and his hands and feet becoming cold. He didn't like to be cuddled or moved.

At this point I knew it was a hospital job, but it was time to see the doctor. Oliver started vomiting, then a pink rash came out all over him but especially on the soles of his feet and palms of his hands. The doctor wrote us a letter straight away and sent us to hospital to rule out meningitis, but I knew deep down that this is what it was."

Purple blotches all over his body

“The rash then developed to small purple blotches all over his body. When we arrived to the paediatric ED in Portugal Oliver became floppy and weak. They took our E111 card off us first and then the receptionist told the triage nurse. He called us straight in. His dad wasn't allowed into the ED - only one parent or carer was allowed in to ED. Paul was beside himself for two hours whilst they stabilised Oliver.

The triage nurse was concerned his temperature was still 39 degrees. After waiting a short while a doctor saw us who spoke good English. The rash was not disappearing when pressed, his neck was stiff. She confirmed they suspected meningitis and they needed to take blood and give him IV antibiotics.

In the meantime, whilst waiting for a cannula, Oliver vomited again and I told the doctor a further purple rash had appeared on his ear. She took him straight into the resus room where four doctors including a consultant and four nurses worked on him quickly. They could not get a cannula in - he was 'shut down' and did not flinch at the amount of needles they tried. The doctor again said this was a concern.

They started talking about a needle in to his bone in his leg, but after the ninth or tenth attempt they managed to get a cannula in. They then went straight in for a lumbar puncture without any local anaesthetic - they explained there wasn't time. Straight afterwards they administered the IV antibiotics and gave him IV paracetamol.

Oliver then was monitored in isolation in a high dependency bed, where Paul was finally allowed in to see him. It took four days to control his temperature and he slept for three days. He didn't respond to me or his dad. On the fourth day he woke up for an hour and we were elated. Finally, an improvement.

Fantastic health care

“During this time the rash didn't get any worse but appeared the same and gradually improved. He was in hospital for just short of two weeks. After eight days it took Oliver a few days to learn how to walk again. The doctors said it's quite common for joints to be affected in this way.

The Portuguese health care we received was fantastic and they saved his life with the quick treatment he received. He was closely monitored and the doctors visited him at least four times a day or whenever I requested them. This was a comfort as all our family and friends were back home. We spoke to them on a regular basis - we needed their support and everyone went above and beyond to help.

We returned to England and Oliver was referred back to the NHS, where, so far, everything has come back normal. It has taken three months for him to fully recover and for his systems to settle down.

For us, his parents, it hit us hard when we returned home as we had time then to process things. Being told it was 50/50, that this could go either way, was hard. But for him to walk away with his limbs, fingers and hopefully no lasting after-effects is amazing; we are so grateful and feel that someone that day was looking after us.

I know this is a positive experience after such an illness; it could have been very different like it is for so many others.

As parents we will carry the trauma for life and never forget how it affected us both. Whatever the result though, whether you have positive or negative experiences, it makes you and your family stronger.”