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Sarah H's story

17th May 2022

Sarah thought she had a migraine, with photophobia and neck stiffness. Seeking better pain relief she phoned 111, who called for an ambulance

Sarah H's story

Luckily for Sarah, as tests showed that the 26-year-old midwife had contracted meningococcal meningitis, as she tells us here.

“On Sunday, 18 October 2020, I had woken with a terrible headache with photophobia. It hit me like a train. I had a headache for a few days. I am a midwife and had worked a lot of quite stressful night shifts at the start of the week and had been struggling to turn around my nights onto days.

“I didn't have a rash and my head was too sore to figure out if I had neck stiffness or not, but although I was aware of the symptoms of meningitis, I never thought I would get it. Although I had never suffered with a migraine this sounded just like one. I took some analgesia and went back to sleep.

“Around 11am I called NHS 111 because I couldn't cope with the headache and wanted some better pain relief from a doctor.

A lot of questions

“After asking a lot of questions I realised I couldn't lift my head off my pillow or put it on my chest without excruciating pain. 111 decided to send an ambulance, which at the time I really thought was overkill. I was still quite sure that I had a migraine.

“The ambulance service must have been busy because it took about eight hours for them to come. The crew thought I had a migraine too, but because I had the neck stiffness they had to take me to A&E. They assured me it was just a precaution.

“My photophobia was so severe I had to wrap my head in blankets so I didn't expose myself to light on the way to the hospital. After I arrived and waiting in A&E and a lot of questions and people coming in and out of my cubicle I was sent for a CT scan.

Doctor surprised as I was

“I think the doctor was as surprised as I was when they found I had increased intercranial pressure. They took me to a ward and I had a lumbar puncture.

“At 3am I was moved to a side-room and they told me I had meningococcal meningitis. I was terrified. I have two young children and I was so scared that I would never see them again.

“I never had any kind of rash and apart from my blood pressure being low, nothing about the rest of my clinical picture would have waved a big red flag to think I had meningitis.

“I will be eternally grateful to NHS 111, the staff in A&E, and the doctors looking after me for thinking outside the box and testing for meningitis. If that 111 operative had asked a GP to prescribe me some codeine and told me to stay at home this story could have been so very different.

“I was in hospital for 10 days on IV antibiotics and apart from suffering long term with increased frequency of headaches, I have escaped meningitis relatively unscathed.

“I feel that now though I am very wary of any kind of illness and sometimes can overreact to minor ailments, because I'm terrified that I will miss something serious again.”