“This isn’t me, this isn’t me at all”; these are the words that, throughout my father-in-law’s illness and subsequent recovery, have stuck with me.
I was unsure, and still am, as to exactly what he meant when he said it, but for me it summed up the profound effect of pneumococcal meningitis and meningoencephalitis on someone close to me. Had he said it because he was confused? Or was it because he was aware of how much the disease had ravaged his mind and body that he no longer felt like himself?
I’ll never have the answer, mainly because Tim (my father-in-law) doesn’t even remember saying it in what was a simple voicemail to his daughter when he recovered enough to use a phone. To me, however, this statement offers a glimpse at the devastation that can be caused by meningitis.
Real ale and bad jokes
I’d known Tim for around 12 years before it happened. In 2006 I’d met his amazing daughter, Helen, whilst we were at university in Chester together. As the years went by Tim and I had bonded over pints of real ale in some of Derbyshire’s finest drinking spots whilst we talked about, more than anything else, football, films we both enjoyed and terrible jokes.
Helen and I got married in 2014 and now live in Derby, where I work as a communications officer for a housing association. We have two beautiful children - Isabella, three, and Daniel, eight months.
Living close to Helen’s parents made us an incredibly tight-knit family as we would take any opportunity to share holidays, barbecues, days out together and the usual things that families enjoy.
Tim had been one of, if not the most, intelligent people I’ve ever met – his head for numbers and logic, together with a goldmine of knowledge, life experience and slick sense of humour, made him an affable and well-respected man to everyone he knew. Most importantly, he was a wonderful father and grandfather to my wife and our children.
In March 2018, Tim fell ill complaining of shoulder and back pain and just a couple of days later he was being rushed into intensive care at Derby Royal Hospital where an amazing team of doctors brought him back from the brink.
Days later, after being transferred to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, the doctors told us that Tim was fighting pneumococcal meningitis and began to explain the extremely broad spectrum of outcomes we could be faced with.
As we talked more, we were left with this pretty bleak and basic line: some walk away, some don’t make it, and then some are left with life-changing issues.
Tim pulled through after months in hospital, but the disease has taken away some of the man we knew. He can walk, talk, has all his memories and considerable intelligence, and he can do basic things for himself.
Unfortunately, Tim has been left with some cognitive difficulties, which have caused frustration for him and his family. He now has extreme difficulties initiating tasks which makes living a normal life an uphill struggle.
A year on and I’ve decided to do something to fight back against this cruel, indiscriminate disease which has ruined too many lives.
I started running after I stopped playing football in my early thirties (my body could no longer compensate for my lack of skill), initially doing the 5k parkrun at Markeaton Park, which is close to our Derby home.
Having done the Derby 10k in 2011 and 2012, I decided that this year I would do it again and see how much money I could raise for Meningitis Now.
I’m not much of a runner but lately I have been pushing myself, spurred on by my fundraising mission. Having set an initial target of £100, I was overwhelmed by the support of my friends, family and co-workers and I have since extended this target to £500. Training is going well, I’ve not quite got to the full distance yet but I’m confident that I can card a respectable time on the big day.
Ripple effect of meningitis
Since announcing that I am running to support Meningitis Now, I was shocked to hear how many other people I knew and worked with had been affected by meningitis.
One lady told me that her six-month old niece had been tragically killed by it, and another who told me that she’d lost both her legs to meningitis at age six. Despite having worked with her for around a year and known about her prosthetic legs, I had no idea that this was down to the disease.
Two more people have also come forward to tell me they had survived it to make full recoveries.
Perhaps the worst part of meningitis it how much it affects anyone close to the person who has contracted it. The endless hospital visits, the waiting, the hoping, then comes the recovery and the rehabilitation that’s needed to adapt to the aftermath of it.
As anyone who has been affected by meningitis will tell you, Tim’s illness has been incredibly difficult for his family and friends.
His wife Maria, his daughter Helen, his grandchildren Isabella and Daniel (who wasn’t even born when Tim got ill) and many of his friends have seen a change in him which has affected their relationships with him.
The support offered by Meningitis Now is, to many, as important as the research they carry out, as the recovery process can be a hard time and it’s impossible to know what to do or how to react.
I’m doing this run to help anyone who has been or is going through the living hell that is meningitis. Seeing what it has done to my family has been almost impossible to take, and I hope that doing the 10k can help someone else going through the same thing.
*Update - Monday 8 April 2019
Thanks to the support and generosity of the people I work with, my friends and family, the final figure was more than £600. Not only that, but my employer agreed to match the funding up to £500, taking me beyond £1,100 - a total which I was overwhelmed with.
It is an amazing feeling to have this many people backing you, and one of the reasons I managed to complete the 10k in 46:44; a time that was comfortably below my sub-50 target!