Duncan's story

11th November 2014

Wendy MacDonald, from Salisbury, was happily married to her husband Duncan for almost nine years when he started having flu-like symptoms in January 2012. Wendy could never have imagined the devastation that would follow. Duncan died three days later from meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia

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Starting with flu-like symptoms

My husband Duncan was a house husband who looked after our two year old daughter Heidi while I went out to work. He was fine and healthy and all was well on the morning of Friday 6 January 2012 before I went to work.

In the afternoon, just past 2pm, Duncan phoned me and asked if I could come home and take over with Heidi as he felt like he had the flu coming on. I got home around an hour later and he apologised as he thought he called me home for nothing as he was feeling a bit better. He thought it was just low blood sugar as he was rushing about a bit that day and hadn’t eaten much. He did mention that he felt a bit stiff but we didn’t think anything of it.

Feeling rough

At around 5pm, Duncan went out for a short walk and bought back some pizza. He ate some of it, but didn’t have much of an appetite. He was feeling a bit rough around 6pm, so I suggested that he go to bed and lie down. He remained there for the rest of the evening, dozing on and off, and I gave him water often as he was thirsty. He had taken a couple of paracetamols as he had a bit of a headache.

I then went to bed later at around 10.30pm. In the early hours of the morning Duncan said he felt sick, then a bit later he vomited a few times. He was frequently getting up and going to the bathroom, or getting a drink of water. This all seemed pretty normal at first as it is common to get up in the night when feeling unwell. I've done that too when I've been sick.

Acting strange

It’s only with hindsight that I now know that there were some odd things going on. Firstly, I noticed that by Duncan’s side of the bed there were four cups and some still had water in. I complained to him for having all those cups there and took them back to the kitchen. Then, he seemed to be a long time in the bathroom so I went and checked and he was drinking from the tap – I didn’t think too much of it as this and the collection of cups was quite typical of him. I sent him back to bed with a glass of water.

About 20 minutes later, Duncan was in the bathroom drinking from the tap again. This is when I realised something was wrong. I asked him why he kept drinking from the tap, and he appeared confused and was saying words that didn’t make sense. I spotted his antidepressants next to the taps – he’d been on them for a few years – and my first thought was that he had taken a load of them and was drinking them down with tap water, but when I asked him he didn’t seem to understand me. This was around 5am, and I had not noticed the confusion the night before; he seemed perfectly lucid then. I was very tired though and I may not have noticed as much as I would have during the daytime.

Medical emergency

I called an ambulance and a paramedic arrived in a car to assess the situation. I told her about the tablets. She took Duncan’s blood pressure, temperature and did other checks but she was as baffled as I was because his readings weren’t anything unusual. She was sure it wouldn’t be the tablets, as she said they wouldn’t cause the confusion, and she had checked the bottle and it didn’t look like he had taken any.

So, because of the confusion alone, the paramedic issued it as a medical emergency and sent for an ambulance crew. He was confused enough that he couldn’t dress himself, I tried to put his dressing gown on and he was resisting, so the crew had to help. Also, when leaving our flat with the ambulance crew, he had no idea where he was going. Our little daughter was starting to wake up so I had to sort her out and couldn’t go with Duncan in the ambulance. My parents picked us up a short while later and we all went to the hospital together. Still, I really thought it was something to do with the tablets.

Critical condition

At the hospital, the doctor told us Duncan had suspected meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia and was undergoing tests, including a brain scan – by then, he was covered in the tell-tale rash. He never had any hint of a rash when he was with me, nor when the paramedic arrived. We were told he was in the Intensive Care ward in an induced coma, and that he was on a life support machine which was breathing for him which should give his body a chance to recover. I was shocked by this news as it never occurred to me he could have anything like that.

On the Intensive Care ward, and after the first brain scan, the consultant took my hand and broke the news that the outcome was not looking good. He said that there was a chance Duncan could die or have significant brain damage. The consultant stressed that he was very worried about Duncan’s brain. His pupils were fully fixed and dilated which was not a good sign. He said they would do another brain scan the next day to find out more.

The worst possible outcome

The next day came and we were given the terrible news that there was nothing that could be done for Duncan. Compression in his brain had stopped the blood supply to the brain and it had died. He could no longer breathe unaided and we were told ‘Duncan wasn’t there anymore’. The subject went on to organ donation which all seemed so unreal and hard for us all to take in. I made the decision for his organs to be donated as I felt it was the right thing to do. He was kept on the machine for another day ready for the transplant team. So Monday 9 January 2012 was when Duncan officially died of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.

It’s now 18 months on and it still goes round in my head about why life is so unfair. How can someone who seemed healthy just be wiped out in one weekend and taken away from his little daughter. We had a happy marriage but hadn’t even been together for ten years as we met later on in life, and I feel cheated to lose him like this. I’ve got to remember though that others have suffered far worse than this, and I will always have happy memories of our short time together. Our little daughter Heidi keeps me going and I am making sure she will never forget him.

Saying goodbye

I cannot stress how well looked after Duncan was by the staff in the Intensive Care ward and also how well his family and I were all treated. The important thing I feel, is that even though Duncan wasn’t conscious, I did have the chance to sit with him during that time and say goodbye. We always enjoyed our cups of tea together, and that’s how I said my last goodbye to him on Monday – with a cup of tea. I feel this was a big help in making it easier for me.

Finally, I am so very grateful to Meningitis Now as they provided a grant to fund most of Duncan’s funeral. They were very supportive from the very first time I spoke to them.