Determination and Dedication
Just before 3 o’clock on 1st February 2013, I set off to collect my 6-year-old daughter from school. I found her inside with a teaching assistant and an ice pack on her knee. The school thought she had somehow banged or twisted her knee and had gone into shock. I could tell immediately she had a fever. Her lips were blue and she was shaking like a leaf. She couldn’t bear weight on her right leg.
Once home, I administered paracetamol and ibuprofen and took her temperature (40.5). I rang the doctors immediately. By the time we got to the surgery, her temperature had reduced and although she wouldn’t bear weight on her knee, they thought mobility in it was reasonable. Apparently joint stiffness can be a symptom of a fever. I was given the ‘out of hours’ number in case she got worse or if I was concerned.
Sleep probably the best idea
The knee was clearly causing her great discomfort. She wanted to go to bed and I thought sleep was probably the best idea – the fever would run its course through the night and she would be back to normal in the morning. I couldn’t sleep properly, I sat up googling fever and joint pain. Nothing I read gave me cause for alarm but I just felt something wasn’t right.
At 4am, I was awake again and decided it was probably time for more medicine. The normal procedure is to do this as quickly and quietly as possible so as to cause minimum disturbance but I decided to put on the light. She was wearing short-sleeved pyjamas and I could see a mark on her arm. A big, deep red mark. Like a dark red birthmark or a burn or a purple bruise.
I saw more marks on her back and hips
I pulled up her top and saw more marks on her back and hips. My heart was pounding. I didn’t know what it was, but I didn’t like the look of it at all. I ran downstairs and retrieved the scrap of paper with the out of hours number and called. They immediately called an ambulance and transferred me.
An ambulance was on its way. Had I done the ‘glass’ test? No, because I called as soon as I saw the rash. Rash? It wasn’t a rash. A rash is a small outbreak of spots. This was something far more sinister. Besides, my heart was pounding so much now that I couldn’t remember whether the marks were visible or disappeared when you rolled the glass over. I pressed it with a glass. Still there. Fully visible.
We got into the ambulance with Eve lying on me and they gave her oxygen and a big dose of antibiotics. I think they also tried to get a line into her arm to give her fluids, but her tiny veins weren’t forthcoming. They rang ahead to Poole A&E. My husband followed behind the ambulance in the car and would meet us there.
Nothing could have prepared me for what greeted us at A&E. An enormous team of doctors and nurses descended on us as we were wheeled out of the ambulance and into the hospital.
I knew this was beyond serious
I think I knew by now this was beyond serious. I think I knew it was meningitis. I don’t know what I knew. My husband arrived expecting to see Eve being calmly checked over by a doctor. What he found was a tiny, fragile little body on a bed, surrounded by people desperately pumping fluids and god-knows-what into her and a sobbing wife.
‘We are going to have to sedate and ventilate her’, they said. ‘Her circulation is collapsing and she has no blood pressure. The fluid being pumped into her body will collect around her lungs and make it hard for her to breathe, so she’ll need help. Can you keep her calm and talk to her while we put her to sleep?’
Eve’s last words to me as I hold her hand and tell her they are going to make her sleepy are ‘Can we go home now? I just want to go home.’ Please God, I thought, don’t let those be the last words she ever says to me.
“We are directed to a side room and nurses regularly come in and out and update us on exactly what it is they are doing. One doctor asks if we have any questions. ‘Is she going to be okay?’.Silence. ‘She is VERY,VERY poorly’. ‘Yes, but I just need you to tell me she’s going to be okay’. Silence. ‘We’re doing everything we can’.
The nursing staff are amazing
The team from Southampton Paediatric ICU (PICU) were on their way and Eve has to be transferred from the bed and monitors she is currently hooked-up to in Poole Hospital to the ambulance stretcher and equipment. It’s a tricky procedure and time consuming but they don’t want to travel with her until she’s stabilised. Another ambulance ride. More sirens. More blue lights. Then at Southampton, the whole procedure of transferring her onto the ward and re-stabilising begins again.
The nursing staff are amazing. At one point I count 11 lines leading from pumps going into her body. She has cannulas in her hands, feet, neck and groin, the ventilator and a chest drain. Thankfully it looks like the antibiotics have halted it in its tracks and no further marks appear. This is really good news. She is responding well to treatment. The best possible news.
After three days we are told she is ‘out of the woods’. Today they are going to start to reduce her level of sedation so they can test her neurology. And the ventilator is doing less work now, as she initiates the breaths and it just assists.
Eventually we are transferred back to Poole. We spend a further week here where they operate on her knee to flush out the infected fluid. Then for a further ten days we visit the hospital daily for intravenous antibiotics and physiotherapy to get her walking properly again.
Return to beloved dance classes
After the February half-term holidays, she is well enough to return to school and her beloved dance classes. In June of that year she received the Julia's House award for 'Determination and Dedication' at her dance school.
Exactly one year on, in February 2014, she achieved distinction in her Royal Academy of Dance ballet exam. We know we are the lucky ones and we give thanks every single day.Ours is a positive story with a good outcome – we just wanted to show that sometimes the NHS can work miracles and return children with this devastating disease to full health.