Trust your instincts
It was Tuesday morning, 21st February. I woke rolling over to see my beautiful baby boy Oscar grinning at me, just a regular morning. I picked him up and he sneezed right in my face then laughed.
Naturally, I turned to my mum in the next room and said: “Oscar’s got the sniffles today.” She replied with “maybe you shouldn’t take him to nursery?” I replied “I’ll take him this morning and see how he goes, if they ring me Ill pick him up, it’s just a sniffle”.
I continued to give Oscar his breakfast, banana porridge and a bottle of milk. We dropped my brother off at school and my mum dropped Oscar and myself at nursery, then continued to work as usual.
Asleep for hours
I was in a photography lesson when I had a phone call from nursery. The lady’s exact words were - “he’s just not himself this morning, he’s been asleep for hours. Could you come and pick him up?”
I grabbed my stuff and went to collect him. As I arrived he put his arm up to me and grinned. One of the nursery nurses said maybe he’s just having a mummy day, as he had settled into my chest straight away.
Nevertheless, as my mother works in the Royal Victoria Infirmary Children’s Hospital (RVI) and I couldn’t get home without her because we had the pram in the car, I took him to the RVI Accident and Emergency Unit and met my mum.
The doctors checked him and told me he had a 48-hour bug that had been ‘going around’ as they say. He told me he needed rest and that he would be particularly clingy towards me until the bug settled.
This made no change to me at all as I am a single mum and we couldn’t have been more glued to each other if we tried.
Cuddling and playing
We went home and I woke up on Wednesday and kept him in all day, cuddling him and playing with him until he went to sleep. It was about 4.30am when I woke up to him moaning. I assumed he wanted a bottle, but when I looked at him I saw that he was not himself at all, he was crying and he looked shattered.
I rang NHS direct to see what they thought and they sent an ambulance to my house within about 20 minutes.
The paramedic arrived and checked him out and said “he’s not shying away from light and he isn’t being sick, he has no rashes or discolouration. The usual things to look for in a sick baby.
Thankfully he continued to say “we will take him in for observation, just in case”. Off we went in the ambulance with mum following in the car. We arrived at Dryburn hospital as we live in the county Durham district.
When we arrived we were referred to the children’s ‘treetops’ ward and put in a room while they took his blood and urine to test them. My mother then noticed that one of his eyes was dropping, informed the nurse and suddenly a group of consultants came in and examined him. They then proceeded to tell me that they thought it was meningitis and they were going to put him to sleep so that they could transfer us comfortably to the more equipped services in the RVI.
I held his hand and kissed him on the forehead and he was whisked away with a mask pressed on his face by the anaesthetist.
Prepared for transfer
My sister Harriet and her boyfriend Andy arrived from Durham University to see what was going on. Harriet, my mum and me took turns watching him as the other had a rest, assuming it was still a cold or a mild infection.
They prepared him for transfer linking him to a portable ventilator, applying various things including a catheter and warming inflation blanket. We arrived at the RVI mid-afternoon and they proceeded to link him up to their own machines and check his levels every hour. My mother and I sat beside him. I read Hello magazine and we shared a packet of fruit gums.
The doctor told me he had meningitis, but it was just the infection and the antibiotics were working, so I should go to sleep and come back in a couple of hours when they plan to wake him up because he will need me then.
Harriet and Andy left to go back to Durham and me and my mum went to find our room in the RVI just across the car park. She went back to sit with Oscar while I had a rest.
Around an hour later I had a phone call from his doctor telling me I must get back to the ward now.
My heart sank
As I arrived, I saw my mother crying and my heart dropped. The doctor pulled me into a room and told me that Oscar's meningitis had spread to his brain and that they were trying to control the swelling but it was difficult with a seven-month-old baby.
My sister and Andy were called and they arrived back. I was transferred into a private room and I got into bed with him and held him until the morning. The rest of my family arrived in the morning when they had heard.
The doctor arrived about 10am and checked his swelling, took me aside into a room with my mum and Harriet, and told me that there was nothing else he could do. Oscar's brain had swelled so much that even the brain stem was affected, which is the part that controls breathing.
He told me in his opinion there was no chance he was waking up. I could barely breathe. I walked straight back to the room in floods of tears and just picked him up and held him crying. My sister continued to the waiting room and told my family, they filtered into where I was and stood around the bed each coming up and kissing him or hugging me.
The nurse came in to tell me that they were going to make Oscar more comfortable by taking all the tubing out apart from the ventilator.
Testing brain activity
My father works abroad so had to fly back from Hong Kong and was on his way to the hospital. A few hours later the doctor came round and told me that they had to test Oscar's brain activity, so we all left the room and when I came back in he told me that there was no brain activity at all. He continued to tell me that three doctors had to check to make sure so they did, and again and again.
They declared my baby boy brain dead at 1.15pm on Friday 24th February. I stayed in the bed with him and the nurse told me we could wait until my dad arrived before I took him off the ventilator, but if his stats started to drop then he was deciding to go himself.
Everything was fine until around 5.30pm when they started to decrease I told her this was it and it was time. I lay him on my chest and she took his ventilation tube out and left the room, he moved and I screamed with such hope “get the doctor, he's moving”. The nurse came back in and told me it was just a spasm, my heart felt like it had been clawed from my chest and I sat for ages just repeating “no, no, how did I get here?”.
Simply can’t believe how I got here
My father arrived around midnight. I held my son until midday the next day. I bathed him and re-dressed him and took him to the chapel of rest.
From then on I have been lost. I simply can’t believe how I got here, I am a mother not a teenage girl, how do I go back? The fact is I was powerless, you can’t change disease, but I will do my best to raise as much as I can to try and find vaccines for meningitis simply because I wish this feeling on no-one. It’s a horrific disease. I went from having a healthy baby boy who just got a cold to walking out of the hospital alone and ruined in the space of 24 hours.
I am completely broken as any mother would be. But I have decided I am going to continue in Oscar’s memory raising money and living a life that he was denied the opportunity to live - I am going to make him proud.
Even though he was just seven months old, I felt like I had had him forever and I would swap places in a heartbeat. I choose to think how lucky I was to have such an amazing seven months: life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.
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