Sarah’s story

6th November 2014

Tracey’s 15-year-old daughter Sarah, from Skegness in Lincolnshire, had a headache for three days before she was admitted to hospital. But her illness was pneumococcal meningitis and, just days later, Tracey had to face the agonising decision to switch off the teenager’s life support machine

Sarah
Agonising decision

On Friday 16th January 2009 Sarah complained of a headache, took some Paracetamol and had an early night. The next morning she said her head was still hurting on and off, so she took some more painkillers and had a pyjama day.

By the next day her headache was more painful so I said that we would probably have to go to the doctors the next day when it opened, because maybe it’s a migraine. Later on that day her joints were aching and she had backache and her legs felt heavy.

I looked on the meningitis website for the symptoms. I still don’t know why I did that –just something told me to do it. After looking at the website I rang the out of hours service as it was a Sunday and I feel like I was fobbed off really. I was asked if she had taken any illegal drugs – I was fuming; they just assumed that because she was a teenager that she would be doing those things.

They then asked me if she could be pregnant. I was totally fuming; they didn’t even know my daughter but they were making assumptions. They said to tell her to get plenty of rest and go and see her GP in the morning as there were a lot of bugs going around.

Phone for an ambulance

She spent the rest of the day sleeping on and off and went for another early night. When I went and woke her the next morning she was not with it at all, she thought it was still Friday and was delirious. She managed to get out of bed but fell to the floor after only a few steps and couldn’t get back up again throwing her arms around and just not knowing where she was.

I shouted down the stairs to my husband that I’ve had enough of being fobbed off and to phone for an ambulance. The paramedic came, took one look at her and requested an immediate ambulance.

She was taken to the local hospital and after only being there about half an hour they sedated her and put her in an induced coma. They said she was seriously ill but didn’t know what with. She was transferred by ambulance to the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, where the specialists were, and they did MRI and CT scans. I was told that there was only a minimal amount of brain working and if she survived it is likely that she’d be severely handicapped.

She was transferred into a side room and I sat with her all night, but at 3am her heart stopped. The hospital got her heart restarted very quickly but feared that it might have just killed off the last bit of her brain that was working. They arranged to do a brain stem test at 11am in the morning. At 11am they performed the brain stem test and told me that my daughter was brain dead.

My legs went to jelly

I was in total shock – this had all happened so quickly and I couldn’t get my head round what they were saying. They repeated the test for legal confirmation, with the same result. I asked them what happens now and they said the next stage was switching the life support machine off when I was ready.

I told them not to ask me to decide when I’m ready because I never would be ready for that and to do what they thought was best. Less than one hour later her life support machine was switched off … my legs went to jelly and I felt like I was falling, but one of the nurses held me up for support. The heartache was unbearable and life has never been the same since.