"What way is this to start a blog?!" I hear you cry. But when you think about it, it is a very apt way to start a conversation with people who have experienced meningitis and indeed the words are very pertinent to me — because literally my life is about to become completely different.
After 6 great years with the charity and 35 years of PR practice, I have decided to take early retirement. And the purpose of this short blog is to say thank you to the many people who have suffered my persistent and probably irritating requests to keep meningitis in the public spotlight.
I joined Meningitis Now in 2015. What I knew about meningitis and health PR could have been written on back of a sticking plaster. I had no health media contacts and yet we, this meningitis family, was in the end game of one of its biggest and most important campaigns - the fight to get the MenB vaccination introduced into the routine vaccination schedule. It felt like a baptism of fire for me and yet I felt immediately at home both in the company of my colleagues and, importantly, the people who would share their stories across the national media. Together we pushed, prodded, petitioned and harangued the government to make the announcement before a General Election in May - which they did.
Now, you’ve all heard the story about waiting for the bus and two turn up; well, this was the case for meningitis vaccines, because within days of the MenB announcement, the government had also introduced the new MenACWY vaccine for teenagers, and for me, the new boy, this was tough.
Despite being way out of my depth initially I quickly found my feet and perhaps more importantly my purpose - it was in many ways, an epiphany - a moment of sudden and great revelation. This came when I met Harmonie-Rose. She was just out of hospital, legs and arms bandaged, a plaster on her nose and yet she smiled at me and waved her stump as if to say, "Nice to meet you." This was my first encounter with the impact of meningitis, and it shocked me. It also inspired me to do what I could to beat this awful disease.
Since then, I met many people with lived experience of meningitis and found myself asking truly extraordinary things of them – things that shouldn’t, in a decent and caring society, need to be asked. Why, for example, should I need to ask a grieving mum if I could a picture of her daughter’s grave, or ask parents to share a picture of their daughter as she lay dying in a hospital bed, or ask a young man who’s just had his legs amputated if he was willing to have a life-size statue of himself exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show? The answer - and this will not be lost on many of you reading this - is that successive governments have opted not to protect all of those at most risk, despite having the wherewithal (vaccines) to do so. And the reason? Cost. And whilst I get this, I don’t have to agree with it!
So the tough questions, the exposure of people’s grief, anger and sadness must go on if we are to help other people, particularly those at risk, protect themselves from this disease.
And for me? It’s time for a new adventure, but as I reflect on the past 6 years I do so with fond memories and found friendships - but mostly with profound humility and respect for all of you that have shared your experiences with me and the wider world. The currency of hope that lives in you all is both infectious (pun intended) and inspirational.
Now, I started a blog using a catchphrase from some of my all-time comedy heroes - Monty Python - and will close in a similar way. So, it’s Goodbye from him!