Hazel Keenan contracted meningitis in 2015, aged 17.
It was a Monday morning. I had woken up and the left side of my face was all swollen and I had a very sore throat. I took paracetamol to help the pain and went back to bed. I woke up again in the afternoon and the pain was worse. My Dad had rang the GP and explained the situation and they squeezed me in for an appointment. So I went to the GP and was diagnosed with The Mumps. I was just told to take neurofen, avoid fizzy drinks and stay in the house for the week. My GP had told me if I started to suffer a headache to go straight back into her. The Friday morning, I woke up with an excruciating headache and a very stiff neck. I got up out of the bed and felt extremely weak. I was home alone that morning so I rang my Mam at work and told her and she told me to ring the GP, so I did. I briefly explained my symptoms over the phone to the receptionist and they told me to come down as quick as possible. At this stage I just kept thinking to myself that it was a flu or a really bad cold.
I got to the GP and I was sitting in the waiting room when my eyes started becoming extremely sensitive to the light. I pulled my hat down over my eyes and my GP came out to the waiting room and guided me into her room of practice. I explained how I was feeling and she wrote me a letter for the A&E department and told me to go straight in. At this stage I started to panic a little bit. I went into the shop where my Mam works and told her what the GP said. From then on Mam left work early and my Aunt brought us to the Accident and Emergency Department. The headache just persisted and I felt extremely weak. I was waiting 3 hours to be called in and seen. I explained how my GP sent me in and explained my symptoms. I was then made wear a mask and put straight into Isolation in the A&E Department. At this stage I was vomiting, the headache became absolutely unbearable and I was shaking with the cold even though I was wrapped in loads of blankets. My neck was barely moveable and I had to ask Mam to turn all the lights off and pull the blinds down in the room as even just a small beam of light was causing pain in the eyes.
After another few hours of waiting I was in and out of sleep and I was extremely drowsy. A medical team had come around to see me and insisted I have a Lumber Puncture done. They proceeded to do it while I laid on a trolley on my side. The local anaesthetic had not worked properly and as a result it was so painful I could not lay still so the doctor could not draw any fluid from the spinal cord. I was then put on the emergency list in Theatre to have the Lumber Puncture done under general anaesthetic. In the mean time I was moved from the A&E Department to the Infectious Disease Ward and once again put straight into isolation. Late that night my Dad had come into the hospital and he came down to theatre with me. After the Lumber Puncture was done, I received my results within the space of an hour. I had Meningitis. However, the doctors were unable to find out what strain of meningitis it was. Straight away I was given anti-biotics through IV. I remained in hospital for 2 weeks where I battled meningitis and was given 2 doses of IV anti-biotics a day.
Leaving the hospital I had felt a lot better. I returned home and rested for a few days. I had thought that because the Meningitis was gone that it was the end of me being sick and that was everything was going to be fine. However, since suffering meningitis I have be hospitalised 4 times in the space of 6 months with severe headaches, bleeding from the ears, leg weakness and loss of sight in my right eye. Each time I was in the hospital the doctors could never seem to get to the bottom of my new symptoms. I had almost every scan and test possible. The doctors were telling me what they thought I had rather than actually finding out what it was so it was extremely traumatic for me. I was falsely diagnosed with a Brain Haemorrhage/Tumour, Multiple Sclerosis and Bechet’s Disease. After more detailed scans thankfully I had none of these. My journey has been a roller-coaster and I still live with side effects every day.
I am now working as a Volunteer Fundraising Co-Ordinator at ACT for Meningitis. The work they do in providing support and awareness is truly amazing. I have met people who have gone through the exact same thing as me and it’s so good to be able to relate to someone and have someone that understands exactly what you’ve been through.
Anyone can contract Meningitis at any age. Don’t wait for a rash and trust your instincts. Meningitis takes thousands of lives every year and 1 in 3 of those who survive it are left with life changing after affects.