Real Life: Viral Meningitis - Our Story

Some of you may or may not know that recently out little family had a tough ordeal with Baby Bella falling ill at the start of October and it's only now I feel I can write about our experience and to also raise awareness about viral meningitis as up until our experience we never knew about it.

Bella likely had something dropped on her by big sister.

Bella likely had something dropped on her by big sister.

Several weeks ago we were going about our usual evening routine when Bella all of a sudden started crying uncontrollably for no reason. We did think that perhaps her big sister had dropped something on her which triggered the outburst as she was laying on the floor and we later saw a red mark on her head (which was likely from Jasmine dropping the remote control on her). Putting it down to that and the fact Bella is quite a sweet, sensitive little baby we just spent some time comforting her and I headed off to the gym as I usually would on that night.

I came home and to my surprise both girls were settled in bed which hubby gets brownie points for as that's not an easy task with two little ones! I headed to bed myself to later be woken up about midnight to Bella, yet again uncontrollably crying. Matt was still awake at this point so I sent Bella downstairs with him so he could try and comfort her. The only thing that seemed to work was him holding her super tight and cradling her but she would still keep crying every 5 minutes or so. The only time we had seen her like this was after her six week injections but she would usually be settled after a short while.

I woke around 6 am only to find Matt had been up all night as Bella was so unsettled. She seemed abnormally hot but our thermometer had broken but I just knew it was too high. Encouraged by my mum to call 111 we went through the questions and were told to take her to A&E.

Around 7.30am I headed to the hospital with Bella only dressed in a vest due to her high temperature. She would not stop screaming the whole way which is so out of character for Bella. Being seen to quite swiftly the nurses were a bit baffled as to why she was so unsettled as apart from a high temperature of 40 there were no other obvious signs as to what was wrong. Matt and I both thought we would just be sent home with calpol as the same thing had happened to Jasmine two weeks prior when she was sent to A&E. 

After some routine observations the nurses decided that they would need to take some blood tests from Bella along with carrying out a lumbar puncture. It took them about 45 minutes just to get the cannula in her little hands as she would not stop screaming in distress and thrashing her arms and legs about. I was then told to leave the room so they could do the lumbar puncture as apparently it is distressing for parents to watch.  It was at this point I made phone calls to the family and really started to panic about what was wrong with her.

Matt later turned up to the hospital and spent the next few hours holding her tight and cradling her as she just seemed in so much pain she couldn't be put down on the bed. A short while later a Doctor sat us down and said that the tests were showing Bella had meningitis but we needed to wait 72 hours for the full test results to see if it was viral or bacterial meningitis. I'm sure it is every parents nightmare to hear the words meningitis and it was not what we were expecting to hear. Up until this point we didn't even know the difference between the two and for myself just imagined the worst case scenario as that's what you often see covered in the press.

'Viral meningitis is the more common and less serious form -- it usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days.Bacterial meningitis is much more dangerous and can be fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics. Most cases are caused by three different types of bacteria.'

Because it would take 72 hours for the full tests to come back and Bella was still in distress with a high temperature she was given antibiotics. It is impossible to know straight away which type of meningitis was the cause so she had to be treated. We were later transferred by ambulance from Cramlington Hospital to the RVI as they don't tend to keep children in longer than 24 hours.



By this point it was now near midnight and the new staff nurses were doing Bella's observations when one nurse noticed that a rash had started to appear on her legs which wasn't there previously. The rash is usually associated with bacterial meningitis and panic started to kick in although deep down I sensed that she would be ok. We were transferred to her room and she finally fell asleep due to the exhaustion of the day.

I can't speak for Matt but I was kind of in limbo during this whole experience. The next day I was ordered to swap with Matt to go home and get some sleep as I was also suffering from the flu and was unable to sleep that night due to experiencing a fever and also worrying about Bella. I drove home in a constant daze to be honest I don't even know how I drove home without crashing as I was in auto pilot and felt as if my whole world was crashing down around me. I know Matt was upset too but we didn't have the words to communicate at this point.

Another day passed and Bella seemed to respond well to the antibiotics and her temperature was slowly but surely creeping down. Some more test results came back and we were told that there was possibly septicaemia in her blood but they were needing to check whether it was a contaminated sample. All the Doctor jargon was alien to us and all I heard was 'septicaemia' and we both knew that it could be quite severe. Again sent into panic but in a haze of exhaustion and overwhelm we just kept going as any parent would.

On the mend and all ready to go home to big sis!

On the mend and all ready to go home to big sis!

To cut what seems like a long story short - Bella's results eventually came back three days later which thankfully said it was only viral meningitis and that she could come off the antibiotics and go home. Some aren't so lucky and after going through this experience I cannot even imagine the heart ache parents suffer when a child gets bacterial meningitis. We cannot praise the NHS staff enough. I am in constant awe of Doctors, Nurses and other hospital staff and how their days are spent saving peoples lives and providing invaluable care. In my eyes they are super human and need more recognition for the job they do.

It's been a tough few weeks for our family of four as illness passes around like a domino affect and Matt and I hadn't realised the strain of having two under two until this experience but we thank all those who reached out and helped during this time.

For more reading on Viral Meningitis you can click here:

'Viral meningitis is a type of meningitis due to a viralinfection. It results in inflammation of the meninges (the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Symptoms commonly include headache, fever, sensitivity to light, and neck stiffness. Viruses are the most common cause of aseptic meningitis.'

Fiona NgComment