Sometimes things happen which make you stop and look around at what you’ve got. Sometimes that happens when you least expect it; a long drive on the motorway for example ...
So it is that I have spent the first part of the year holed up under the monotonous grey skies of Swindon counting my lucky stars. On New Year’s Day I was scraped up by an ambulance crew at Leigh Delamere services on the M4 completely incapacitated, vomiting, sensitive to light, unable to move my head and in severe amounts of pain, having been feeling a bit under the weather for a few days and off the booze. Only days before, I was taking a swim in the sea and surfing a classic kayak in strong winds with little a care in the world.
Quick thinking diagnostics by paramedics meant that I was given IV antibiotics and antiviral treatment on the way to A&E for suspected Meningitis. An action which on reflection probably saved my life and definitely ensured that the quick onset infection of the thin layers around my central nervous system has left no lasting damage.
I don’t properly remember entering the packed A&E that night but I do remember the doctor underlining the severity of my condition as the situation deteriorated. I also know from the brilliant friends, with whom I was driving back to London, who stayed with me over night, whose parents spirited my car away to a safe place in the Wye Valley, that the ambulance paramedics kept a constant check on my condition as they brought in other patients through the night. I am hugely grateful for this.
I should mention here for those that are worried that Meningitis is lurking round every corner of the motorway, it’s not. I am at a higher risk of contracting such conditions as a result of having my spleen removed following a bone marrow transplant for a genetic condition. This has left me imuno-compromised and so am more susceptible to contracting bacterial and viral infections than others. I spent time with some young children over Christmas and it is likely that one of them may have been carrying the bug in question - this is normal.
Through the haze the next day, the situation improved with high strength pain killers, hallucinogenic anti sickness treatment and a lumber puncture which largely confirmed the suspected diagnosis. The cloudy spinal fluid extracted seeming to match the omnipresent overcast sky. CT scans, X-rays and an MRI followed to confirm that the swelling caused by the infection had not affected my brain and there were no signs of tumours or haemorrhages. An obvious relief.
I began to feel brighter as the antibiotics started their fight and the emerging diagnosis became clearer. My sister arrived having jumped on a flight from Spain and about as excited as the rest of us at the prospect of spending a period of enforced isolation in Swindon.
I spent a few days on the acute admissions ward where the shocking reality of the current NHS crisis was all too apparent. Corridors packed with patients recieving treatment in undignified and often unsafe situations from a hugely over-stretched but committed team. As I was potentially contagious, I was kept in a quarantine room and thankfully was not subject to the front line of this awful mess.
Cultures were grown of the spinal fluid (apparently in Bristol and Manchester as there is little evidence of culture in Swindon - go and visit, you might understand) Long conversations with public health ensued about who I had spent significant amounts of time with over the past week. This amounted to over 31 people, a range of nationalities and included several young children which was concerning for all of us. The diagnosis was confirmed as the non contagious pneumococcal strain of bacterial meningitis and advice eventually given to anyone who may have been at risk.
Friends and family have rallied around, visiting, messaging, checking in and bringing me things to the hospital. I feel touched by such a show of love, support and compassion.
Supported by my family in Jersey and with a somewhat forced extraction from the bizarre, antiquated healthcare and sleep deprivation of a general ward, I completed the journey back to London earlier in the week. Since then, I have been in the fantastic care of a local community hospital, who are carefully monitoring my blood counts and managing my release back into the wild.
I’ve had a lot of time to think over this period of enforced rest. I have enjoyed catching up on some reading and considering what challenges the new year will bring. Rather than a set back or a terrible start to the year as some have said, I see this time as an important moment to be thankful.
I’m thankful that we live in a society where healthcare is free and unquestioned. The fact that I could be picked up by an ambulance crew on the motorway, taken to the nearest hospital, received life saving treatment and complex diagnostic scanning is amazing and we should not forget this. The quick thinking professionalism and compassion of staff working in over stretched conditions is testament to their commitment to helping others even when the conditions are far from ideal. We should support and respect these people. The help, kindness and love that I have received from friends and family has been unbelievable and reminds me how dear these people are to me as well as the many others who would have had no idea what had happened.
The shock of it all and the rapidity at which things changed has reminded me to cherish the opportunities I have and make the most of what might be possible. So I’m looking forward to 2018 with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Bring it on !