AUGUST 2008 IS a time that my family and I will never forget. This was when my baby son Callum got meningitis. He was just ten months old.
It started out with what seemed like an ear and throat infection. I brought him to the doctor for antibiotics and was confident he would get better quickly. But something didn’t seem right. He had been sick before but this somehow it seemed different.
On a visit that day to see my mam Callum was very fussy. He didn’t want his bottle, he didn’t want to be held and he was sleeping a lot which definitely wasn’t like him. I started to have a niggling feeling of worry but headed home and reassured myself the antibiotics would soon kick in.
But I was wrong. The next day Callum got worse. He started vomiting, he couldn’t hold down food and even water came straight back up. He was also sleeping excessively but would wake in pain with a strange cry. I remember carrying him into the kitchen where he would shriek every time he was confronted with the daylight shining in through the patio door. It was at this point that his fever also really shot up.
It is so hard as a parent to know when is the right time to ask for medical help. We had already seen the doctor the day before and I knew I needed to give the antibiotics a chance to work. But something just didn’t feel right. We had to have another opinion.
My husband and I took him to Mullingar General Hospital. Here Callum was put on a drip but the doctor said he should be fine. That was such a relief to hear. Later on he wasn’t really showing any signs of improvement so the doctors decided to do a lumbar puncture to check for signs of infection.
The tests were taking a while and Callum seemed stable so my husband said he’d stay with the baby so I could go home to shower. I was about halfway home when I got the call you dread. My husband was trying to hold back tears as he told me the tests had come back and Callum had pneumococcal meningitis.
Meningitis had never even entered my head; it was something that happened to other people. I’ve heard of meningitis, I knew it was scary but I remember thinking – Callum didn’t have a rash.
Callum was then rushed to Temple Street for treatment. He was later moved back to Mullingar, in total spending four weeks in hospital. It felt as if it was just bad news after bad news and we were so scared of what the outcome could be for our precious little boy. The first thing you think of is will he make it. Meningitis kills.
Strikes fear in your heart
Even before Callum got the disease I knew that. It is a word that strikes fear into your heart. But the doctors also then started to talk to us about the potential after effects he could have if he did survive. Amputations, deafness, brain damage… the list goes on.
Thankfully Callum was one of the lucky ones. He has made a full recovery and is now a happy six year old with a love for football.
My experience with meningitis will never leave me and I still get emotional when I think about how close we came to losing our son.
Looking back on it now, my biggest regret is that I missed so many of the signs and symptoms that I just wasn’t aware of. Knowing the signs of meningitis can be the difference between life and death.
Callum never developed a rash, something that so many parents associate with meningitis, but which is actually one of the last symptoms to appear.
Now I also know his screams in the kitchen from the bright lights was another sign. He also had the fever, the vomiting and the excessive sleeping. However, despite this, never once did meningitis enter my head.
I reached out to the charity ACT for Meningitis to share my experience with parents who have been through similar situations. I am also now involved with awareness raising events for ACT as I hope that by sharing my story that I can help other parents be more aware of the signs and symptoms of this devastating disease.
Children are currently not vaccinated against all types of meningitis so even if they’ve had their shots parents need to know the symptoms and act fast. The best advice I can give parents is that you know your child best so trust your instincts and go see that doctor if you are at all worried it could be meningitis.
Roisin Hartley is a stay at home mam originally from Dublin and now living in Walsh Island, Co Offaly with her husband Eamonn and two children Callum (6) and Layla Rose (3).