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Sara's Story

With an active social life and a blossoming television production career, 21 year old Sara felt her life was really 'coming together'. Her personal and career aspirations were suddenly put on hold as she was struck down with meningitis, changing her outlook on life forever. This is Sara's story. 

It was winter 2004. I had just graduated from university, started a demanding full-time job in television production and was enjoying going out with my friends. Looking back now, I can see I was living an unhealthy lifestyle typical of many 21 year olds. 

The week I became ill was very busy at work. Colleagues were sick and we had been filming in the cold and rain. I had a big shoot to plan for the Friday, so when I started feeling run down I just pressed on, taking cold and flu tablets and Berocca. 

Around lunchtime on Thursday I suddenly got very tired. I had a short sleep in my car, but when I woke up every muscle ached. My boss took one look at me and told me to go home. 

I somehow drove home, told Mum I ‘felt like crap’ and went to bed. I woke up feeling worse, couldn’t hold down dinner and remember sitting in the hallway sweating profusely and crying. I just wanted to sleep, but Mum insisted on taking me to the doctor.

When we finally got to see the doctor, he gave me an injection to stop the vomiting and Panadol for the temperature. Mum mentioned meningitis, but he didn’t think it was at that stage, instead asking Mum to keep an eye on me throughout the night. 

I got home and went straight to bed. I texted a friend, and struggled to make sense of his reply – this was the beginning of my disorientation.

Thursday night I vomited and had a terrible fever. Mum stayed with me until I was physically too hot to sleep next to. All day Friday I simply lay on the couch. 

Friday evening we realised something was seriously wrong when I could only ‘shuffle’ to the dinner table. My ankles had seized up, and holding my knife and fork was also very painful. 

Knowing something was terribly wrong, Mum put my slippers on, Dad helped me into the car and we drove five minutes down the road to the doctor. The receptionist hurried us into an examination room. When Mum lifted my feet onto the bed and took my slippers off we both saw the rash. Mum tried to keep me calm and called for the doctor. 

Dad was already at the hospital emergency entrance when we arrived by ambulance. We were met by a team of doctors who started working on me as they wheeled me into emergency. Mum tried to find me pillows as my head was so sensitive I couldn’t put it down. 

The last thing I remember is the doctor coming to see me, feeling my legs from the feet up and telling me I had Meningococcal B. 

I spent the next four days in a coma. I was aware of people there with me, talking to me and holding my hand. I remember not liking Mum’s new perfume - apparently this was noticed as I would turn away from her and towards my sister who smelt familiar.

I was later told they had killed the meningitis bacteria within 20 minutes, but the damage had already been done. 

My recovery has been a very long process – both physically and psychologically. 

I struggled for a long time to feel ‘normal’. For many months I was scared, always aware of medical facilities wherever I went - just in case. Even close friends found it hard to understand my ‘mental scarring’ and seemed to slowly disappear. 

Moments of feeling like the ‘normal me’ started to come more regularly almost 8 months on as my life slowly regained some structure. On the outside I looked perfectly fine, but I still got stabbing pains all over my body, mostly in my arms and legs as these had the least blood supply for the longest amount of time. About once a week my right foot would ache and felt like it had no blood in it. On cold mornings both feet felt like that, making walking difficult. 

My eyes could not focus some days and concentration was difficult. The optometrist told me the connection from my brain to my eyes had not re-formed properly and like everything else would ‘take time’. 

I fought a very long battle against headaches, dizziness, nausea, body aches and sometimes an overpowering sense of grief. In essence I had to relearn what my body was trying to tell me, between managing different infections because my immunity was so low. 

Now, the headaches have largely subsided and the scars have faded. My circulation is still bad but if that is all I have to complain about I think I got off quite lightly. 

I’m now a television production manager - a job which is very demanding, very stressful and something I am very proud to do every day. My outlook on life has changed forever.

You cannot control anything except your own words and actions - so make them count! 

Disclaimer - The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand promotes the prevention, control and awareness of meningitis. It is not a professional medical authority. The text on this website provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. It is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of these diseases. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.

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