Friday, 3 December 2010

Could you spot meningitis?

For the first time, I'm experiencing true mummy guilt. Not the "oh she's eaten yet another biscuit and I let her" or "I really should be spending more quality time with my kids" type of guilt, no, this is more hard hitting. When Snowflake fell ill at 4am in the morning, I didn't recognise the signs and waited a full hour before waking Mr Cartside, and another 15 minutes before calling NHS 24. I feel extremely guilty about this, and as much as people tell me that I still reacted quickly and it was caught very early, I'm not sure if I could have ever forgiven myself if the outcome would have been bleaker.I keep thinking that I was even close to not acting at all, tempted to just go back to sleep. I don't dare to think what could have happened if I had.

You see, I didn't recognise the symptoms of meningitis, and didn't think that anything was seriously up with Snowflake. I even considered just to get back to sleep and wait until the morning. I also never thought that it could happen to me, that my baby could fall ill with the illness everyone fears.

So, hand to hard, could you spot the symptoms for meningitis? What would you look for? The thing about meningitis is that every minute counts, so the sooner you act, the better.

The first I noticed was in the evening, when Snowflake was crying a bit more than usual and it took a bit longer to settle her. Nothing too unusual. She also brought up part of a feed, but again, she does that a lot, so I put the crying and vomit down to wind. That was 9 or 10pm. We went to bed at 11pm. At 4am I woke noticing that Snowflake hadn't woken for a feed yet. This was strange but not unusual either, she sometimes goes 5 hours without a feed. I'd woken up because she was making a quiet moany type of sound with every breath. This was definitely strange. I tried to wake her but failed. I went downstairs to express as I felt full and when I came back 20 minutes later, still the same noises. I tried harder to wake her. No success. I took her temperature - a bit higher than normal but well below the 38 mark. I checked for a rash or any sign of illness. I kept trying to wake her without success, eyes would half open and close again. She didn't seem in any discomfort, just unresponsive and difficult to rouse. It was then that I picked up a book and looked up her symptoms. All I could find was that "lethargic" was something that may be serious and it was clear to me that she wasn't just listless, that "lethargic" better described what I saw. At this point I woke Mr Cartside, explained the last hour, what I read and wondered if I should phone NHS 24. We decided it would be the safe thing to do.

Within 5 minutes we were told to go straight to Yorkhill Children's Hospital, A&E. Interestingly, while Snowflake was instantly treated with the right course of action, the initial diagnosis was also not meningitis - because only a couple of symptoms were present. However, it was clear to the medical staff that she was seriously ill.

I now know that difficulty to wake/rouse and the moany noises with every breath are tell tale signs of meningitis and scepticaemia. I also know that pneumococcal meningitis (which is what Snowflake was diagnosed with) is the second most common form and that only one in 10 cases will develop a rash. And I now know that any of the symptoms below can indicate meningitis, and that it doesn't have to be a combination of them.

If there's anything I've learned it's that I thought I would spot meningitis but I didn't. I truly believed that nothing much was wrong with Snowflake. The Meningitis Trust has issued a handy card detailing the symptoms of meningitis and scepticaemia (which are quite similar). I now carry it and urge you to do the same, it could save a life.

Do visit the Meningitis Trust's website, there's a lot of very useful information there and you can order your free symptoms card or even an iphone application. Please don't be caught out like I was.



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