Kevin’s Meningitis Story

There were just the four of us, Kevin, my husband of 22 years, a well-respected deputy head, Geography teacher and wonderful husband and father.

Meningitis Stories

My meningitis story begins on January 1st 2000. We’d had a wonderful family Christmas. There were just the four of us, Kevin, my husband of 22 years, a well-respected deputy head, Geography teacher and wonderful husband and father, Claire, 18, had just completed her first term at Hull University studying Geography, and Laura, 16, a pupil at her father’s school was a few months away from her GCSEs, and lastly me, a Head of Sixth Form at another Leeds High School and also a geographer. We were a close and loving family who enjoyed doing things together and making each other laugh.

That first morning of the new Millennium we awoke full of hope for the future. Kevin and I went walking on Ilkley Moor and we discussed the girls and what we might do once they had both flown the nest; a trip to Australia, plans to develop our rather large garden and when we might think to retire. How could we have known that a week later all that would be irrelevant.

Kevin, Laura, and I returned to school. We didn’t feel very well but Claire had been poorly over the holiday; in fact at one stage I thought she might have meningitis and did the glass test as she appeared to have a rash. The rash disappeared and we heaved a sigh of relief. It seemed she had flu. On the Thursday afternoon my Headteacher sent me home. I felt terrible, aching all over and could barely talk. I had only been home an hour or so when Kevin arrived. He too had been sent home. He was one of those teachers who never took a day off, so I was surprised to say the least. We watched the news, the very high numbers of people with flu was one of the main items, together with the fact that there were only two intensive care beds left in the country that night. I remember we commented how awful that must be if you needed one.

We went to bed. Hours later we both had high temperatures and were tossing and turning. Kevin took a Beecham’s Powder, it had always been his remedy for all ills. By 5am neither of us had slept so I went downstairs to try and get a few hours sleep. At one stage I was vaguely aware of a loud noise but put it down to builders working nearby.

I went to check on Kevin just before 8am. He had telephoned the doctor as he had collapsed earlier and knocked himself unconscious. I saw blood on his face and went to get warm water and cotton wool to bathe it. It wouldn’t come off, so I surmised it must just be a bruise from the fall. I have asked myself so many times why I didn’t do the glass test.

Laura asked her father to sign a permission slip for a school trip and left for school. The doctor hadn’t arrived – I phoned again. By this time Kevin was complaining of the worst stomach ache he had ever experienced. Still no doctor, so another phone call was made. He finally arrived, gave Kevin an injection saying he had an allergic reaction to a drug despite being told he had only taken a Beecham’s powder. The GP said he would call an ambulance when he returned to the surgery. Later Claire would be frantic running up and down the road looking for it.

I felt terrible and just dragged on the first clothes I could find, which happened to be Kevin’s jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt. I just didn’t have the energy to look for anything else. Kevin was complaining of very cold hands and feet. As the paramedics arrived and got him in a wheelchair he asked for socks.

Claire went with her father in the ambulance, and I tried to follow in the car, but the ambulance raced ahead with the blue light on, and I arrived 20 mins later. I was taken to a room where Kevin was surrounded by about a dozen medical staff. By now he had large purple bruises over his body. Kevin managed to tell me that they thought he had meningitis. I remember I reassured him he was in the right place, and he would be fine. Claire and I were given antibiotics and Kevin was later moved to the high dependency unit whilst they waited for an intensive care bed to become available. The news item from the night before came back to me. I felt as though I had been dropped into an episode of Casualty and felt so lost, frightened, and confused.

Our Headteachers were informed. Laura was brought to the hospital, and I was told Kevin was to be put in an induced coma as septicaemia was engulfing his body. The three of us sat stunned by his side. The staff told us to talk to him and that he would hear us. We talked about our last holiday and where we would go when he recovered. I couldn’t understand why the staff were letting us stay with him as they were constantly leaving to check him.

Alarms went off and the crash team raced in. I took the girls out and after what seemed like an eternity the consultant came in with 3 nurses, one for each of us. Less than 5 hours after being diagnosed Kevin had died from meningococcal septicaemia – it was just too much to take in.

News had spread, friends and colleagues came to the hospital. We were taken home; the pair of socks Kevin had wanted for his cold feet lay on the stairs. The following days were indescribably awful. The house was full of friends. Kevin had been one of those special teachers who went the extra mile – everyone who came had a story of how he had helped them, but I felt detached from it all.

The days before the funeral were a blur. I couldn’t sleep as that meant waking up and reliving it all over again. We went to order the funeral flowers, I took the girls to see the burial plot to go to prepare them, I caught Laura as she collapsed in a supermarket after seeing a full-sized photo of her father on the front of the newspaper and so it went on. The doctor came to give me the Meningitis C vaccination, the priest came to show us how to drape the coffin, I went to my school for a special service. It was one thing after another.

I took Claire back to see the consultant who had treated Kevin. She was in a terrible state of guilt as she thought she had been responsible for her father’s death. Of course, she hadn’t, but the consultant spent time reassuring her in a way I couldn’t. All three of us felt tremendous guilt, and still do. We could have been more pro-active, we could have called the doctor sooner, we should just have put Kevin in the car and taken him to the hospital sooner, and so it went on …

We couldn’t have had more help and love but felt so alone. There were two funeral services to endure, attended by over 600 friends and colleagues, Kevin had touched so many lives, later by a memorial service at Kevin’s school. Meanwhile Laura went back to school, which was so hard for her as everyone knew what had happened and now her father was missing from both her school and home life. Claire returned to university; her boyfriend finished with her (he said she wasn’t the same girl he had asked out). I was on compassionate leave. I still couldn’t sleep; my concentration was non-existent and all I could do was to constantly go over what had happened and what we should have done.

Everything was daunting and thinking about the responsibilities I now had to fulfil on my own I wished I had been the one to die. I cried constantly and spent hours outside in the cold gardening often until it was dark. Now I realise I had been in shock, I didn’t feel the cold or the heat, some days even washing my face was too much.

A meeting was arranged with the GP as there were so many unanswered questions. He told me he didn’t associate meningitis with adults and followed that by saying he thought it only occurred in lower class homes, unsurprisingly he ceased to be our family doctor.

Shortly after this I was given a letter from Kevin’s school. It was from Steve Dayman. He had heard of Kevin’s death and was offering to come and talk to me, and so began my association with his charity. Steve visited me and listened as I described the pain, we were all in and the hopelessness we felt was so grateful for his understanding. He put me in contact with a lady who had lost her husband in similar circumstances, she wrote to me, and it helped to hear her story and how she eventually made a new life for herself. I still have that letter.

It took a while before I could take part in any of charity activities, but Claire ran the London Marathon and Laura, and her friends did a section of one of Steve’s epic walks. Gradually I either walked or counted money on the walks. Giving out the symptom cards was SO worthwhile. How differently we might have reacted if we’d had a symptoms card in the house the day Kevin died. Needless to say, we each now carry one.

All this happened many years ago, but the memories of that awful day have never left us and in different ways we have all been left scarred. The girls are now married. I walked both of them down the aisle and held their hands in the early stages of their labours. We grieve both for what we lost that day but also for what Kevin lost. He never got to see his daughters get their degrees, never got to meet the young men they married or, the 3 beautiful grandchildren they gave birth to, or what lovely young women they became.

If we had known then what we know now our lives would be so very different. That night Meningitis took from us the man who loved us unconditionally, knew us better than anyone else, never moaned if we needed his time and was always so proud of his girls and their achievements. Finally, I would like to say there is much of this story I haven’t felt able to relate, but I thought you might like to know that, at the beginning of this year, my daughters walked me down the aisle.

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