Brave woman speaks about her meningitis battle to help others
Feeling hot and bothered at work, Linsay Robertson went home, convinced she was coming down with the flu.
But just hours later the 44-year-old from Crewe Toll was in hospital fighting for her life after it was confirmed she had contracted a deadly form of meningitis and septicaemia. But despite spending six months in hospital – and losing a hand and both feet to the devastating illness – the determined mum-of-one has now reclaimed her life, learning to walk using prosthetic limbs and is determined to return to work.
Now Linsay, who was in a coma for 12 days and suffered organ failure, wants to raise public awareness of the fact that anyone can contract meningitis.
Linsay, an office manager, told of how some days can be “harder than others” but there is still “a life to be had”.
Recalling last year’s ordeal, she said: “It all happened really quickly.
“I remember being at work and in the afternoon and feeling like I had a fever. I was meant to be going to my mum’s for dinner that night but I cancelled because I felt really ill.
“I finished my full day’s work and went home and just threw myself into bed because I thought I was coming down with the flu.
“I remember my daughter coming to check on me a few hours later, she noticed I was hot and went to get me some paracetamol.”
Shortly afterwards, Linsay began vomiting and having bouts of diarrhoea before her partner Graham Welsh arrived to check on her. But at 4am, everything took a turn for the worst.
“I honestly thought I had the norovirus and when my partner phoned NHS 24 and gave them my symptoms they thought I had the flu,” Linsay recalled.
“I remember waking up about four in the morning with chronic cramps and I knew something was seriously wrong – I was curled up in a ball.
“By the time Graham had phoned an ambulance it was getting worse, I remember I screamed, ‘I think I’m dying’
“By the time the paramedics arrived, I think my lips were blue.”
What happened next remains a blur to Linsay, who was put into an induced coma when she arrived at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as her skin began to come out in a rash and blisters.
Her family, including daughter Morran, 16, were given the devastating news that her organs were beginning to fail and a few hours later they were told she had contracted bacterial meningitis.
Linsay suffered kidney failure and still needs regular dialysis while she waits for a transplant.
She said: “I was in a coma for 12 days and when I woke up I really struggled to comprehend what had happened.
“I was very aware my hands and feet were there but I just couldn’t move them.
“My toes looked like little black chips, I could see my tattoos were distorted and my fingers were all turned in like claws.
“When the doctor told me he was looking at amputation, I knew that to move forward something had to go.
“My family were all really upset, but I was determined I was going to work again, I wanted a normal life.”
After spending six months in hospital, Linsay was finally discharged in November.
She is now walking on two prosthetic legs and the determined mum started driving last month.
“The impact of this disease has lessened through time, although kidney failure is my constant worry now,” she said.
“At the time when the doctor said he was going to leave a bit of my thumb, I thought to myself, what am I going to do with half a thumb?
“However, it’s amazing all the things I can do, it’s helped me keep my freedom. I can cook, clean and drive.”
She added: “Some days are harder than others but I have come through it and I’ve always been determined.”
Linsay wants to tell her story in an attempt to help raise awareness of the illness and highlight that it isn’t just babies or specific groups of people that are affected by meningitis – anyone can contract it.
Linsay added: “If I can get through it, anyone can do it. There is still a life to be had.
“It’s been a massive adjustment for all of us – my daughter, Morran, is now attending counselling and is part of [a] young carers [group].
“I’ve always been determined and had great support from my family and friends.
“Nobody treats me any differently.”
Meningitis and Septicaemia
Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses and septicaemia is blood poisoning.
Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.
Some bacteria that cause meningitis also cause septicaemia.
Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together.
The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to ‘flu and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain.
The more specific signs and symptoms include fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and a rash which doesn’t fade under pressure.
In babies, symptoms can also include being floppy and unresponsive, a dislike of being handled, rapid breathing, an unusual, moaning cry and a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of the head).
There are an estimated 3,200 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year in the UK.
Following bacterial meningitis or septicaemia, one in ten people will die and at least a third of survivors will be left with life-long after-effects such as hearing loss, epilepsy, limb loss or learning difficulties
Meningitis and septicaemia can affect anyone, of any age. However, babies and young children are most at risk.
In the past 20 years, effective vaccines have been developed to give protection against some types of meningitis. These are offered to all babies and young children.
A vaccine to protect against meningococcal group B (Men B) disease, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia, was introduced in September 2015.
However, there are not vaccines to protect against all types.
If you suspect someone may be ill with meningitis or septicaemia, trust your instincts and get immediate medical help.
For more information visit www.MeningitisNow.org. Freephone helpline 0808 80 10 388 (9am-5pm Monday to Friday).