I contracted bacterial meningitis as the result of an ear infection. Scans revealed that I had a defect in the tegmen typani and the bacteria had passed through this hole to my brain. I was in hospital for 12 days treating the meningitis and undergoing surgery to repair the defect and was discharged unable to walk unaided due to balance problems.
I appreciate that everyone has different experiences, starting points on the road to recovery, levels of fitness but I hope that by sharing my story I will help someone who is trying to overcome this life changing infection.
I am an occupational therapist so using my professional knowledge I knew that physically my leg muscles which had wasted during my hospitalisation were not helping my balance issues. Walking was the answer – friends and family rallied round to come and take me out for increasingly longer walks with decreasing levels of physical support. Exhausted I slept a lot as well.
From my mental well-being perspective, I realised how quickly the things that I valued in life and the roles that I had e.g. wife, grandmother, member of swimming club etc could be taken away from me. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to be a proper grandmother to my first grandchild who was born 3 days after I was discharged. The thought of losing these things motivated me to do whatever it took to get better. I found different ways to do things so that I could do activities of daily living e.g. online shopping instead of going to the shops, opening the cupboard under the hob so that I could sit on a stool to cook with my knees in the cupboard, having a chair in front of the washing machine so I could load it without falling into it!
My GP referred me to a specialist physiotherapist who used vestibular rehabilitation exercises to retrain my brain to ‘balance’ me. She said that it was important to start the exercises as soon as possible after the acute phase of the meningitis infection and that you needed to do activities to ‘upset your brain’ so that it knew there was a problem and it could set about making new pathways to fix it. She told me that the exercises would make me feel worse first and that they would make me very tired which they did. I would be given a set of exercises and for the first 2 weeks found them also impossible to do and felt nauseous doing them but persisted and by the third week had perfected them and the nausea had gone. Then I would be given a new set of exercises and the process, nausea and tiredness started again.
Nine months on and I am virtually independent again although not perfect and still prone to excessive tiredness – I can go for 5 miles walks, swim 60 lengths, work with some adjustments to my work pattern, drive and babysit!