If all we have to show for our ordeal are the emotional scars of the nightmare we endured, then we truly are the luckiest parents ever.
I remember sitting eating my dinner and watching 6 month old Kristian lying on his lambswool on the floor. It was then I noticed the strange rash on his left leg - it looked like broken blood vessels and bruising. I wondered what on earth he had done. It looked very strange, and he had had a very long sleep that day. In fact, I had trouble waking him.
Just to be sure I called my father-in-law who is a GP and asked about what the rash could be. He told me very succinctly to put my dinner down, pack a bag and go straight to the emergency section at The Royal Children's Hospital. So, fine, that we did. On arrival at the hospital we were expecting to wait for several hours, but to our surprise we were sent through to be seen by a doctor almost immediately. It was terrific as we seemed instantly to get a stream of doctors through all looking at our son and asking questions. Must have been a group of medical students we thought.
But when the doctor came in and asked us to sit down, my heart started to race - what was going on. It was then that he explained to us that they believed this was a case of meningococcal...I'd heard about that. Isn't that the one that can kill you really quickly? We'd read about all those other people who had caught it - but that couldn't be what we had.
Before we knew it, Kristian was raced off to have antibiotics pumped in to him. He responded instantly and the doctors told us they had caught this one early. Within a few days we were discharged, without ever having realised the seriousness of what we had been through. I had other things to worry about with a 6 month old baby!
It wasn't until Kristian was 2 years old that this dirty word "meningococcal" reared it's ugly head again for us. We were travelling in Europe and had taken a side trip to Paris to celebrate my husbands 40th birthday. We had spent the day at Disneyland but were a little disappointed that Kristian didn't seem to enjoy it as much as we had thought - we both had a feeling maybe he was coming down with something, a cold maybe.
On the train back to Paris after our fabulous day, Kristian began to scream uncontrollably. Real ear piercing screams, and arching his back as he did it. I wondered what on earth was wrong...was he sitting on something uncomfortable, or had he hurt himself on a ride that day. But then he became unbelievably hot. By this time everyone on the train was looking at us wondering why the hell we didn't shut this kid up! But he was really seemed to be in pain, bad pain!
That night was horrendous - up all night, screaming, fever and at times seeming almost delirious. We had no idea what was wrong. But what we did know was that Kristian was extremely sick and we needed a doctor. The next day was a struggle to find a doctor - a country where we didn't speak the language and didn't know the system. Eventually we found an English speaking
doctor via the Australian Embassy - but we couldn't see her until the afternoon.
Up until our visit to the doctor we battled a fever and screaming as if in pain that Panadol did not subdue. Kristian was becoming quite lethargic and seemed sicker than he had ever been before - we were at this stage quite worried about what was going on, as we could not get food or fluids into him and we knew he was becoming dehydrated. Finally we saw the doctor - she had
no idea what was going on, but gave us antibiotics "just in case" and advised us to get back to London immediately as it was looking a little like we might need a hospital.
The following day we managed to get back to London via the train - which of course was delayed due to a bomb blast at the police headquarters near the rail station in London. Hence we didn't get back into London until close to midnight and at that stage we were becoming panic stricken. The emergency section at the nearest hospital was closed, so we opted for another shocking night and keeping vigil with Kristian.
We practically were breaking the door down at the children's emergency unit the next morning. Kristian was hard to wake that morning, was dehydrated, very cold and so, so pale. By now of course, this was ringing alarm bells with us. We were taken into emergency immediately when the doctors saw his condition.
The one thing I remember so clearly is the doctor looking at a mark on Kristian's ear. I hadn't noticed it before. When I saw it my heart started pounding and I could feel a flush of terror fill me. I knew straight away what this meant. The doctor and I immediately lifted Kristian's top up...all over his stomach the spots were appearing, then on the lower arms and some on his legs. It literally started to appear before our eyes. From the time it took us to get from our accommodation to the hospital less than 10 minutes away he had become covered in the rash that looked like broken blood vessels and blood blisters under the skin. Before we knew it, it was all over his face as well.
The next thing we knew we were in the emergency room while the doctors tried to get shunts into Kristian's veins. He had become so dehydrated that finding a vein was near impossible and several attempts were needed to get the iv tubes into him. All the time Kristian was becoming more distressed, and I was too. We were admitted immediately to an isolation unit.
The next hours are a dark memory. Scrub up and scrub down. Doctors and nurses coming in every few minutes. My husband and I sitting and watching, barely able to speak from shock. The physical pain we felt for our precious little boy...I can still feel it today when I remember what happened.
The doctors who looked after us were great. But I do remember so clearly the senior consultant saying to us "the next few hours are crucial, if he responds to the treatment we will be ok". When your are told this about your child, it immediately poses the question, "what is the alternative, what if he doesn't respond?". The doctors explained they were doing everything they
could, it was now up to Kristian.
Our little boy fought a monumental battle. Though we had an early setback with a reaction to the antibiotics, he did survive his ordeal. And he has survived with no apparent side effects to date. It took probably a good nine months before he regained his usual zest. With thanks to the doctor in Paris and the doctors at our London hospital who responded so quickly, we have a happy story to tell despite the fear and terror we faced.