‘People don’t know enough about it or the consequences’

Theresa Sheldon.
Theresa Sheldon.

Constant terrible headaches, ending up housebound for nine months and suffering three years of night sweats – just some of one woman’s rollercoaster with viral meningitis.

In 2009, Theresa Sheldon, who now lives in Hipsburn, was planning on going on a safari holiday and had a yellow fever injection.

A fit and active physiotherapist, she then started to get terrible headaches, nausea and a stiff neck. Her GP said they were normal side effects of the innoculation.

But it got much worse and Theresa’s husband Gil, a microbiologist, called the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He was advised that she went straight to A & E.

After the meningism – an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord – was diagnosed, Theresa was determined to get back to work and did so after six weeks.

But it got much, much worse and Theresa remained at home for nine months and only felt about 70 per cent fit by 2011. Even today she says she is probably only at 90 per cent of what she was before.

“That’s the sad bit, it’s the long-term side. Without support, you really do feel very alone,” she said.

“Your family takes a hit too – my memory was shocking for about a year-and-a-half. Once I was driving and I came to a T-junction and stopped and didn’t know what to do.

“Your brain is injured and it’s trying to recover and it takes a long time. I don’t think anyone really understands it.

“I still get headaches, similar headaches, although never as bad, but the difference is that analgesia works.

“There are people who have repeated bouts of viral meningitis and I just pray to God it doesn’t happen to me.

“For a long time, you do get a headache or feel ill and you do think it’s happening again.”

Theresa had always been an active person, enjoying the outdoors and activities such as skiing, which made the recovery very tough. “It was really bad. The Meningitis Trust helped me by talking to me – they have a good support system. It’s about acceptance, like with any injury or disease.”

One thing that did help her was acupuncture and craniosacral therapy and she is now embarking on a postgraduate course so she can treat others.

“You seek out anything that can help, which is why I would like to be able to offer it,” she said. “I was lucky that I had some savings to help me.

“Lots and lots of people seem to do that when they have been through some trauma, to try to take something positive from it.

“It’s like with grief, and grief is a good analogy. I felt grief for the life I had previously for a number of years.”

And the fact that she and Gil had medical backgrounds also helped.

“It did help and going back to work, everyone was very supportive. I felt rubbish physically, but it felt great emotionally. I don’t have children so it’s always been my career.

“And thank goodness my husband rang tropical medicine. Your average person couldn’t do that, just ring up and ask to speak to someone urgently.”