The next day I wake up surrounded by Doctors. In between there have been nurses, temperatures, and injections… but mostly blissful sleep. I love Doctor Sarah and I love Codeine.
A consultant is there, as is Doctor Sarah. I wave at her, and tell her how lovely sleep is and how sorry I am she’s not had any.
“Nonsense,” says the consultant, “Sarah’s had a rest period too. We wouldn’t keep her up all through the night.”
Sarah smiles weakly.
“You’re just saying that,” I tell the Doctor.
“Actually,” says Sarah, “I haven’t been to sleep.”
“Really?” mutters the consultant. He shines a light into my eyes, hammers at my useless legs, and then takes my temperature.
He and Sarah look at each other, and then start to talk about me as though I’m not there. Apparently, he has all the symptoms. The brain scans were clear. But he will have to undergo further tests. He’ll have a lumber puncture later.
“Don’t worry – it’s nowhere near as bad as it sounds. We just inject an anaesthetic into your back, then remove clear fluid from your spine. It’s fine.”
His mobile goes off, with cheery classical music.
I thank Sarah for her Codeine, and ask her if I can have some more. I’m promised some after the lumber puncture.
The lumber puncture is not pleasant. Two doctors turn up – one to supervise, and the other to learn the technique. UCL is a teaching hospital.
The experienced Doctor stands back while young Doctor Rachel works her magic. I feel the needle slide under my skin and start to slide across my back. It’s an unusual sensation… which starts off by stinging and then burning and then… well, then I start to scream.
After five minutes, it’s over. Sobbing gently, I thank them for making it that quick.
There’s an awkward moment as they explain that that was just the anaesthetic. Then there follows a discussion between the two of them about what kind of needle to use for the actual puncture. It’s alarming.
Typical phrase: “No no no. The orange ones are better. They’re longer and wider – you get much better draw.”
I start to cry in fear.
The actual procedure is far, far worse than the anaesthetic. I could feel the needle pushing against what felt like bone, and then, after a build up of pressure, a strange, awful scraping – as though someone was trying to drag a needle around inside a bone. Odd that.
I screamed and screamed, and then sobbed for a quarter of an hour after they were gone.
As they left, they showed me the sticky, clear fluid they’d taken. And the older doctor explained that they often do it under general anaesthetic.
There was a spot of blood on the floor. For the next two days, as I wheeled past it, I was aware that it was from my spine. This chilled me.
In the evening, I managed to phone my flatmate. There wasn’t a working payphone in the hospital, and the hospital phones could only call London numbers. So, I couldn’t tell my parents (a good thing. Still couldn’t work out a way of not worrying them), and I couldn’t tell my lovely friend Sam that I was missing her dinner party for Good Reasons.
Anyway, I got through to my flatmate. I apologised for the mess in the living room. “It’s alright,” she said, “I assumed you’d met a boy. You still there?”
She was round within half an hour, with a bag of books and jelly babies. She told me cheery nonsense about girls’ netball and gave me my mobile phone.
Before I went to bed, Doctor Rachel came back. My spinal fluid was clear – there was every chance that this wasn’t bacterial meningitis, merely viral meningitis, or a related infection. Whatever, this was apparently good news. It meant I could be out of hospital in under a week.