On November 5th 2003 it will be two years since we lost our little Sofia to pneumococal meningitis, she was 14 months old.
It all started the week before on the Monday. My husband had picked her up from playgroup as he always did after lunch and her carer commented to him that it seemed to hurt her when she swallowed her food and that maybe she was going down with something. He took her straight to our private doctor who was also our personal friend, who said that her back teeth were coming through but that there was nothing else wrong with her and to give her ibuprofen every eight hours. She was fine the next day although we kept her at home and on the Wednesday she went back to kindergarten and although to me she wasn´t 100% she was not ill.
That night Sofía slept badly and the following day was a bank holiday so I did not have to go to work and she was really whining and whimpering so I took her again to our doctor. He again said that there was nothing wrong with her and that her teeth were bothering her. On the Friday she went of to kindergarten and I to work and when my husband picked her up at lunchtime she had a slight fever so we gave her some paracetamol.
At about nine o´clock she had a temperature of 39 so I phoned our doctor and he told me to alternate the paracetamol with the ibuprofen and to bathe her in tepid water to control the temperature. I was up with her most of the night just keeping her cool and at eight the next morning I was at the doctors. By now she had no fever and he again said that it was her teeth and for me to stop worrying that children of this age often get high temperatures when there back teeth are coming through and it was always worse in the evenings when the temperature could rise.
That day she seemed much better, no fever and running around as normal and went to bed as usual. After having been in bed she woke up and was sick. Now the sickness didn´t worry me because Sofía had suffered from reflux as from birth and was often sick. She went back to sleep with a very slight fever but nothing to worry about, but she kept waking up. I put her in my bed with me. My husband was annoyed with me as he said I was being hysterical, as I wanted to take her to the doctors again.
Sofía slept in our bed although she kept making horrible retching sounds like nothing I have ever heard and first thing on Sunday morning I noticed that she wasn´t focussing properly so I went to our doctors house with her without telling my husband where I was going. The doctor was still in bed but his wife let me in and looked at her and said I was right she wasn´t focussing properly so she called her husband who very reluctantly looked her over (didn´t check her neck) and said she was dehydrated and smelling of ammonia. He gave me a prescription for some suppositories for the ammonia and told me to give her a teaspoon of sugared water every five minutes. I began the treatment and we both just lay together on the sofa and Sofia just wanted to sleep. By lunchtime I could see no change Sofia just wanted to sleep, so I phoned my husband and told him I wanted to take Sofía to the hospital to do a blood test because I didn´t believe it was just her teeth. My husband realized I was very worried and came straight home. We passed by our doctor´s house again to tell him what we were doing and he and his wife both said it was unnecessary that she was just tired.
On the way to the hospital I didn´t put Sofia in her car seat, I held her all the way and I am so glad I did.
Emergency was very quiet so we went straight in and the doctor who I also knew personally said straight away that he thought she had Meningitis but I said she had been vaccinated against it. The paediatrician came in and also agreed that it could be meningitis and the were going to do the spinal tap test.
Of course I think like any normal parent I didn´t know much about meningitis just that it was very serious, and I couldn´t understand why they thought it when she had been vaccinated against it. As it turned out Sofía had been vaccinated against meningococal meningitis and she had contracted pneumococal.
Sofia was given penicillin via drip in both arms and they told us that she would be fine, as we had caught it in time, as she was still conscious when she came in.
Not two hours later Sofía stopped breathing and I think every doctor in the hospital tried to save her. They managed to resesotate her but explained that they were going to evacuate her because on the island where we lived they didn´t have the facilities to help her breath.
It was like watching a film. They wouldn´t let us see Sofia and had covered the glass in her room with sheets so we couldn´t see anything, I couldn´t believe that this was happening to our little girl who only the day before was running around. My husband was in a terrible state he couldn´t take it in and felt terrible for having argued with me the night before.
At first they said only I could go with her in the helicopter and so my husband would have to take a flight to Gran Canaria by himself. The helicopter wouldn´t pick Sofía up for a couple of hours but the last flight to Gran Canaria left in half an hour. Remember we had no money, clothes or anything, we had just brought Sofía to do a blood test. Someone lent us money for his ticket and as he was leaving the hospital we were told I couldn´t go in the helicopter either as there was no room. We didn´t know what to do, leave Sofía alone in the hospital and get ourselves to the other hospital to wait for her. But what if she died while waiting for the helicopter all by herself, but if we didn´t take that flight there wasn´t another until the next day. One of the doctors persuaded me to go with my husband and that he would not leave Sofia´s side and he would keep her alive if it came to that. I still to this day don´t know how we managed to stay calm on that plane, we couldn´t have our mobile phone switched on and we weren´t with our extremely sick little girl.
On arriving at the airport of Gran Canaria we phoned the hospital and they told us she was still alive. We caught a taxi to the hospital and passed by the emergency and I will never forget the feeling that I was envious of those parents waiting for their children to be seen by a doctor because my little girl was so ill and waiting on Fuerteventura to be airlifted over to intensive care.
After about another hour and a half the doctor brought us into her office and literally told us that Sofía was dying. There are no words to express what we felt. My husband said that how could they say that to us, that there must be some hope and she just said that she would love to give us that hope but it would take a miracle. We asked to see her and she looked completely normal just sleeping, although there were tubes and machines everywhere. She had no clothes on and wasn´t covered up and she felt very cold to the touch so I put her slippers on which I had with me and told them that I didn´t want her to be cold. I tried to be as calm as possible and not cry in front of her so that she wouldn´t be frightened, I sang her all her favourite songs and kept telling her that we loved her very much and to keep fighting. We were only allowed to stay with her for short periods of time and in between my husband and I would go to the chapel and beg for that miracle.
Sofía had not been baptized as we were waiting for our new house to be finished to celebrate it there, so we spoke to the priest who was in the hospital and we baptized her at 12 o´clock mid day. At about 2 o´clock that afternoon the principal doctor of the IC called us in to his office and said that Sofía was slipping away, at that moment another doctor came in and told us she was going, we went to her bedside and told her to go with her Grandmother (my mother) who had died 10 years before and that she would look after her. I just kept singing to her and telling her not to be frightened and that she was the best thing that had ever happened to me and that I would love her forever.
Sofía died at twenty past two on November 5th 2001 and things will never be the same again. I loved that little girl so much and although her life was short I think she was happy.
All I can say to any mother is trust your instincts, if you think your child is poorly, insist and give them every available vaccine, the side effects are nothing compared to death.