An NHS staff member spoke of her terror when she was convinced that the hospital doctors who were supposed to cure her were actually trying to kill her after it turned out to be a “stress headache”, a rare brain defect turned out.
When Katie Fowler, 35, had a persistent headache in August last year, the only thing she initially expected was that it would subside – especially when the doctors assured her that her high-pressure hospital discharge coordinator most likely triggered it.
However, when she woke up early in the morning and started vomiting projectiles, she was taken to St. George’s Hospital in Tooting in southwest London, where she was brought into an induced coma and diagnosed with encephalitis – a rare but serious inflammation of the brain, usually when the immune system mistakenly attacks itself.
Katie from Carshalton in south London, seized with terrible delusions that continued after being pulled out of a coma, remembered hallucinating angry flames and said, “I would see a fire coming through the windows, which was obviously not real. It was terrible.
“My hallucinations felt so real that nobody else could convince me. Intensive care at night is a scary place anyway, since all the machines beep and doctors get on and off.
“And I was convinced that the doctors tried to kill me. I thought they would take my blood in secret and I would see shadows appear from them. “
She continued, “I would cry hysterically if my family visited me. If it was time for them to go, I would ask not to be left alone.”
Katie is one of up to 6,000 people in the UK diagnosed with a disease each year, according to the Encephalitis Society, a charity that calls symptoms – depending on the type of insect affected – like sleepiness, loss of consciousness, and aversion to brightness light, inability to speak , atypical behavior, hallucinations, sleep disorders and neck stiffness.
Although she is said to have recovered, she wants people to be informed about the aftermath of the condition, adding, “Just because I left the hospital doesn’t mean that it’s over for me.”
“I’m still struggling with things like concentration, reading, writing, and conversation,” she continued.
“I know that I am very happy to have survived this without a serious brain injury, but it is frustrating that people assume that I am because I look good.”
Usually fit and healthy, Katie’s life changed forever after a day in an aquarium in August last year.
When she got home that evening, she got a headache but didn’t think much about it, assuming it was triggered in bright light all day.
When she woke up the next morning, she still felt uncomfortable and called sick to work. She said: “I was away for a total of four days, but felt guilty and went back inside.
“I still had a headache, but I said to myself,” You work for the NHS, you have to go back and help other people. “
Katie said: “I tried to get through the day but felt so uncomfortable. The light and the noise were unbearable. I burst into tears and was sent home. “
Worried because it wasn’t like she was poor, Katie went to the family doctor, where she was told that it was probably a simple tension headache.
But the following Sunday, seven days after her symptoms started, things got worse and she ended up in her local victim.
“I was taking pain relievers but they didn’t make much of a difference,” she said.
“I went to A&E, where doctors took some blood and did a CT scan, but everything went back to normal.
“I was told again that it was probably just a tension headache and they asked if I had a stressful job.”
Katie recalled, “I knew it was more than that – I just didn’t know what. Besides, I didn’t feel like I was arguing with an advisor. Who should I ask for medical advice?”
On the same day, Katie began to behave erratically, alternating between laughing and sobbing, trying to follow the thread of conversation as her family spoke to her.
She also developed a strange needlestick feeling in her right side that started in her foot and spread to her fingers.
But 72 hours later, in the early morning, things came to a head.
She remembered: “I woke up in such a haze – it felt like I was drugged. I had to throw up at the projectile and was so insane that I couldn’t even speak for help over the phone.
“I managed to get around enough to alarm my grandpa, who I was living with at the time.”
She continued: “He looked at me and knew something was very wrong. I remember that he gave me some water and I couldn’t even grab the glass. “
Paramedics were quickly called and Katie was taken to St. George’s Hospital.
She said, “In the ambulance, I vomited with so much force that it hit the back of the door.”
“The only words I could say were” mom “and” please, “” she said.
“When I got to the hospital, I couldn’t stay still. It was like being possessed. I felt like ants were crawling all over my body.”
Her unpredictable behavior meant that doctors had to put Katie into an induced coma to make it happen
m to safely perform procedures such as an MRI scan and lumbar puncture that test the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
The results showed that she had encephalitis, the cause of which they are not sure, although they suspect that it is a virus.
While Katie’s memory of the following weeks is blurry, she knows that she was in a coma for five days and was being pumped up with medication during that time.
To her horror, her terrible hallucinations began when doctors took her around.
After two weeks, Katie was released, but equipped with a PICC line – a soft, thin tube that was inserted directly into the veins – so that she could continue to take medication at home.
Fortunately, she didn’t suffer severe brain damage, but found that some of her cognitive skills, such as reading, writing, and concentrating, were impaired.
“I would talk or write something down and forget the word I needed,” she said. “I also had a lot of trouble concentrating.”
“I am a very stubborn person, so it was frustrating not being able to say and do the things I wanted to do. Still, I knew I had to focus on getting better,” she added.
Katie says that the Encephalitis Society, with whom she was brought in contact during her hospital stay, was her lifeline and continues to support her.
She continued: “The people there were incredible. They have sent my family and me so much information about encephalitis and what it actually is and has been there for me ever since. “
Katie said: “Through her I read stories of other people who have had encephalitis and they showed me that I am not alone.
“People say they understand – but they don’t. Not if they haven’t gone through it too.
“I feel frustrated and misunderstood enough and I am one of the lucky ones. My heart breaks for people who have suffered serious brain injuries as a result of this terrible condition.”
Katie was slowly getting stronger and was finally able to work again in February of this year – but with reduced working hours because full-time work is too exhausting for her.
But only weeks later the corona virus hit and the nationwide ban was enforced.
“Basically, nothing has been normal for me since August,” Katie said. “Even the work has been impacted because I am classified as risky and therefore cannot work the same way.”
After teaching herself to slow things down and find useful tools like special yellow