The doctors hadn’t seen such a bad case. But I don’t blame my mother for not having me vaccinated
(I)was watching a film with my boyfriend, Marty, one Saturday night last April when I felt an itchy rash on my neck. Then I started getting a dry cough, like a cat coughing up a furball. Marty Googled “dry cough” and “rash” and measles came up. But I didn’t have white spots in my mouth, which are common with measles, so we didn’t think anything of it. “You’ve got measles!” Marty joked. We laughed about it.
Mum is a nurse and, in the mid – 80 s, when I was due to have the measles vaccine, parents often didn’t take it up. This was before the MMR vaccine – and before the discredited doctor,Andrew Wakefield, wrongly linked it to autism – but even then, some parents worried about side-effects. Thethalidomide scandalwas still fresh in people’s minds. I was aware I hadn’t been vaccinated, but never thought in a million years I would catch measles; it wasn’t even on my radar.
I felt weirdly groggy the next morning and had a sore throat and headache. After two hours at an NHS walk-in center, a nurse sent me away with a nasal spray. I was in tears – I knew something was really wrong. By Tuesday, the rash was on my forehead and the vomiting and diarrhoea had started. I asked my GP if it could be measles and told him I hadn’t been vaccinated, but the white spots still weren’t there. He said it was a viral infection at worst and sent me home with antibiotics.
I vomited all night. Marty took the Wednesday off work while we waited for the antibiotics to kick in, but my condition deteriorated. He called 111. I couldn’t speak when the doctor called back. I think I was in and out of consciousness. But when Marty said the rash was only on my forehead and neck, she said, “Oh, it’s not measles, you’d have it head to toe.”
About an hour later, Marty heard me struggling to get to the bathroom. I could barely move. He called an ambulance. When the paramedic walked in, she said to Marty: “Pack her a bag, she’s going to be in hospital for a while.”
I couldn’t even lift my head to look at her. She said Marty had saved my life by calling 999.
A&E finally confirmed I had measles. Public (Health) England instantly rang Marty for every detail of where I had been. We later thought I might have caught it on a flight back from Berlin a few days earlier. The rash covered my whole body and I looked as if I had third-degree burns. My eyes were swollen shut and pneumonia had set in. My arms and legs were going cold; only my head and chest had any fight left. That was when they said it got really close to the end. Mum had arrived and went to call Dad. They feared the worst.
I ended up spending 10 days in hospital, four in intensive care. They couldn’t remember such a bad case of measles. Random doctors came from all over to have a look, pulling my eyes open and inspecting the rash. I still couldn’t speak. I also lost my sense of taste for weeks and had to take two months off my work as asignwriter. Later, my hair started falling out.
Before I got home, I wrote a letter of complaint to the NHS. They admitted to mistakes but said I was not in an at-risk category: I wasn’t a baby or pregnant, and didn’t have an impaired immune system. But how was I not at risk from measles if I hadn’t had the jab?
I want people to understand how horrific and contagious measles can be. There is still an idea that it’s an old-fashioned disease, or like chickenpox in children, and there are a lot of adults now traveling aroundunprotectedthe way I was. It’s really dangerous because measles is on the rise in many countries, including the UK, where it’s no longer considered an eradicated disease bythe World Health Organization. I don’t blame my mother for not having me vaccinated. I’ve been an adult over half my life; I could have had it done. But I would love to speak to parents who are nonchalant about vaccines, or even against them. I would talk them through it and show them the gory pictures on my phone.
My hair is growing back and I have fully recovered. The whole thing has made our family closer, and brought the future into focus for Marty and me. We want to buy a house and have children. If we do, they will have every jab going.
•As told to Simon Usborne
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