I I was watching a movie with my boyfriend Marty on a Saturday night last April when I felt an itch on my neck. Then I started having a dry cough, like a cat coughing up a ball of hair. Marty googled "dry cough" and "rash" and measles came. But I did not have white spots in my mouth, which is common with measles, so we did not think of anything. "You have measles!" Plaisanta Marty. We laughed.
Mom is a nurse, and in the mid-1980s, when I had to be vaccinated against measles, parents often did not take it. That was before the MMR vaccine – and before the discredited doctor, Andrew Wakefield, mistakenly associated him with autism – but even in this case, some parents worried about side effects . The scandal of thalidomide was still fresh in people's minds. I knew I had not been vaccinated, but I never thought that in a million years I could get measles; it was not even in my radar.
I felt strangely groggy the next morning and had a sore throat and headache. After two hours in a NHS walk-in center, a nurse sent me back with a nasal spray. I was in tears – I knew something was really not going well. On Tuesday, rashes were on my forehead and vomiting and diarrhea had begun. I asked my general practitioner if it could be measles and told him that I had not been vaccinated, but that the white spots were still not there. He said that it was at worst a viral infection and sent me home with antibiotics.
I've been vomiting all night. Marty took leave Wednesday while we waited for the arrival of antibiotics, but my condition has deteriorated. He called 111. I could not speak when the doctor called back. I think I was in and out of consciousness. But when Marty said that the rash was only on my forehead and my neck, she said, "Oh, it's not measles, you'd have her face to face."
About an hour later, Marty heard me struggle to go to the bathroom. I could barely move. He called an ambulance. When the paramedic came in, she said to Marty, "Give her a bag, she'll be hospitalized for a while.
I could not even lift my head to look at her. She said that Marty saved my life by calling 999.
A & E finally confirmed that I had measles. Public Health England immediately called Marty for every detail of my journey. We thought later that I might have caught it on a flight back from Berlin a few days earlier. The rashes covered my whole body and I had the appearance of having third degree burns. My eyes were swollen and pneumonia was installed. My arms and legs were getting cold; only my head and my chest were still fighting. It was at that time that they said that the end was near. Mom had arrived and went to call daddy. They feared the worst.
I ended up spending 10 days in the hospital and four in intensive care. They could not remember such a serious case of measles. Random doctors came from all over to peek, open my eyes and inspect the rash. I still could not speak. I also lost my sense of taste for weeks and I had to take two months late on my job as a signer. Later, my hair started to fall.
Before going home, I wrote a complaint letter to the NHS. They admitted to making mistakes, but said that I was not in a risk category: I was neither a baby nor a pregnant woman and my immune system was not impaired . But how did I not risk measles if I had not had the injection?
I want people to understand how horrible and contagious measles can be. It is still thought to be an old-fashioned disease, or like chicken pox in children, and many adults now travel unprotected as I was. This is really dangerous because measles is increasing in many countries, including the United Kingdom, where it is no longer considered a disease eradicated by the World Health Organization. I do not blame my mother for not getting vaccinated. I have been an adult more than half of my life; I could have done it. But I would love to talk to nonchalant parents about vaccines or even against them. I would talk to them and show them the bloody images on my phone.
My hair is growing back and I am completely healed. All this brought our family together and guided the future towards Marty and me. We want to buy a house and have children. If we do, they will all go.
• As told to Simon Usborne
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