Milton Silcock, 56, Camira, Qld
Soaring above, a family of swallows stopped to roost in the rafters. At the plumbing supply company where I worked, birds constantly flew through our assembly shed. They made a big mess, but I didn’t mind cleaning it up.
With a flock of 50, I’d be sweeping three times a week.
Then, after two years in the job, I was struck down with a migraine.
‘Mum used to get them,’ I explained to the doctor, who prescribed painkillers.
Two months later, the pain returned and I was diagnosed with a pinched nerve. But when I felt the same throb three months later, my wife, Susan, made me an appointment with her doctor.
‘You need an MRI,’ the GP said, hearing my symptoms. Driving home, Susan’s phone rang.
‘The doctor wants to see you tomorrow morning,’ she explained. That night, I barely slept.
‘You’ve got seven lesions on your brain,’ the GP said.
‘At least I’ve got a brain!’ I joked, but I was terrified.
What if it’s cancer? I thought.
At hospital, I underwent lots of tests. A chest X-ray showed a large lump on my left lung.
‘I’ve got good news and bad news,’ the specialist said.
‘It’s not cancer, but it’s just as nasty. You have cryptococcal meningitis. It’s a fungal infection linked to bird droppings,’ she explained.
The swallows! I realised. Sweeping up the dried poo without any protective gear, I’d inhaled the potentially fatal bacteria. Infecting my respiratory system, it had travelled up to my brain.
Hooked up to a drip for 28 days, I was given anti-fungal drugs. I had no idea bird poo could do such damage! A year on, I wake up every day with a headache and my sight is deteriorating. My greatest fear is losing it completely. But I feel lucky to be alive.
Now, I’m making it my mission to spread the word about this deadly condition which takes around 600,000 lives worldwide each year. If you have bird waste to clean up, hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. You might think you can handle a bit of poop, but it’s just not worth it.
• Symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, confusion and sensitivity to light.
• In some cases, the infected person may experience a stiff neck and fever.
• If left untreated, cryptococcal meningitis can lead to brain damage, coma and hearing loss.