My name is Anna and I’m 25 years old. I have a 3 year old son called Harry. Last year I went through the ordeal of having sepsis at the age of just 23. This event in my life will stay with me forever. I’m still left with the emotional scars and I’m crying whilst writing this, but things get better and heal a little more every day.
It was 30th April 2012, a typical Monday at work and I had woken up feeling fine. Gradually during the day I started feeling unwell, with a sore throat and just generally ached, by the evening I had completely lost my appetite and didn’t eat anything. I went to bed as normal, thinking I would just need a good night’s sleep and I would wake up feeling fine. However that night I was tossing and turning, had a high temperature and generally felt “flu like”. My mum had Harry for me the following day to give me a chance to sleep it off and get some rest, but later that evening my symptoms had worsened, extremely sore throat and swollen glands, very little energy and generally feeling lethargic. All along we just thought it was some sort of bug, or that I had the flu.
By Wednesday I was unable to get out of bed and hadn’t eaten anything since Monday lunchtime. The doctor was called, as I was feeling gradually worse and couldn’t even keep water down. The doctor asked to speak to me and I remember feeling so incredibly weak when trying to explain how I felt. He prescribed me anti-sickness tablets over the phone and said that they should help, as I was unable to get out of bed and go to the surgery and he wasn’t willing to come out and see me. My mum had come round to stay and look after Harry for me, everyone knew it was more serious than just me being under the weather, but no one had any idea what it was or how to help.
That night I remember roaming round the house aimlessly and not knowing what to do with myself. At one point I laid next to my little boys bed, I think I just wanted the comfort and to be close to him. I was being sick green bile on the Thursday morning and had uncontrollable diarrhoea, even though I hadn’t eaten anything for 3 days and was now unable to drink. I rung the triage nurse and explained my symptoms… sore swollen throat, achy, diarrhoea, sickness, temperature etc. To which she said “There’s a stomach bug and the flu going round at the moment and you must just be unfortunate and have both of them”. Those words have stuck with me all of this time, because it made me feel like I was over-reacting and just needed to “man up”. However, with the encouragement of my family, someone rung the doctors again that afternoon and spoke to the same GP as the previous evening. He just re-iterated what he and the nurse had said that morning. So I was in for another night of suffering at home in bed, with no clue as to what was wrong with me. I knew I wasn’t over-reacting and this felt like nothing I had ever had before!!
By Friday I was still feeling awful, hallucinating and was slowly deteriorating. I had asked my mum to get me some throat lozenges, but when she spoke to the pharmacist she thought I had tonsillitis and that I needed to see a doctor to be checked. I then came out in a rash all over my body, which wasn’t raised and looked like “mottled skin”, so I took a picture of it and sent it to my mum. She was on her way to the doctor’s surgery to demand that I was seen. A few minutes after speaking to her I started to feel breathless and was struggling to breath, with an extremely tight chest. I rung my dad who was working nearby and asked him to come round and “help me”. However, he didn’t have a key and I was struggling to walk by this point. I bumped down the stairs and crawled to the front door, I managed to unlock it when he arrived and he carried me to the living room. My mum and dad got me dressed and carried me to the car to take me to the doctors, as they had agreed to see me and had a separate room I could sit in and wait. I was helped to the room, where I fainted and don’t remember much from there, until I came round on the doctors bed. The doctor came in, examined me and said that my rash was nothing to worry about, as she did the glass test and it disappeared, so couldn’t be meningitis!! The only thing that concerned her was that I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for days and that my blood pressure was low. She called an ambulance after pressure from my mum and dad and I was taken to my nearest A&E.
There wasn’t a spare cubicle there, so I was put in the plastering room. A doctor came and saw me and said they would put me on a saline drip and an ECG monitor and that my blood pressure was low and heart rate high. I remember at this point feeling more relaxed, because it was as though I knew I would be ok and that they would look after me. They were stumped as to what was wrong with me and had even asked for my mum to phone my work and see if anyone had been abroad and contracted a foreign disease. Hours later a doctor came in and said they would need to transfer me to resus, as my blood pressure and heart rate had not improved and they were concerned about my rash. I saw my mum talking to the doctors and I knew something was wrong. They came back and told me everything was fine, but I knew it wasn’t and told them that I wanted to know the truth! I was told that they thought it may be meningitis, to which I just broke down in tears and was then in shock. A junior anaesthetist came and saw me and was able to diagnose me quite quickly. He said that he had had a teenage girl in the week previous with exactly the same thing and that I was suffering with septic shock. He explained to me that I would need to be transferred to ICU and stay there for a few days to be treated.
I was taken to ICU and had a PICC line fitted (enables antibiotics to be admitted through a line directly to the blood stream near the heart), I had this fitted by the junior anaesthetist (Richard) and was also relying on oxygen to breath. He then went off to the family room to talk to my family. I only found out after that they were told if I had gone to sleep that night at home, I would have gone into a coma and never woken up and that now it was just a case of taking it hour by hour. Even though all of this was going on, I felt a lot more relaxed and as though I was being looked after, I was no longer panicky and was in safe hands.
I spent 4 days in ICU, but it felt like a lifetime. I had many family members coming to see me, a few of which broke down when they saw me and it was me consoling them, I think because I was still oblivious to what I was going through. My liver, kidneys and pancreas had pretty much failed and were slowly recovering and after a chest x-ray they also found I had a slight chest infection that I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of hallucinations whilst I was there, but they said that was common due to the strength of the antibiotics. One that has really stuck with me was when my granddad (who passed away a few years ago) came to the end of my bed with 2 other people. I didn’t believe in things like that happening before, but now I take comfort in thinking that he came to see if I was ok and not to take me away. I was transferred to a normal ward and spent a further 3 days there where I saw many consultants, none of which knew what had caused this episode of sepsis. One said it could have been toxic shock, another said the chest infection, another said a UTI I may not have known I had. The list was endless, but I will never know for sure what caused me to be so ill and therefore will never know how this could be prevented in future.
My recovery was extremely slow. I stayed at my mum’s for just under 2 months, so I could have 24/7 care. It took my liver and kidneys approximately 4 weeks to be working again and I was extremely anaemic. A few days after leaving hospital all the skin on the palms of my hands and soles of my feet shed, but after a few weeks it stopped and they are now fine. I lost 70% of my hair and it has been a slow process to get it back to looking some sort of normal again. I lost 2 stone in total and it took me a long time to put it back on. When my nails grew I had ridges along all of them, this marked the time when I was so ill and my body had neglected my extremities such as hair and nails to concentrate on repairing itself. I suffered with fatigue for at least 12 months after and was also referred to councillors and psychiatrists for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I can now happily say that I am fully recovered. If there is one thing I want this story to tell people, it’s that there is life after sepsis, no matter how long it takes, there is always hope!!
Awareness needs to be raised of this awful disease, which takes so many lives and could have taken mine. I will now know what symptoms to look for and hope to help others more aware of the important tell-tell signs.