As the consultant confirmed ‘Its Septicaemia-Blood poisoning’ following an anxious evening on the ward. My initial reaction ‘I will be alright by next week though wont I’. This response – (echoed by the 18 or so mates that were due to join me on my pre-nuptial stag the following week) is a prime example of the naivety we all had towards the severity of sepsis. ‘Just a few antibiotics and a couple of days rest’ – standard, after all I am in hospital, ‘they will sort this out in no time lads’. So did I make the stag do then?
Last game of the season – Darlington away. As always at that time of year I had some quite bad blood blisters, but that always happened at the end of the season. I still managed to play the full 90 mins. Only a couple of days later I started to feel a little unwell – ‘just a bug’ I thought, however it go progressively worse. A day later I woke up in the middle of the night, popped to the toilet…only to collapse on the bed, I was fully conscious – but could not move I couldn’t even talk. I could see the panic on my fiancés face rang the ambulance (thinking I had suffered a stroke). [Now at the hospital] ‘You have had some sort of infection but I think you’re over the worst of it now – just get some rest and see it out’ was the diagnosis and advice from A&E. Luckily for me I did not just ‘see it out’ – or I doubt I’d be here to tell the tale.
I remember as we were leaving the hospital my fiancé turned and said to the doctor – ‘but he can’t even walk, this can’t be right’. Resting in bed did not do the trick – it rapidly took hold of me. My next visit to A&E just 24hrs later, now unable to walk, triggered a more thorough investigation into my symptoms which intensified once they received the blood test results back. The unrelenting shivering, vomiting and sweating – confusing to the medical staff and myself in equal measure. The following morning the consultant was able to diagnose sepsis.
Numerous antibiotics were given to me – but my condition was still deteriorating. ‘We are going to transfer you to the Intensive Care Unit’. -This is getting more serious, ‘sometimes people don’t make it out of there’ I thought. Coughing up blood was the first time I actually realised how serious it was. As the sepsis was now attacking all of my organs, my lungs bore the brunt of it and I was diagnosed with secondary pneumonia as a result of the sepsis. On constant oxygen and my blood results showing that the sepsis was still overpowering the IV antibiotics, my prognosis was declining. However, the microbiology team worked their magic and found some antibiotics that could control the bacteria and prevent my condition worsening. I was then transferred to a High Dependency Unit for a few days and then soon back onto the ward.
Still in excruciating pain in my legs and abdominals my mobility started to come back – I progressed from wheelchair to Zimmer frame (missed out the crutches) then to walking. My illness improving day by day along with my mental state. Until the antibiotics turned on me and caused me to go neutropenic (little/no immune system). So the antibiotics that worked now had to be replaced with another form. No ‘stag do’ for me now – Microbiology told me I would now be on IV antibiotics for 4 weeks in hospital. A long stay in hospital is just as much of a psychological battle as a physical one. On the ward I was surrounded by very ill people, so much so that I started to accept (and in many cases expect) death as a regular occurrence. Doubt started to override my initial optimism, after all my illness must have warranted me being on that ward.
Just when I thought I was over the worst of the illness my condition deteriorated again – however, this time it prompted the medical staff send me for tests for cancer of the lymph, blood and bone marrow as my immune system had twice failed – even having just been so ill with sepsis possibility of cancer scared me more than what the diagnosis of sepsis did.
Never mind making the stag do! The wedding was now in jeopardy.
Luckily following a few more hiccups including toxic poisoning and glandular fever, and the all-important ‘ALL CLEAR’ from the PET-CT scan for cancer, I was discharged after a difficult 9 week roller-coaster ride in hospital. Doctors tried to assess how the bacteria had been so elusive in entering my bloodstream. The only valid hypothesis was that it may have come from the burst blood blister that I had. During my time in hospital the doctors repeated that my case was very ‘mysterious’ and was by now means straight forward, it seemed that each investigation led to more questions rather than answers.
I made my wedding, and now 18 months later have made a full recovery. I wanted to write this piece to raise awareness of the illness, and, to hopefully inspire people to stay strong in their battle to recover from devastation sepsis can cause to both the patient and family. Believe me there were times when I thought that I might not make it, and even though they tried their best to hide it I could see the concern in family members, friends and even the medical professionals.
Recovery has been tough, I was generally fit beforehand and the thought of regaining my fitness ‘from scratch’ was very daunting. I remember my first jog 1km completely exhausted me and fellow runners look at me in a pitiful manner as they overtook me on the street. It was very frustrating but I would like to think I am close to being almost as fit as I was prior to the sepsis. So stay strong, keep fighting, and keep your family and friends close to you. Sepsis doesn’t have to always win. The whole experience has made me see life in a very different way and appreciate each and every day. My now wife, friends, family and all the medical professionals were amazing during this time and I am eternally grateful for all the support I received.
If you have sepsis or are in recovery from it. Stay strong, keep fighting.