I survived sepsis just over 2 years ago. I was 22 and, like most people at that age, I was fit and healthy and had never been seriously ill. I thought I was indestructible.
The weekend started as normal, I finished work on the Friday and out with friends for bonfire night on the Saturday. I felt a little run down but I thought nothing of it. I woke the next morning feeling rather unwell and assumed I had food poising from the restaurant the night before. However, as the day went on, I began to feel worse and worse. I rang my mother, who trained to be a doctor, and she was convinced that I had the flu. Symptoms of sepsis include feeling weak, vomiting and a high temperature which are all too easily mistaken as flu.
I spent most of the Sunday night awake feeling feverish, weak and at the point of fainting several times. By the morning, my symptoms had not gotten any better and I started having difficulty breathing. I have asthma so my boyfriend rang our GP who recommended he call for an ambulance to err on the side of caution. The ambulance arrived and the paramedic took my blood pressure twice. It was clear at that point that something was wrong and they decided to take me into hospital just to be safe. They were good at calming me down but as I got nearer the hospital, the stomach pains got worse and my breathing became very difficult.
When I got to the hospital, I was taken to resus and saw a doctor immediately who began running a series of tests and scans. His initial assessment was that I had a kidney infection and gastroenteritis and I was given antibiotics and fluids in the hope that I would recover in a day or two.
As the day went on, it was clear the antibiotics were not helping the way they should have. I was so fortunate that the Junior Doctor pushed and pushed for me to be taken to the ICU in spite of others who wanted me to stay put.
It was later in the ICU, at around 2am, that things started to take a turn for the worse. Doctors and nurses rushed around my bedside and at that point the anxiety set in that something was very wrong. My kidneys had already failed and my other organs were beginning to. My heart rate rose to 165bpm and my blood pressure dropped very low. The throbbing in my chest was so intense, like a heart attack and there is no way to describe the pain other than it felt as though I was dying. The doctors took the decision to induce me into a coma to take the pressure off my body.
My family arrived at the hospital just after 3am and were told that I had sepsis and that my body had gone into ‘septic shock’. They were warned the next 24 hours were critical, as if sepsis is not treated quickly enough it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
During the week, the fluid was taking much longer than expected to drain from my lungs. They ran further tests and confirmed to my family I also had pneumonia and I would need to be kept in the induced coma for longer than they had hoped. I remained like this until Saturday before being woken up feeling frightened, confused and weak.
How had I gone from a healthy normal woman to my death bed in two days? They told me I had, had sepsis but they didn’t know from what and that it would take some time to feel myself again. I had heard of sepsis but never thought it was something that would happen to someone young, in good health and out of the blue like this. I spent the first couple of days unable to even sit up, talk or eat without feeling completely exhausted.
The following few days after this were spent trying to recover some strength. Many people experience hallucinations at this point, their bodies suffer severe weakness and, strangely, all food seems to taste like bleach. I struggled to stand and it took a further 4 days before I could walk to the ICU ward door and back.
When I was finally discharged and able to go home, I still felt exhausted. It took time to get back to a normal routine. I went back to work a month later but didn’t quite feel myself for some time after that. Approximately 44,000 people die from sepsis each year but I am one of the very lucky people who survived and I am beyond grateful that my boyfriend who was there to call the ambulance, for the paramedic who made the call to take me into hospital, for the great staff at East Surrey Hospital, for their care and expertise, which meant I was treated just in time.