I have always been in very good health, which I attribute to having an active lifestyle and being a long-term vegan. However, I also have a condition called endometriosis which has impacted on my life in a few minor ways. In recent years I developed irregular bleeding in the midst of my menstrual cycle, and concerned that it might have indicated a pre-cancerous state, I agreed to have a diagnostic hysteroscopy at Southmead Hospital, Bristol in July 2015.
The day surgery went smoothly and the results later proved to be negative. That night, however, I began to have horrific abdominal pain. After taking ibuprofen and later paracetamol and vomiting them both, the hospital suggested we come back. I was in so much agony that it took a while to bundle me into the car and drive the thankfully short distance to the hospital. I was eventually re-admitted and underwent various CT scans, X-rays and blood tests. It wasn’t until two days later, when my white blood cell count dropped to a dangerously low level, that it was finally determined that I had sepsis, which by then had escalated into severe sepsis.
I was immediately transferred from a regular ward to intensive care, where I was put into a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator. The first night my blood pressure was so low that I suffered organ failure and nearly died. Over the course of two weeks, the medical team performed two laparoscopic washout surgeries and pumped fluids and antibiotics into me to try and combat the infection which was proving difficult to treat because it was discovered to be resistant to most standard antibiotics.
Thankfully, while I was in ICU, I was looked after by skilful and incredibly kind doctors and nurses. When I emerged from the coma towards the end of the second week, I had no memories or understanding of what had happened to me. I only learned much later that I had suffered a severe case of delirium and had been hallucinating most of the time I was there.
After two weeks in ICU, I was transferred back into a regular ward where I spent another two weeks being looked after by very caring and attentive staff. I was on a variety of antibiotics and other treatments, including injections for a blood clot I had developed in my leg from being immobile for so long. I was very weak and exhausted most of the time. I had to learn to walk again and had great difficulties eating. I was very fortunate that I was eventually able to undergo a radiologically assisted drainage procedure which drained much of the infection and turned the corner on my recovery, thus averting the proposed option of major pelvic surgery.
I finally went home after a month in hospital. Since then I have been recovering slowly. It’s taken me months to gain back all the weight I lost and much of my muscle strength as I was very, very weak for a long time. It also took me a long time to be able to eat properly again, and a blockage in my bowel due to scarring sent me back to hospital again for a few days. I’ve been working off and on, and fortunately have a great deal of flexibility in the work that I do which has helped.
A couple of months after I came home, my partner and I launched an official enquiry with the hospital regarding the causes of me contracting sepsis. It was determined that the likelihood was that the hysteroscopy procedure, which involves using pressurised water, pushed bacteria from my urogenital tract into my body cavity, causing an infection which quickly escalated into septic shock. In that respect I was very unlucky, but in terms of the excellent treatment I received at Southmead Hospital and my body’s ability and will to recover, I was in fact, very lucky.
As I continue to recover and regain full health, I’m currently writing a book about my experiences in the hope of raising awareness about sepsis as well as one’s rights and options while under hospital care. Sepsis is a pernicious disease and unfortunately not enough is known about it. It seems like most people – myself included – have never even heard of it. With greater awareness, and prompt, effective treatment, it is possible to survive sepsis and to resume a normal life again. The experience has certainly taught me how precious and precarious life is and to value its every gift – especially the gift of health.