In April 2010 my Dad, Pete Watson, was a happy, healthy 68-year-old who’d just spent six weeks backpacking around New Zealand with my mother, climbing volcanoes and walking on ice-floes. When they returned from what he called their ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’, they looked after my two children over Easter, taking them to Hadrian’s Wall and a night away in a Premier Inn.
The next week, Dad was ill for four days with what he and my mother thought were flu-like symptoms, but which we now know to be indicators of sepsis: high fever and violent shivering. The GP did the right thing – when she saw him on the Friday she sent him straight to hospital. But she didn’t recognise sepsis; he was admitted with a suspected heart inflammation because he had chest pains. And if the hospital knew he had sepsis – and the post-mortem notes say they spotted it on arrival – my mother was not told. She spent the weekend believing he had, in turn, a virus, a broken ankle, a blood clot on his leg. In fact, she didn’t think it serious enough to phone me and tell me that my father was in hospital, until the Sunday. I took the 6am train the next day; Dad had been admitted into intensive care overnight. I had only just dropped my bag on the floor and hugged my Mum, when the consultant arrived to see us. He looked very pale. He said, ‘Pete has sepsis, and there is a possibility that he may die.’
That was the first time any doctor had mentioned sepsis. The bacteria had pooled in his leg and we were told that might have to amputate the limb, but Dad was currently too sick for an operation.
In shock, I sat at Dad’s bedside and whispered into his ear all the things I needed to say, hoping he could hear me. He didn’t respond. He was unconscious and struggling and he died three hours later. Even the ICU medics were upset: ‘The whole team is traumatised,’ the lead doctor told me. I had to phone my brother, who lives overseas, and tell him, out of the blue, that our Dad was dead.
He died from a condition that I now know to be easily treatable, if diagnosed in time.
But I don’t want Pete to be remembered just as someone who died of sepsis. He’d been professional footballer and a North of England champion sprinter. He had a degree in Physics and a lifetime in computers and engineering. He loved trains and railways like his father. He made go-karts and fixed washing lines and built a three-tier deck in our garden. He climbed mountains and danced on glaciers, and he was the funniest and kindest man I have even known. And I miss him.