Sigrid Daniel is the UK Country Director for Care.com
Over Easter this year, I decided not to take any holiday and instead left my husband and children to travel over to Switzerland for a well-deserved skiing break. My Dad, who lives just over the border in France, would join them for a couple of days on the slopes. I was relieved as over the last few months my Dad had not been himself – tired, unable to sleep and with stomach pains, he had cut back on his trips to see us and had given up his sports hobbies – no more cycling, hill walking or skiing. A fit and physically active 69 year old, he was behaving as if he had aged 20 years overnight. I was making more regular trips over on my own to see him and to try to support him.
Visits to the GP found early stage carcinoma of the prostate, and we readied ourselves for an upcoming round of hospital appointments, second opinions and a decision on where he should get radiotherapy. However, the stomach problems were still affecting him, and we weren’t getting any answers from the GP. As he lives alone, we started to make plans for him to come back to the UK so that we could help him during treatment.
I carried on at work while everyone was away but the first thing my 6-year-old daughter said to me when I picked them up from the airport, was “Your Dad is really not well, but he doesn’t want to worry you.” As soon as we got home I was straight on the phone. “It’s just stomach flu, don’t worry, it’ll pass,” he told me. Ringing every day, Dad told me he was not eating or drinking and couldn’t get his temperature down. I was soon worried enough to look into flights to get over to see him. By the end of the week he was too ill to get to the GP, and the GP would not come to see him as he thought it was gastroenteritis and should self-treat at home. (I later found out that this GP doesn’t offer home visits so should have suggested an emergency admission by this point).
Luckily, friends from nearby came to see him and offered him a lift to the GP’s. As soon as his doctor saw him, he booked him in to see the gastroenterologist at the local hospital and he was admitted to the clinic the next day.
Blood tests were done and showed that his liver and pancreas were failing. By this time his temperature had reached 44 centigrade and he was packed in ice on a high dependency ward. I got a text message from him – “Looks like I’ve got hepatitis. Don’t hurry over.” However, when I called the hospital and the GP for news, they appeared baffled by his state – hepatitis was one of several theories – and couldn’t offer any detail on what was happening. I booked a flight, and my phone calls to the hospital continued with little success. On the rare occasions I got my Dad on the phone he appeared confused and on the verge of delirium but was able to tell me that his gallbladder was starting to fail as well.
On arrival at the hospital, my Dad was being wheeled out of theatre. They had performed an endoscopy, on the assumption that he had an aggressive cancer. Having found nothing they had started to bombard him with antibiotics and rehydration on drips. He had lost 10 kilos and had a catheter. They had been able to bring his temperature down to 39 centigrade but were monitoring his heart and all his major organs. The surgeon came to reassure us that there was no cancer in the pancreas, liver or gallbladder, but he was now afraid that we might find cancer of the colon.
It wasn’t until 3 days later that there was any mention of Sepsis. After a final examination under general anesthetic, the surgeon had found 6 polyps, 5 of which he removed. He let us know that my Dad had survived sepsis, which had probably come from an infected polyp. He would need to be monitored and kept in hospital for at least one more week.
The good news was there was no cancer, but there were still so many questions: with the aggressive symptoms of infection that my Dad was showing, why had none of the medical staff suspected Sepsis earlier? During the time that my Father was ill at home, despite his attempts to get the GP to understand how unwell he was, why hadn’t the doctor put him in touch with emergency services? Once he was admitted why did it take almost a week to diagnose sepsis?
Luckily, the clinic had started to treat for an aggressive infection without really knowing what it was. On discharge, Dad was told that he very lucky to have survived, and with his symptoms the usual outcome was coma followed by death. His general health and fitness had carried him through the early stages, and the prompt use in clinic of intravenous antibiotics had eventually helped him turn the corner, even before they had a diagnosis.
I was delighted to find out about the work of Sepsis Trust, and I would urge any family member to suspect Sepsis – and ask medical staff to consider it – if you are at all concerned about a family member not responding to treatment or deteriorating, become their advocate and keep asking questions.