I was rushed to the Royal Sussex County Hospital on Tuesday 29th March 2011. I had felt ill the day before with a sore throat and upset stomach. I felt very feverish but I went to work I worked as a practice administrator in a GP practice in Brighton. I felt as though I was coming down with flu, which I thought was ridiculous because it was the end of the flu season and, anyway, I had had a flu jab because of working in a surgery.
The next day I felt so awful, every part of my body hurt. My daughter said I wouldn’t let her touch me. My lips were blue, and I kept passing out. In the afternoon my husband rang 999 and two wonderful paramedics appeared and blue lighted me to the Royal Sussex County Hospital. My body had gone into septic shock and was shutting down. I was put into a medically induced coma. The next night my husband and two daughters were told I might not survive the night. Somehow I did survive. I had gangrene in my hands and legs. I was unconscious for two and a half weeks. I was in ITU/HDU for about three weeks. I was then moved to the vascular ward.
On 3rd May, all my fingers and thumbs were amputated. – I dealt with it reasonably well. I only became hysterical when the specialist said that my fingers would have to be amputated. I knew it would have to happen, I just couldn’t bear being told. I felt the same about my legs. Reality sometimes is too much. The vascular consultant and his team tried to save my legs, but the legs became more ulcerous and gangrenous, so on the 17th May both my legs were amputated below the knee. I was given a great deal of pain control. The nursing staff were amazing and so kind to me. I was offered counselling if I wanted help, but I seemed very resigned to what was happening to me.
My family, however, were struggling. It was all such a shock. Our daughters were so frightened because my mother died when she was 62 and I was 28. The girls always knew how I had struggled with her death (from Myeloma). This was before I met my husband and had a family. I was 62 when I became ill, and Vivi, our younger daughter, was 27. This all happened at the same time of the year as my mother’s death. A dreadful coincidence.
I seemed to deal with all that was happening quite levelly. Perhaps being on Citalopram for some years helped. Anyway I seemed to cope. I was offered counselling again, both at the County and East Grinstead, where I went for plastic surgery to my hands, but at that time I chose not to speak to anyone. I spent a total of six months in hospital and Intermediate Care. I did see a counsellor at the Sussex Rehabilitation Centre. She was very helpful but she and I both agreed that I seemed to be managing with everything. Of course I have bad days, but I cope. When I was in ITU we were given a leaflet about ITU and what might happen afterwards. It explained that it could take at least 18 months for me to settle completely, and I do understand what the leaflet means. It also gives details of where to go for counselling for the patient and family. I believe I dealt with all that had happened because of my family. I have a caring and loving family who kept me strong. My beautiful grandchildren are a joy, their antics make me smile. When I did have counselling, it was very helpful though I only wanted the one session. I certainly did not want to talk to anyone until nearly a year later.
Whilst I was in ITU, Vivi kept a diary on the suggestion of one of the wonderful nurses. The diary was in the form of letters to me. She showed it to me a few months after I came home. It was incredibly moving and poignant. It also filled in a great many gaps for me. Things I hadn’t been told.
After my time in hospital, I was referred to the Sussex Rehabilitation Centre in Brighton to be fitted with my new below the knee legs. I was looked after by the physiotherapist Nicky and by the prosthesitist Clare. Both were wonderful to me and helped me through the horrors of learning to stand again. I seem to have become very stubborn after all this and if Nicky said it would take me a while to learn how to do something, i.e. climb the stairs, I usually managed it the same day. The Centre is wonderful and we all feel we are going to meet friends when we go there.I walk a bit, albeit very slowly, which does irritate me. However, if I want to go for a walk with my husband I use my power chair so I can keep up with him. I swim and do Pilates. I had done Pilates for about five years before I was ill, and it helped me back to strength during my recovery. I am fairly self-sufficient, and as I said before, stubborn and find a way round most situations. Obviously I retired after this, but I do volunteer with the Centre as a ‘buddy’ if a patient needs to talk to someone who has been through a similar situation. I also am occasionally asked to talk to groups ither of NHS staff or people who are interested in my story. I find all this rewarding, as I can give back some of the care I was given.