Lockdown. May 2020. A beautiful, warm sunny day. I was in the garden, mowing the lawn. My ear was nicked by a bramble. I ignored it and carried on cutting the grass.
Next morning, my ear was red, swollen, and sore to touch. I recognised infection but decided to do nothing about it. I reasoned that my body has always been good at dealing with infection. After all, the last time I went down with anything was when I slept through the Millennium with flu.
Two days later, the red swelling had spread to most of that side of my face, which felt hot and painful. I was running a very high temperature and feeling weak and lethargic. I had certainly stopped thinking clearly – my mind seemed to have coagulated into a hot, fuzzy mush. My wife became alarmed. She persuaded me to ring two people for advice. One, a physiotherapist friend, the other my sister, a retired nurse. They both said “Ben. It’s sepsis.
Go to A and E now!”
At A and E, I was seen very quickly. The nurse took my temperature and said “It’s very high. We need to put you in a Covid pod.” I immediately thought of 2001, A Space Odyssey. Visons of gleaming streamlined metal and glass pods flashed before my eyes. But, no, this was the NHS, in the middle of a pandemic after ten years of austerity. The pods were rectangular boxes, about two meters by three, made of plasterboard and plastic sheeting, all sealed with gaffer tape. I was instructed to lie down on the couch – by this time I was grateful for any excuse to lie down – and not to emerge until I was told. The pod may have been primitive, but the staff were brilliant! After three hours of dozing through various tests, I found myself talking to an ENT consultant. He said, “I don’t think you have covid. But you do have sepsis. I would normally admit you as an in-patient for intra-venous antibiotics immediately. But hospital is not a safe place at the moment.” He went on to weigh the balance between either admitting me for the best treatment with the risk of catching covid when I was already very ill, or sending me home with a lesser treatment with the risk that it would not be strong enough to treat the sepsis.” He decided that going home was the lesser of two evils and sent me on my way with the strongest antibiotic tablets available, and the warning that “these might make you feel ill!” I said “That’s all right. I feel ill enough already. I probably won’t notice.”
Two days later, the consultant’s team rang me to ask how I was doing. I heard the unspoken question too, “Are you still alive?” I was not only alive but starting to feel better. They rang again a few days later, when I was able to say that the symptoms had all cleared up, my temperature was back to normal, and I was mighty grateful for their intervention.
It took over a month to return to full fitness and strength and I have thankfully been well since. So, what have I learned from this? That a simple brief nick from a bramble or rose can cause sepsis. That if dirt from the thorn gets into your blood stream, infection can spread frighteningly fast. That I was days, or possibly hours, from vital organ failure and possible death. Life has since felt so much more precious. Every day, I wake up grateful for all that I once took for granted.
If a thorn scratches me again, and red, sore, swelling starts to spread from the area, I will not hesitate to seek medical attention. I still go out in the garden, and the message for all gardeners, farmers and outdoor people is, if the same thing happens to you, don’t carry on regardless. Learn from my mistake. Get help fast.