Junior Ellis was told he had a ‘hamstring strain’. It turned out to be sepsis which left him learning to walk again.
The Bristol based artist spoke to the UK Sepsis Trust about how his sepsis recovery has changed his life, forcing him to leave construction and pursue his passion for music full time. While he’s happy to be ‘Still Here’ pursuing his passion, it’s not been an easy ride…
34 year old Junior Ellis was working in construction in April 2019 when he started experiencing leg pain, which worsened each day over the course of a week.
He eventually went to the doctors who said it was a hamstring strain – and taking them at their word, he borrowed some crutches off his auntie and carried on as usual. Junior said:
“I was getting really tired as well, there was a point where I was driving on the motorway and got stuck in traffic and I literally fell into a deep sleep and I was like something’s not right. But I guess this is a man thing to do, as we just don’t get ourselves checked out. I would just go, ‘You know what? You know when there’s something not right. So really, you should just go and get it checked out.”
Eventually, his partner called for an ambulance and the crew asked Junior when the last time he went to the toilet was. He hadn’t been for a day or two but didn’t realise until they asked him – and he would later learn that passing no urine in a day or two is a sign of sepsis.
Junior later woke up in hospital nine days later. He said: “I basically got forced to go to hospital.”
As Junior was working in construction at the time, doctors believed he may have hurt his leg on site. Eventually, though, Junior was told he had had Strep A which had led to sepsis. He was so poorly that he was put into an induced coma. He said: “I remember the hospital vividly because the first month I was in ICU, so I couldn’t move around and I was just stuck in the bed for like a whole month. And then they moved me up to the ward after a month and then I started doing physio and stuff to get back on my feet. I wasn’t walking again for about a year or so.”
While in hospital, doctors discussed amputating his leg. Junior said: “I think I was more depressed when I was in hospital not knowing when I was coming out or what was going to happen, because they were talking about cutting off my leg at one point.”
His dad fought for him not to get his leg amputated, though. Junior said: “He was like, no, I know there’s got to be another way, really.” He is grateful for that now, in hindsight, and credits his family for getting through such a difficult time. Junior said: “My family played a vital role. They helped me through everything and they visited me every day, brought me food, clothes. Even when I came out, they dropped me everywhere. They played the biggest role they can play, really. I don’t see how someone would get through without family, to be honest.”
Following his return home, Junior has experienced anxiety, which is commonly reported psychological effect of post sepsis syndrome. He said: “I still get anxious. I try to avoid going places if possible, but I think it’s down to the fact that I walk with a limp or I’m walking on crutches and I don’t really like people asking me ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘Why are you walking like that?’. I think it rocked my confidence for a while. I’m only just getting it back.”
He has two kids, and feels it has affected his role as their dad because he can’t play football with his son. It’s also radically changed his career path. Unable to continue working in construction, Junior is now working in musical engineering and mentoring. He said: “It left me with no choice but to try and find something that I enjoy doing, and in the end it worked out.”
However, he struggled to return to music to begin with. He said: “Everyone was like, Oh you’ve got nothing to do, you must have lots of new stuff, but I was like ‘No my mind’s just not there, I can’t think of anything.’ Creative wise it was very hard to get back in the swing of things because the tower block my studio was in burnt down while I was in hospital. But luckily I found another space.”
He eventually released ‘Still Here’, a song which talks about his stay in the ICU. Junior said: “A lot of people didn’t actually know what happened to me until the song came out. So it was like me telling my story of where I’ve been. Most of my music is about what’s going on in my life at the time. That’s where it came from, being in a wheelchair and all that kind of stuff.”
He felt anxious in the build up to the release, even questioning whether he wanted to pursue music at all. He said: “Once it was up, I was okay. It was more the anxiety of putting it out. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it or not. I didn’t even know if I would even want to make music. I was pretty much done with music after the studio burnt down. But I put it out and it got a good reception, I think it might even be my most viewed video I’ve ever done. So it worked for the best.”
The song acknowledges the difficulties that many people experience when recovering from a stay in critical care. To others who may be at different stages to him in their recovery journey, Junior said: “Just try and stay as positive as possible. There was a point where I was like, ‘Oh, I give up, I’m not doing nothing’, but I snapped out of it because of my kids. I just like to keep as positive as possible. I’ve still got physio twice a week and it’s hard, but you’ve just got to get through it.”
Influence wise, Junior listens to whatever is on the radio and got his passion for music from his DJ Dad. He said: “I don’t really keep myself in one box when it comes to music. I can literally listen to anything, rap, pop, soul, gospel, whatever it is I’ll listen to it. All music is inspiring, I would say.”
Junior felt vulnerable being so candid about his health in his music, particularly as a black man. He said: “I can’t explain how, but yeah, it did feel strange showing your vulnerable side. But at the same time, you’ve got to get it out because it was an easy way of explaining everything to everyone. If they’d seen the video they would be like ‘That’s why he’s limping’ or ‘That’s why we haven’t seen him for a couple of years’, ’That’s why he lost weight’. So although it was difficult, it sort of made it easier at the same time.”
The result of his brush with death is that Junior’s friends and family are now a lot more health-conscious. He said: “As soon as one of my friends gets a cut, they’re more likely to check it out. I would say I feel I’m eating a lot better and stuff like that now as well. My cousin actually got sepsis after me and because of my story she got it seen to straight away.”
We’re grateful to Junior for sharing his story to help make others aware of the signs of sepsis, and save lives.