19-year-old Lauren Lowe had sepsis and meningitis eight months ago in October 2022.
She left it several days before seeking medical attention – and after a difficult recovery journey, she is urging others, especially young people, to know the signs and act fast if they are ever in a similar position.
Lauren was watching her then-partner play football when she started to feel rundown. She chalked it up to a cold, and the next day developed more of a headache. Then the following day, she felt freezing, but her skin was hot and the headache had worsened. She went to get her hair cut and struggled to stand up and make the short journey home.
She slept most of the day away at her partner’s house, before waking up in the early hours to throw up several times. She noticed that she had also developed a rash on her legs, and her ankles were swollen – all signs that Lauren had meningitis, as well as sepsis. She was shivering, and set an alarm to ring in sick to work. She said: “I called in sick and then I just as I ended the phone call, I tried to get up and take some painkillers and I couldn’t stand whatsoever. It took me an hour and a half to get downstairs, and obviously I couldn’t stand so I had to bum shuffle the whole way down the stairs.”
Later that day, she went home to her own house, where she phoned her nurse mum who told Lauren to ring 111. After ringing 111, who told her to go to A&E immediately, Lauren fell asleep from exhaustion. Four hours later, she went to A&E, where she was told she had suspected sepsis. Despite the fact doctors suspected sepsis, it took them a while to begin treating her. Lauren said: “I was there for 12 hours with no fluid, no medication, absolutely nothing. I was just laid on a bed, freezing cold, and doctors were coming in and out.”
A consultant came in and asked to feel her stomach, which hadn’t been painful before but as soon as he felt it, Lauren was screaming in agony. She was soon rushed into resus. She said: “I was just screaming that my back was in agony. I couldn’t feel my toes, I couldn’t feel my fingers.” She recalls telling her mum that she didn’t want to die, and her mum asking the staff if she was going to be okay, and doctors saying, “Your daughter’s really poorly but we’re going to do all that we can.”
She was rushed into ICU following a near cardiac arrest, and they struggled to get cannulas into her veins. Lauren said:
Talking about her time in ICU as a young adult, Lauren said: “It’s scary. I’m not going to lie, just being 18. You can’t have your parents with you. People would come and visit and you just don’t have the energy to speak. You’re in a room with people, you have no idea who they are. And your sense of freedom’s just gone out the window, you have a catheter in. You can’t just get up and go to the toilet. You can’t eat. You can’t just pour yourself a glass of water. Everything’s stripped away from you. And it is lonely. It’s scary and it’s not fun.”
By the end of the week, she tried to walk independently again, but 20 steps from her bed to the door left her exhausted. She was transferred to an adult ward for two more days to finish her medication, before being discharged, and so began a four-month recovery journey. Lauren said: “I couldn’t stand up in the shower. I had to sit down and I couldn’t stand for longer than 5 minutes without feeling tired and weak and out of breath.”
Now, eight months later, she has started sharing her story on TikTok to help make other people – particularly young, healthy people who don’t think they are at risk of sepsis – more aware of the signs. Lauren said:
“I didn’t have a clue what the symptoms were. Maybe if I had done something about it and not waited those three days, my situation wouldn’t have been as bad. People need to know the signs. It’s really important.”
“They still don’t know what caused it for me. I think having this perception that you’re going to cut your leg and it’s going to get infected and that’s how you’re going to get sepsis, that isn’t always how it is. I think if you’re only thinking like that, then it isn’t great, because that’s how I always thought, and then look how that ended. It didn’t end very well. So, don’t be so oblivious to it, actually do some research.”