Although sepsis is life-threatening it isn’t always recognised, so World Sepsis Day aims to shine a spotlight on the condition and raise awareness.Advertisement
A rare but serious complication of an infection, sepsis can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body. It kills more people each year than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined.
A couple of weeks before I found myself very ill in hospital with sepsis, I’d had a miscarriage, and – although the medical staff at Royal Preston Hospital never managed to confirm it – I think that’s what caused my sepsis.
I first felt the symptoms of sepsis while lying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon after a heavy night out for a friend’s hen do. I was shivering with cold, but I just couldn’t get warm.
I don’t know why but I had a vague notion of septicaemia in my head, so I googled it and diagnosed myself with sepsis straightaway (don’t try this at home!). I rang the Gynaecology department at RPH as I was still under their care, and they told me to go in.
My husband drove me there while I shivered and shook in the passenger seat.
I’d never really been in hospital before that night so everything felt very alien and like I didn’t belong in that situation.
The medical staff wanted to keep me in so I was given a bed and something to eat (I think it was a stale cheese sandwich). I’d had some paracetamol which had eased my symptoms, so the first night in wasn’t too bad.
The following five days until I went home was a sepsis rollercoaster, where the highs were me just about functioning, and the lows were some of the scariest and most painful experiences of my life.
My temperature would spike, I’d be given paracetamol, my temperature would drop, the paracetamol would wear off, and my temperature would spike again. This went on for about three days.
It was a bizarre feeling because when my temperature was spiking I felt freezing cold. My reaction was to get beneath the bed covers and try to keep warm, but the medical staff would be pulling everything off me and putting me under the fan.
The highest my temperature was recorded at was 40.3 degrees. That was horrendous; I was shaking so violently from the feeling of cold that my insides ached. I remember the ache felt strongest in my hips, almost like they could have exploded.
The symptoms subsided, but the next time I felt them coming on I was so scared of it happening again that I was begging for my medication. I remember lying under the fan, freezing, just hoping like mad that it wasn’t going to happen again, and thank goodness it didn’t.
It took a while to get me better because I was given broad-spectrum antibiotics while waiting for lab results to give me the actual antibiotics I needed.
I think I was lucky that I got through that period of waiting for the right medication. I also think I was lucky that I recognised what was going on and didn’t just put it down as a massive hangover! Perversely I was lucky that I was already under the care of the Gynaecology department. And I have been lucky that I seem to have avoided any severe lasting ill-effects, although it did take me a few months to get back to my normal self, and I must admit I don’t think my memory has ever been the same since.
This all happened to me in 2016. Last year a dedicated sepsis team was introduced at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals to focus on teaching and educating staff across the hospitals about identifying sepsis. The team is apparently well embedded into the organisation and has been developing sepsis drop-in sessions, creating sepsis champions across the organisation, and more.
This is so important when you look at the scale of the issue. The UK Sepsis Trust says there are 52,000 deaths in the UK every year, but they believe better awareness could save 14,000 lives a year.
In adults, sepsis may feel like you have flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection at first. Early symptoms include fever, chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and quick breathing. Symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock include feeling dizzy or faint, confusion or disorientation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin.
Any child who is breathing very fast, has a ‘fit’ or convulsion, or looks mottled, bluish, or pale, or has a rash that does not fade when you press it, may have sepsis. Any baby or child under five years old who is not feeding, vomiting repeatedly or hasn’t had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours, might have sepsis.
So if you think someone might have sepsis, don’t wait, especially if they seem to be deteriorating. If someone has one or more of the sepsis symptoms above, call 999. If you’re concerned about an infection, call 111. Or contact your GP and just ask: Could it be sepsis?
For more information visit the UK Sepsis Trust website.