Last September, I was admitted to my local hospital with sepsis. It had developed from a urine infection which tracked to my kidneys. Strangely, I never realised I had a infection at the time, but looking back it had been building for at least 2 weeks. Regardless of this, I was super poorly and this was probably the first time in a longtime that I had every medical professional around me worried.
It started on the Sunday. I woke up with what seemed like a stinking cold, only despite paracetamol and “cold and flu tablets”, my temperature continued to rise and rise and my symptoms were getting worse.
The next day, I woke up feeling horrendous and had back pain. My urine was bright red and I couldn’t sit up without feeling faint. I looked pale and clammy, and as it was just 7 in the morning, I phoned 111 who sent a paramedic straight for me.
Unfortunately, this paramedic didn’t believe I was poorly – despite me being able to read my observations, add up my NEWs score and see my urine was bright red, thick and not right I was told to stay at home and call my GP because I wasn’t an emergency. I did kick up a fuss – well, as much as I could being as unwell as I was – and I was promptly dumped in the waiting room of A&E for someone from the Out of Hours service to see me.
Thankfully, there is a positive to this because I was lucky that a doctor walking passed me saw how unwell I was, how I was unable to sit or stand up, and rushed me straight round where I was admitted and diagnosed with sepsis. I received 5 days of IV antibiotics and fluids, pain relief and was off work for about 2 weeks.
If I hadn’t made a point with the paramedic, I would have died. Sepsis is deadly.
I’m not too sure what happened in order for me to get such an infection that I dind’t even realise it was there, but this was smack bang in the middle of having indwelling catheters and other kidney infections.
For those of you who don’t know, or want further information, sepsis is a deadly infection and is your bodies response to a local infection – it starts to attack its own tissues and spread the infection to the whole body. If not treated incredibly quickly, it leads to organ failure and death and can leave irreparable damage to tissues.
I was lucky, not just because I put up a fight to be seen but because I have an awareness of sepsis from my medical background – I remember speaking to one of the 111 paramedic advisors on the phone when they were convincing me that an ambulance was needed. They said to me “has sepsis not crossed your mind?” and it had. Maybe I was scared because I knew what happened, but I think this is what spurred me on to beg to be taken to A&E.
And I was right.
Sepsis can occur after surgery, having catheters fitted or being in hospital for a long time and developing a hospital-acquired infection, such as pneumonia. Common infections that can cause it are urinary tract (bladder, kidney), lung (pneumonia), cellulitis or appendicitis.
Signs and symptoms often mimic those of another infection – the systemic signs and symptoms of high temperature, chills and feeling really unwell. But others can occur, such as an abnormally low temperature, skin discolouration and a fast heart beat. It is detected by blood test and clinical signs.
The main treatment for sepsis is swift IV antibiotics, which may or may not be with oral antibiotics too. When I had sepsis, I received IV Gentamycin – a super strong antibiotic that tends to kill most of your natural, harmless bacteria whilst you’re on it (for me it stripped my throat and I had no voice!) and oral antibiotics to the Gentamycin equivalent. I also received fluids and oxygen. However, there are other treatments alongside the antibiotics. The campaign surrounding sepsis identifies 6 main treatment techniques;
- Giving supplementary oxygen so that oxygen levels remain above 94%
- Take blood cultures – this is to identify the type of infection
- Give IV antibiotics
- Give fluids – often a large bolus as most patients will be very dehydrated (I was so dehydrated it took 2 people and an hour to put a cannula in me!)
- Measure lactate – this is a chemical in the blood which monitors the strength of each system in the body
- Measure urine output
If treated quickly like I was, most people will recover over time. After a couple of days of IV antibiotics I felt like a new woman! However, people can die from sepsis and it is only in the recent years that it has become more publicised that more and more people are aware of it. Much more training has been established in hospitals and medical practices to help it be recognised sooner.
I realise how lucky I was, but not everybody who gets sepsis is, so I hope this article spreads a bit of awareness so other people can be saved.