Today is World Sepsis Awareness Day.
It's not a very sexy condition. In fact, it's really kind of rotten. And it can kill - in the matter of a few hours.
According to the Sepsis Trust, Sepsis is "Sepsis is a life threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Sepsis leads to shock, multiple organ failure and death especially if not recognized early and treated promptly."
It can be caused by any number of common bacteria - and essentially it's when your body has a shit fit over a bacteria it would normally ass kick.
It's scary. It's really scary.
And I know this because about 18 months ago I was a sepsis patient. And I wasn't even a near death, Sepsis shock patient, but the thing I remember most of all about it is the feeling that I actually could die - and that I felt so absolutely wretched that it would be okay if I did.
Sepsis sneaks up on you. At first I thought I had the flu. Two days later, I thought I had a stomach bug. The day after that - I felt utterly horrid and could no longer keep down any fluids or food. My body ached - so badly. My abdomen (most likely the infection site) was in spasms of pain. It hurt to blink. I think I will always remember that I could hear myself blink and it was excruciating.
My husband had gone to work. My mother had called in but had to go on to another commitment, but I was, at that stage (it didn't hurt to blink yet) sure I would be fine. And I'm a bit dramatic at times - and was determined not to be this time.
But alone at home, as that morning progressed, I felt worse and worse. I remember throwing myself rather dramatically around my bed as the spasms of pain kicked in. I remember screaming in pain - the kind of noises I hadn't heard from my mouth since child birth. Then the noisy blinking started (It actually sounded like windscreen wipers scraping across a dry windscreen).
I couldn't get comfortable, so I went downstairs. I text my husband and told him I wasn't feeling well. I asked him to come home. Normally he would tell me to stop being a drama queen (guilty as charged!) but this time, for whatever reason, he decided to come home.
And that in itself probably explains why I'm here.
By the time he arrived home, the only place I could find any kind of comfort was curled on a ball on the cool living room floor. I remember thinking I was dying. I knew I was sick - really sick. We lived five minutes from the hospital and rather than call an ambulance, my husband bundled me in the car.
This was not my finest moment. I had been sick - hadn't showered in two days as I was too weak. I was wearing my pyjamas (mismatched, of course, not my nice matchy pair!). My feet were shoved into boots. I had my winter coat on.
My husband pulled up at A&E and I got out of the car while he parked. I remember trying to find the reception (the A&E was undergoing a refurbishment) and being doubled over in pain and convinced I was going to pass out at any second.
Directed to the waiting room, with tablets I couldn't take, I sat looking like the walking dead, actually crying out in pain and apologising to the horrified looking fellow patients, until a nurse took one look at me and rushed me to through to the treatment area.
It's a bit of a blur after that, Blood tests (a young doctor who apologised because he didn't normally put canulas in), painkillers, anti spasmodic medication, anti sickness medication, more painkillers, worried looks "a very serious infection indeed", morphine, antibiotics, isolation in a room where not even my family were allowed to visit. "You don't want to be in there," a nurse told my mother when she came to see me.
Tests, scans, poked and prodded. An argument with an arrogant and horrible doctor. Nurses who were worth their weight in gold. Fear.
Feeling like every cell in my body hurt. I was in a hospital bed but, bizarrely and I don't think I'll ever forget it, I felt as though I was lying on a hard slab. Hallucinations. I batted away an imaginary nurse who was trying to cut my hair.
Sleeping for what seemed like hours to find that only five minutes had passed. I wasn't sure what memories were real and what were dreams any more. I couldn't understanding why time was playing tricks on me.
Feeling so utterly wretched that if someone had told me I was dying, I'd have said: "No bother. Cheers. Tell my wains I love them."
Of course when you feel so sick, so utterly awful, death seems okay. But as I got better - (six days in isolation, as I said, I was lucky. Shock had not set in. I felt awful - and that was the condition caught early!!) the real fear set in. The reality set in.
I could have died. If my husband hadn't come home when he did.... well, with sepsis every second counts.
The recovery was slow - physically and emotionally.
I felt raw. Exposed. Mortal. I felt so very, very tired. And sick. And as if everything had changed. I wanted/ needed to sleep but I wanted to grab life by the balls as well. I had to learn my limitations.
I would panic every time my temperature went up. Every ache and pain brought on a fear that "it" was coming back. Flashbacks. That feeling of lying on that "slab", time on a loop, hallucinations, pain, shame (was it my fault I had an infection?), feeling silly, feeling grateful, feeling sad Panic attacks. LOTS of panic attacks.
It changed my life - that experience.
In the 18 months that have passed we bought our little bolthole (caravan!) by the sea. I moved on from my publishers. I took voluntary redundancy from my job. I lost 4 stone at Slimming World. I went blonde again.
I've written two books. I went on my first "girls only" holiday. I grabbed life by the balls.
Am I still affected by it? Yes - quite possibly it contributed to my developing Fibromyalgia. We will never know but trauma like that to the body can trigger Fibro. Do I still get nervous every time anyone I know develops a fever? Yes. Do I still remember the fear?
I will never forget it.
And I was lucky.
I'm relatively unscathed.
Make yourself aware of Sepsis. Never be afraid to ask questions if someone takes unwell.
And I hope you never have to tell your own Sepsis story.
Why Skirting the Issue?
For 14 years I wrote my Skirting the Issue column for the Derry Journal each Friday - I may have moved on, but I still have opinions!