September 13, 2019

“Could it be sepsis?” – A personal story showing the importance of knowing when something is really wrong

My father has had Multiple Sclerosis for a number of years. My family and I are therefore, unfortunately, very used to the fact that, due to his weakened immune system, he is more vulnerable to everyday infections. However we were not prepared for quite how bad things could be.

I can remember the day in question; it was during the Football World Cup, my father was well, in good spirits and waiting to watch the England match on television.

It was as the match started when he began to feel unwell. He soon started vomiting and his temperature shot up, all whilst shaking and looking a grey colour. By half-time my mother was on the telephone to 111 and going through the triage system, whilst we all watched him getting worse before our very eyes.

An out of hours GP eventually came out to examine him, initially putting his symptoms down to his pre-existing condition of MS. She did not seem to be taking things that seriously. My mother and I had to explain that he was not normally like this, and that he had deteriorated rapidly and was seriously unwell. Eventually the doctor agreed to call an ambulance.

The ambulance took a long time to come, it felt like an eternity, and by the time the paramedics arrived my father was hallucinating. The paramedics immediately screened for sepsis and said they thought that was what he had. They quickly put him on a drip to rehydrate him and blue-lighted him to hospital.

Upon arrival at hospital he was taken to accident and emergency to be examined. His inflammatory markers were sky high, but the clinicians explained that they still had to work out where the infection had originated. Eventually the tests showed that he had urinary sepsis.

It was extremely upsetting as he seemed to be getting more ill by the minute. The clinicians however advised that they could not start antibiotic treatment until they had all of the test results back; they needed the results to determine which antibiotic to give him.

I can remember that he could not recognise us and my mother was sat next to him dripping water into his mouth from a small sponge as he could not drink without vomiting. In addition all of his MS symptoms were getting worse. We could sense that things were gravely serious, made all the more real when the doctor asked whether he had a ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation Order’ in place.

Eventually they started him on IV antibiotics and he began improving relatively quickly, becoming more responsive.

We went home for the evening, but when we went back in the next morning we were told the shocking news that he had become unresponsive for a short period during the night. Fortunately the clinicians had added a second antibiotic to his treatment and he began responding well again.

My father recovered from this episode, but has been considerably weaker ever since. We now really worry, more than ever, when he is slightly under the weather as we know how quickly things can escalate. It is so important to be aware of the signs of sepsis and, if you think that somebody is really not well, to keep pushing this point until you are heard.

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