In the weeks since Abby’s illness, I have considered writing her story a few times. I somehow stop myself fearing the emotions it will stir up again. Yet here it is. The main thing I think people need to know is how frighteningly quickly sepsis can develop. My precious wee girl became so sick, so quickly. I have since been told that had I delayed bringing her into hospital, her survival chance dropped hour by hour.
It was the morning of Wednesday 14th October 2016. The schools were off for October break. We had been on the Borders railway for a day trip on the Monday and the cinema on the Tuesday. Abby was under the weather, sleeping more than usual, but I didn’t suspect anything sinister. We still went about doing our activities. Never for a minute did I suspect sepsis. That morning, I was awakened at 8am to her crying and in distress. As soon as I saw her, “something” (mother’s instinct) told me that she needed medical attention immediately. She hadn’t been her normal self for three weeks or so prior. During that time, I had sought medical advice on three separate occasions. I had visited the GP, the out of hours service and had a GP telephone appointment where I told them about her temperature spiking as soon I stopped giving her calpol, her general lethargy, non-specific pain(one day her ear, next her throat, next her tummy) and her just not being right. Each time I was given the stock response of “It’s probably viral. Give her calpol and let her have some rest.” If I never hear that again, it’ll still be too soon.
During that period, she had some days at school, some days at home with me and in her typical style got on with things with a smile on her face. In the days leading up to her admission however, she was bringing almost anything she ate back up to the point where she couldn’t even keep water down. That particular morning, it was clear that something was terribly wrong. She was lethargic, scalding hot to touch in some parts and yet her hands and feet were icy cold, her skin was mottled and she was not making sense when she spoke. I would later come to learn that this was the point when her body may have been going into septic shock. I didn’t even put shoes on her. I lifted her up and ran to the car.
It all happened so quickly. The A&E doctors ran bloods and “did her numbers.” Her heart rate was racing, her liver function was off the scale (400 I think, the average healthy person is around 40), her temperature was out of control and she was extremely dehydrated. She was fighting some kind of infection but they just didn’t know what. What was heart wrenching was the sheer number of tests and bloods that had to be done, all the while her Daddy forcefully holding her down while she screamed real tears of panic. After a few days on the ward, she would get herself so worked up about the procedures that even a nurse walking by made her wet with sweat. I’ll never forget the feeling of helplessness we both had. I’d have gladly gone through it myself twice over in her place Luckily, my support system allowed her Daddy and I to spend every minute of the coming 14 nights in hospital with her. She was pumped full of IV antibiotics straight into to her arm every 6 hours for 14 days. A pain in her side/ tummy suggested appendicitis and/or a Mekel’s diverticulum, which she may have inherited from me. There was a fluid build up on her pelvis that needed looked at. Her little veins were so thin they kept collapsing which every time meant a new site for the canula. She got so worked up about the bloodwork that the medics even tried entonox (gas and air) for mild sedation to draw blood, but still she fought. It was awful. As parents, we struggled to come to terms with it all.
Tests results finally came back in the following days that told us Abby was fighting sepsis, a very serious illness. Consultants explained it in layman terms to us. One of Abby’s complaints in the preceding weeks was a sore throat. The results confirmed this was the bacteria Streptococcus (StrepA). It had careered through her already weakened body, squirreled its way into her blood and was attacking her. Her body had responded abnormally to the infection and caused sepsis. I tried to process it. She was not suffering from some unheard of disease. Or, god forbid, the dreaded C word. A sore throat caused this ?! I couldn’t get my head around it. Still can’t, to be honest.
Throughout, the medical staff were amazing and to this day I am indebted to the A&E doctors who acted swiftly and knowledgeably. We were told it was a “wait and see” situation, as the bug was particularly nasty and it was still travelling around her body in her blood. It was possibly going to settle on a joint or a bone. Two days passed where Abby didn’t pass any urine. When she did, it was the darkest brown you can imagine. Her face became swollen and the skin peeled off her feet. Consultants and specialists came and went.
Finally, on the 17th October, three days in, Abby awoke hungry and smiling. My girl was back. Apart from “her numbers” going haywire once or twice, my brave girls spirit was far from broken and thereafter, with the help of medicine and fluids, she continued to get better and better. She even started asking the nurses at night when the ward lights were going off coz she needs her sleep you know! After 14 nights in hospital (some in isolation and thankfully none in ICU), we were given the OK to go home. The dreaded canula was finally removed from her arm and we made our way home. Abby asked if there might perhaps be flags in the street for her :))
My amazing wee girl is now in rehabilitation and bouncing back with amazing vigour. We keep a daily check on her fluid and calorie intake. She has nearly regained all of the 7lbs lost in weight and is slowly building her energy levels. She still has weekly blood tests and hospital visits and we will be under the care of a consultant paed for the next two years. Her liver function continues to be abnormal. We are awaiting the next consultant’s appointment to discuss the implications of this. She has days where she is incredibly fatigued and gets frustrated and lashing out. She sometimes has nightmares. She is still doing half days at school and even then can sometimes spend part of her time in the medical room with her sister reading to her to relax. I’m told it can take somewhere in the region of 18-24 months for her to rehabilitate fully. I’ve had moments where I’ve beat myself up about not recognising the severity of the situation sooner. Had I known the signs of sepsis, I would’ve gone to A&E much sooner. But you believe the medical advice you are given. And three times I was told it was just a virus. I’ll not be so quick to dismiss my gut feeling in future. I get scared every time Abby complains now and if I could, I’d wrap her up and keep her with me day and night. We feel extremely blessed to have such a positive end to our story. (Sepsis and Children)
Source: by Karen Reilly (Abby's mother)