Claire Jenkins Robinson
I started feeling unwell at the beginning of June this year with diarrhoea and vomiting and a chest infection, but as I’m type 1 diabetic didn’t think too much of it as infection tends to make my blood sugar unstable. (Sepsis and Diabetes) I did however go to my local hospital where I had a few bags of IV saline to rehydrate me. The junior doctor commented that my inflammation levels were raised but I was discharged with no treatment and my GP wasn’t alerted.
As the chest infection developed into a hacking sputum producing cough, my GP prescribed penicillin but a week later there was no improvement, in fact my breathing was becoming more laboured so she prescribed another penicillin. By week 3 it had got worse so I was given a course of co amoxiclav. I’m a flight attendant and I wanted to get back to work so once I could clear my ears I returned to flying. Didn’t have a great week, still felt nauseous and had a tight chest but coped. Until the Friday where I got home and a few hours later felt like I’d been stabbed in my left kidney,started projectile vomiting and could not get my breath. My husband took me to the local accident and emergency department where, despite the obvious issues and me being diabetic, I was left to wait for three hours.
Finally I was see and given diclofenac suppository and intravenous paracetamol and left in a chair whilst the A&E doctor on duty checked to see if I fit the criteria for a CT scan. Four hours later I was taken for the scan and then discharged after being told I had a 3.5 MM kidney stone and that a referral to urology would be made. The doctor gave me two diclofenac suppositories and told me to take ibuprofen. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) The next day I’d run out of pain meds and was in the same position but couldn’t face another experience like the last one so I called NHS 111 to see if they could get me readmitted faster. No one called back.
By Monday I called my GP again and they arranged for me to go straight to urology where yet again I was given diclofenac suppositories, IV paracetamol and told to go home and that someone would be in touch about an operation. The next day I received an email advising me that I was to go for a scan in 4 weeks and then I would get a telephone consultation.
I returned to work full of painkillers as it seemed the medical professionals I’d seen didn’t consider the nausea, vomiting, pain etc to be serious. I operated two flights, the first one wiped me out completely and when I got home I spent 24 hours in bed drugged up feeling horrific. The next day I started to have real breathing issues again but went into work as I thought I could cope. I was wrong. By the time we landed home, I was continually projectile vomiting to the point where all I brought up was bile and blood, my breathing was so laboured I sounded like a panting dog and I genuinely felt my body was shutting down and I was going to die. My Cabin Manager and the crew were fantastic, arranging for an ambulance and reassuring me whilst we waited.
The initial treatment given was for DKA as by this point my blood sugar was over 30 mmol and so I received an anti sickness injection and IV insulin and saline. Twenty four hours later I was transferred to another hospital with a urology department where it was immediately recognised that I had signs of sepsis and tests/CT scan showed and infected kidney stone as well as septic cardiomyopathy leading to pulmonary oedema. I was taken straight into surgery and a retrograde stent was placed.
The next 11 days were a blur whilst I was treated with antibiotics, diuretics and oxygen. The doctor told me that he’d never seen inflammation levels that high. I arrived with levels of 515 and low blood count and blood pressure. Thankfully I was looked after exceptionally well but as I begin my journey to recovery I still cannot understand quite how it got to the point it did when I’d had 5 medical appointments in the three weeks leading up to it and not one person thought outside the box.
I’m fortunate to that my employer is not putting me under any pressure to return until I am fully fit although inevitably my income will take a hit. The Sepsis Trust in the U.K. have provided telephone support to help me understand and make sense of what’s happened and to manage my own expectations as well as how to avoid getting upset by the inane comments people make like “what have work said about you being off”, or “”you’ll be better soon”.
I’m keeping a diary of what I manage every day, it’s small steps but everything feels like a major achievement right now with the tiredness and lack of concentration.
I’ve written this lengthy piece because I really would not want another person to go through what I have and I also think it’s important to say that we are all different so no one’s sepsis recovery should be compared with anyone else’s. Am I frightened it will happen again? Of course I am, but me and my family and friends are sepsis aware now and I/they will never allow a medical professional to send me away without a thorough check again.
Let’s all advocate and educate, we have one life and we can make a difference