Today, on the eve of World Sepsis Day, I thought I would share some of my experience and thoughts which I hope will be of use to you. I am at work relishing working with great colleagues, my fantastic team and our staff as well as my peers and our partners across the Surrey and Frimley health and care systems. I feel full of renewed enthusiasm and energy for the NHS in its 70th year. Why is this? Well seven months ago on the afternoon of February 8th my husband was called in to Wexham Park hospital as staff thought I was about to die as a result of having Sepsis. Now I am on a return to work programme, seeing life and our precious NHS with fresh eyes.
Sadly, not everyone is as lucky as I am and thanks to my contact with the UK Sepsis Trust I am now aware of the scale of devastation that Sepsis causes. Sepsis takes 44,000 lives in the UK every year and 60,000 suffer life changing after effects. Despite these statistics, awareness of Sepsis is still astonishingly low and I hope by sharing my experience more people will get the earliest possible identification and treatment.
Up until late January this year I have always had really good health, running regularly and participating in the occasional half marathon. I have had 2 or 3 days off sick in my entire working life. Then at the end of January I developed severe lower back pain, and found I could not go to work. I thought an old lower back injury had flared up, so I tried exercises and my GP prescribed strong painkillers. After 10 days I stopped responding to my husband and daughter. My husband called an ambulance and I was taken to Wexham Park where I was rapidly diagnosed with organ failure as a result of Sepsis. Clinicians soon diagnosed Discitis as a result of the Staphylococcus infection colonising in my spine. I was unconscious for virtually three weeks, firstly in Intensive Care in Wexham Park then in The Royal Brompton as my body, clinicians and my family fought night and day the infection’s attack. There are moments I recall which for a long time I thought were dreams or nightmares. I am told I almost died a couple of times and now I remember, with horror, fighting for breath when I had necrotising Staphylococcal pneumonia and had to be intubated in the Royal Brompton.
All together I was in hospital for just over six weeks and returned home just in time for my birthday in late March. During my time in hospital I now know I experienced ICU delirium and my biggest semi-conscious fear was not of dying but of being kept against my will and having to escape. As a result I fell out of bed in one of my attempts to do so. So I was not an easy patient! Once home I had amazing support from my community of family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues as well as my GP, hospital and community health and care teams. However, I just didn’t know how ill I had been and I received the offer of counselling for post traumatic stress as part of Wexham Park’s ICU follow up in June as I was exhibiting symptoms of post traumatic stress and could not sleep properly. I now know that my body and unconscious mind which fought the infection so hard hadn’t stopped the fight and was keeping me awake. I am still seeing a counsellor now as my mind and body gather strength and develop more.
Sepsis happened to me, my family and my community at work and home. I still pinch myself at my good fortune and the scale of the impact of this trauma. There are so many people to thank for saving my life and supporting my recovery. You can imagine how I feel about my husband, daughter and sisters. Thank heavens for the swift diagnosis and excellent clinical treatment in Wexham Park and the Royal Brompton. I also remember the kindness and respectful descriptions of what was happening to me from Nurses, Doctors and Therapists when I was at my most vulnerable and I could not respond. My family and I received countless messages of support, poetry and prayers from my staff at Surrey and Borders and partners across the NHS. My team and Board at Surrey and Borders have been just tremendous. The community at home, my husband’s work colleagues, wider family and my daughter’s school, friends and neighbours who were available, watchful, and shared meals were an extended family for my daughter.
My reflections as an NHS Leader continue to develop as my recovery progresses. I have learned more about myself and the interplay between the unconscious and conscious mind with my body. My experience as a patient of the health and care system has been one where the clinical care has encompassed mind and body in a way that we need to continue to develop and spread across the whole of the system we work within. I have also reflected on the value and extent of the network of relationships we all operate within, and how precious our NHS is when you and your family become part of it at the most desperate of times. This is why I want to continue contributing and helping.
Chief Executive of Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.