Nicola Murray is just 21 and has already survived sepsis twice. Her resilience has helped her recover though she is still dealing with the effects. Nicola, from Bishopton in Renfrewshire, says she now looks at life in a different way. She said: “I understand how you can lose it with a blink of an eye, your life can change due to illness. Your priorities are forced to take different turns. You are very grateful for the little things in life and you leave behind the history of yesterday and focus on today.”
Nicola now intends to help others with sepsis by becoming a volunteer with Sepsis Research. This is her story in her own words.
“I was first diagnosed with Sepsis in February 2018 after a bout of pneumonia. I was 19 and was on my first day of a new apprenticeship as a nursery practitioner. I felt very poorly but put it down to first day nerves. However, when I got home, I was sick and took to my bed.
Over the next two days my symptoms got worse. I was sick, had diarrhoea, a very high temperature, shivering and began hallucinating. On the third day my mum got a doctor’s appointment and I was sent to hospital as they thought I had flu.
After two days the tests revealed it wasn’t flu but pneumonia and then I was told I had sepsis. I didn’t understand what this was so the nurse explained it to me. After treatment and a four day stay in hospital, I was allowed home. I recovered well enough to return to work after three weeks and never really gave it much more thought… until fourteen months later.
I was nearing my 21st birthday and excited about the plans for celebrating. I was also reaching the end of my apprenticeship at the nursery with only one more final exam to go. Life was good. I was learning to drive and had a great social life with my boyfriend Andrew and my group of great friends.
I had a cough which had been annoying me for a few days and then one day I also felt sick. I was out shopping with mum and told her I felt a bit sick so we went for lunch thinking it would help if I ate. When we got home I went to bed as I was very tired and my temperature was up slightly.
The next morning was Monday so I forced myself to get up and head into work. As the day wore on I began to feel worse. At my lunch break I checked my temperature and it was at 39. I was a bit concerned but just thought I had a bug. I was so glad when 5pm came so I could get home to bed.
Over the next couple of days my symptoms got worse. I was very breathless and no matter what medication I took, I couldn’t get my temperature to lower. I wasn’t eating or interested in anything but sleeping. By the Thursday morning I had a temperature of 39.7 and mum noticed my eyes were bloodshot. She called the doctor to make an appointment for that morning.
Mum had to go to work so my gran came down to take me to the doctor’s. However, as I got up to get ready, I had to sit on the toilet as I had diarrhoea. I had broken out in a sweat so I was drenched but still couldn’t move. It was impossible for me to get to the doctor’s even though it was only a five-minute walk.
When mum came home, she called the doctor’s again and made another appointment. This time she drove me in the car. It was horrible in the waiting room as I felt awful. I had to go into the toilet three times with diarrhoea before my name was called. Once I was taken the doctor asked me lots of questions before he said that I had to get to hospital immediately.
Mum said it would be quicker for her to drive me rather than wait for an ambulance so off we went. After arriving in A&E I was then sent to the medical assessment unit. They settled me into a room and put me on a saline drip as I was dehydrated and gave me antibiotics and oxygen. They told me I wouldn’t be going home as they wanted to monitor me for the next 24hours.
The next few days are a bit of a blur with doctors and nurses all doing tests. After some results came back I was told I had a really bad pneumonia. Within two hours I was also told I had sepsis again. It was a really scary few days as the pneumonia germ couldn’t be identified so they couldn’t match an antibiotic to fight it, nor did they know if it would respond to antibiotics as they weren’t sure if it was bacterial or viral.
I was transferred to an isolation room and over five days I had five different antibiotics to see if any of them would work. My body was struggling to fight the pneumonia as it was also being attacked by sepsis and I knew it was shutting down. I had no control over my bodily functions, my temperature was still spiking and my oxygen dropped so low I was nearly in a coma in intensive care.
My body was covered in bruises and then my veins started collapsing. I was still being sick and then my scariest moment came. I was being sick but it was blood that was coming up. My mum and gran were the only ones allowed in to stay with me.
When I was vomiting blood I told my mum that I was now very scared. I actually thought I might be dying. She leaned close to my ear and told me that I had to be strong and fight against it, that she was definitely taking me home from this hospital so it was now down to me to stay positive and fight!
I couldn’t eat anything, I only sipped liquid and had no interest in anything. I remember asking mum to close the blinds as the daylight was hurting my eyes and the TV hurt my ears. Everything hurt so it took mum nearly two hours to just brush my hair. I spent most of the time sleeping but I had really strange dreams. I was so out of it that at one point was talking to someone who wasn’t there! I’m a well built girl but the weight was falling off me so fast.
My concept of time was lost so I had no idea of how long I had been in hospital or what day it was. Then one day the doctor said that the last antibiotic they put me on was doing something. Although slowly, they were seeing a difference. But they had also identified I had another contagious virus so it meant everyone coming into my room had to wear masks and aprons.
When mum and gran came to visit that morning I asked them to bring me food. That was the turning point in my recovery. I wanted to eat! I will always remember it was chicken and bacon pasta although I only managed a small amount.
The oxygen mask was removed and I just had the tubes into my nose. My temperature slowly dropped to normal levels and I was able to sit up in bed. I became more alert so could take part in conversations. One night mum persuaded me to try a walk and we walked slowly round the ward with my drip still attached. I was so breathless and exhausted afterwards but beamed a massive smile as I was proud of myself.
Over the next couple of days I improved although I still had setbacks. My oxygen dropped again which meant I had to go back onto the mask for a while and I still had temperature spikes which made me feel ill. It was like being on a roller coaster, nothing stayed the same or at the same level.
One day I was so agitated and angry with everyone. I hated the nurses and doctors and I was shouting at my mum and gran. It felt like it wasn’t me as I’m not normally like that. I think I was just so frustrated and I wanted home so badly. After eight days, the doctor said I was stable enough to leave and do my recovery at home.
I was so excited but also very scared. What if something went wrong? You become so used to being looked after and I was scared I didn’t have the nurses beside me. I was reassured that there was a treatment plan in place. This was different from last year as I felt it was finished as soon as I had left hospital. This time I came home knowing I had to visit my GP for further tests and had an appointment for a consultant booked in four weeks.
I have now been home for just over four weeks. I am obviously delighted that I have again survived sepsis. Twice in 14 months I have been told I was about 24 hours from not surviving. This sticks in your mind and can affect you mentally. I have been up and down with mood swings since getting home.
I have been left with liver damage from sepsis so am currently still attending the doctor’s regularly for this. My body aches from pains all over and I am so tired and breathless with little effort but worse is how it affects me mentally. I don’t feel safe when I leave the house. At the moment my home is my safe place. I think if I go out or I go back to work, I will catch another virus and my immune system will go into overdrive and I’ll have sepsis once again.
My message to everyone is, “Make yourself aware and make your family and friends aware. It could be you next, or someone you care for deeply. Knowledge and awareness can save lives.”