Megan Parker had been suffering recurring UTI symptoms for months but, shockingly, when urine tests did not show any obvious infection a doctor suggested that whatever was wrong was all in her head. Within days her condition deteriorated badly and she was seen by another doctor who Megan believes saved her life.
Megan, from Longtown in Cumbria, was 19 when she became ill. She said: “I had been feeling recurrent UTI symptoms for several months but none of my urine tests came back positive for infection. One doctor suggested I had an STI (I didn’t, and knew I didn’t) and a locum doctor eventually told me it was in my head and not to drink so much water as it was exacerbating the symptoms.
“Less than a week later, I began to vomit uncontrollably and went back to the GP. I saw a different doctor who I credit with saving my life. She immediately suspected pyelonephritis and prescribed strong antibiotics, but at that point it was too late for them to kick in and that night, on the 22nd of July 2014, I was admitted to Cumberland Infirmary.
“After several hours in the emergency department, I was sent to a medical admissions ward. Later that day I was taken to a gynaecology ward as there was no room in the ICU or HDU. A nurse came to talk to me, but I have little recollection of what happened for the next few days and I was in hospital until the end of that week’.
In the space of just a couple of weeks, Megan lost so much weight that she dropped from a size 12 to a size six.
Sepsis was diagnosed and the medical team told Megan’s parents but, because of her anxiety, they decided not to tell her and she only found out two months later from a copy of a letter sent to her GP detailing full-body sepsis. She said: “My family did what they thought was best at the time and I can’t be angry at them as they were in a difficult position. However, they recognise that maybe this wasn’t the best route.”
Megan herself had not heard of sepsis and it was only when she looked it up that she realised how ill she had been. “I then began training as a nurse and actually met the Critical Care nurse who had visited me and that triggered a massive mental effect as I only saw him on the wards when people were very sick indeed.
“I had a mental breakdown at the end of 2015 and left university. Shortly after this I began experiencing strange sensations that got worse and worse. Eventually, after two years, I sought help. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and these sensations were actually flashbacks.”
In hospital and when she got home Megan was treated with a range of antibiotics and painkillers and received Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for PTSD.
After being discharged from Cumberland Infirmary, Megan had further treatment at Hexham General and now, five years after sepsis struck, she is still an outpatient at Newcastle Freeman Hospital.
She said: “I have to self-catheterise every three weeks to a month and instil a medication into my bladder. I also still have occasional infections; however, I am now able to keep prophylactic antibiotics at home so I can get a hold of them sooner. I also now take Methenamine twice a day.
“The bladder instillations will likely be a lifelong aspect of my medical routine. My mental health has improved though I occasionally still get panic attacks, especially if I hear the hold music for the 111 service. I will also be taking Methenamine for the foreseeable future.”
Key to Megan’s recovery was the support from her family, fiancé Ben, talking to nurses both when she was in hospital now as an outpatient and the EMDR therapy which she says was extremely successful.
Surviving sepsis has changed Megan’s outlook: “I have ongoing life-long treatments, and my mental health can peak and trough, but I feel stronger for having been through something so life threatening and coming out of it with no dramatic deficits.
“Sepsis almost killed me, but it didn’t, and it has taken me many years to realise that it wasn’t because my body is weak that I got sepsis, but because I am strong that I was able to beat it. It is a terrifying illness, and has physical and mental ramifications, but the support and love is out there.
“I now have a chance to help other people by raising awareness of the symptoms and signpost those who are concerned or affected to organisations where they can get help.”