Iain Carroll was a fit 44-year-old firefighter with Scottish Fire and Rescue when he became ill with sepsis. Married, with two children, he and his wife, Laura-Anne, thought he might have had a chest infection as he had been feeling unwell for about a week with a cough and flu-like symptoms.
But when they persisted he agreed with Laura-Anne to arrange an appointment at his doctor’s surgery, just a five minute drive from their home. Eleven days later he died from sepsis at Monklands Hospital, Airdrie, with the consultant in charge of his case admitting his team had been “perplexed” by Iain’s condition.
Laura-Anne describes what happened.
“Iain drove to the surgery but on arrival at the car park he phoned me to say he was feeling incredibly unwell and was unable to get out of his car. He sounded scared and I called the surgery and told the receptionist this was the case and while on the phone to me she made her way out to the car with one of the doctors.
“Immediately on seeing Iain’s condition, which appeared to have deteriorated rapidly, an ambulance was called. By this point I had left work and was on way to the surgery.
“When I arrived the ambulance was still in the car park with Iain and I was able to speak to him. Iain was conversing with me absolutely fine and the paramedics did not seem too concerned. They were deliberating where best to take him.
“They said they suspected he might have sepsis but he was a fit, healthy young man and he would be treated at hospital and would be absolutely fine. I remember at this point looking at Iain’s legs (he was wearing shorts) and noticing mottling. I think this was first point I thought something might be much more wrong than any of us could ever have imagined. They did some further checks before making their way to Monklands General Hospital and I followed in the car.
“On my arrival at Monklands A&E department I was left waiting without any communication for around an hour. My instincts told me at this point that something was really wrong. After asking again and again I was spoken to by a doctor who explained that Iain was incredibly ill. She said they were unsure as to why but stressed that he ‘was a very sick man’. To try to identify what was causing him to be so ill, she said they believed the best option would be to put him on a ventilator with immediate effect and thereafter carry out further scans and tests to try to ascertain what was going on.
“I was later told by the consultant in charge that his instruction to his team of doctors was to get this man on a ventilator because he was about to ‘fall off his perch’. His team had challenged that this was not required as despite how gravely ill Iain was (his organs were failing at this point) he was still compos mentis and in perfectly sensible discussion with those around him. But the consultant was well aware that at that point Iain was already very close to dying.
“Iain had asked to see me so they took me to where he was. He was surrounded by a huge team of medical staff and I remember how baffled everyone looked. Everyone was trying to remain calm while Iain and I spoke but I picked up on the sense of urgency
“Iain told me not to worry, that he was going to be absolutely fine, to let the doctors do what they needed – and asked me to book him in sick for his dayshift as a firefighter as he didn’t think he’d make work the next day!
“The next 10 nights/11 days were an absolute rollercoaster as the medical staff tried to identify the source of the infection. Every day brought another possible cause but it was never found.
“Iain showed signs of improvement on day two and three in hospital but thereafter one by one his organs got weaker, he was on kidney dialysis etc but he continued to deteriorate. Despite his best efforts to fight this, he sadly lost his fight on the morning of 12th July 2018.
“Straight after Iain passed, the consultant in charge took me to his office and apologised that they were not able to save him. He said they had been completely ‘perplexed’ by Iain’s condition.
“Regardless of it being highly likely anyway, I agreed that I would request the procurator fiscal instruct an extensive post mortem in the hope that something might be found and lessons learned which could help medical staff in future should anyone present with similar symptoms as Iain.”
Like most people, Laura-Anne had little idea about sepsis and its potential consequences.
She said: “For me, as the wife of an incredibly fit and healthy man it was and to this day is still incomprehensible. He was the last person in the world you would think would get ill, never mind die at such a young age.
“I strongly feel this doesn’t need to and just simply should not be happening. Families should not be being torn apart by this awful condition. It needs to be understood more, people need to be much more aware. Every day since this happened I have wished that I knew more about it that might have made me get him seen or helped sooner and the outcome might have been different.
“Ironically, with the recent awareness campaign, there has not been a night I haven’t driven home from work and found myself behind a bus with the sepsis symptoms on it, or if I’ve gone by train and walked past Boots the signs are full length of the windows. Sometimes I wonder if that campaign had been exactly a year before, might I have subconsciously been more knowledgeable? Who knows, but the important thing is it’s getting out there more and more now and there is a rapid increase in awareness.
“An ex-colleague recently messaged me to say he was in hospital being treated for sepsis after feeling unwell following an operation. He is a Facebook friend and read the posts I’ve shared. He said it was only because of what he read and learned from what happened to Iain that made him think more about his symptoms. He was taken to hospital and thankfully it was diagnosed early enough that after nine days treatment he is back home and absolutely fine.
“This is the kind of thing that makes me want to get out there and share Iain’s story. Awareness is one thing, the other is the medical research. If in their own words, doctors are ‘perplexed’ it is clear how much further research needs to be carried out to learn more about sepsis, its diagnosis and treatment. And, of course, the importance of fundraising to allow this vital research to be carried out.