Surviving Sepsis After Pneumonia | Sarah McAleer – Sepsis Survivor Story
Name: Sarah McAleer
Age At Time of Sepsis: 42
Year Survived Sepsis: 2016
From: N. Ireland
Conditions Survived: Pneumonia & SEPSIS
Hi! I’m Sarah from Bangor, N. Ireland.
At the end of 2016, aged 42, I survived Pneumonia, a collapsed lung and Sepsis.
Monday – Saturday
My story starts on a Monday with me feeling sick and thinking I’d caught a cold – sore throat, runny nose and a cough. By Saturday I began to feel really terrible and I notice my entire body is shaking. So I go buy a bag of lemons and a bottle of whiskey, thinking that a few good old fashioned ‘hot toddies’ would do the trick.
I later wake up at about 2am totally drenched in sweat and feeling like I might die. I felt so horrendous BUT I blamed myself for mixing the hot toddies with some wine and thought I had a hangover.
Sunday & Monday
I then spend the next 2 days totally comatosed in the bed. I could hardly move, I ached all over, I couldn’t speak (which is a humungous thing for me) and my temperature hit 40.2 degrees. I sweat the entire bed but at the same time I was absolutely freezing, my teeth chattered and my whole body shook. We all just thought I had ‘a bad flu’!
On Sunday evening I was having a hard time ‘seeing’ the TV and when I looked out the window I noticed how psychedelic the sky was – reds and flashing yellows. Then the room turned grey! Shortly after this the pain in my chest and back started. Pretty sharp and I thought I might have hurt myself coughing.
My husband convinces me to go to the out-of-hours doctor. My heart rate is high and the young doctor didn’t like the chest pains, the cough, and the fact that I hadn’t moved in two days. So she sent us up to A&E.
Monday Night A&E
At A&E, the triage nurse took my temperature and says, Oh its 37.7. And I tell her thats good, its been in the 40’s for 2 days but she doesn’t write that down or ask any questions. She tells me to take my dressing gown off and gives me some paracetamol.
And in between getting bloods taken, an ECG and a chest Xray we wait in A&E…for nearly 5 hours.
Finally we are called into see the Dr. And I’m thinking great, I’ll get to speak to someone now!
He stood in the middle of the room with a clipboard in his hand and a packet of pills on it.
You have a bad chest infection – he blurted out abruptly.
What do you mean – asked my husband.
Well you know, its pneumonia – he said in a curt tone.
I was shocked by this and needed to sit down. He looked surprised but then he sat down.
And you’re sending me home? I’m giving you these antibiotics to take, he blurts out.
Are you sure I can take those, I ask, I’m allergic.
You’re allergic to erythromycin – he says in a sarcastic voice.
No, I’m an ANAPHYLACTIC to erythromycin, penicillin & cephalosporins. Are you sure I can take these, I ask again?
And he slams the pills down on the desk and says, This is what I’m giving you!
And I ask another couple of questions and he stands up, opens the door and says ‘its time you two left’!
…so yes you heard it, he basically told us to get out and we couldn’t have spent more than 5 minutes with him!
Part of me knew I should NOT be going home, but part of me thought well he’s the Dr so he must be right, there mustn’t be anything really wrong with me.
However, I know now that my white blood cell count was high, my liver function was out and I’m having an extremely high inflammatory response to the pneumonia where my CRP level at this point had hit 404 (and would later go up to 464 – where 0-5 is considered to be ‘normal’!!!!). But because I’m walking and talking I’m described as ‘well and alert’, NO sepsis protocols were followed and the Dr missed ALL the signs!
Within 20 mins of leaving the hospital I had deteriorated. Vomiting and diarrhea.
I try to take the first antibiotic and I watch for anaphylaxis, but its highly unlikely that ANY of the antibiotic has stayed in.
I get worse during the night. The pain in my back is excruciating and I cant get comfortable. I can feel the fluid constantly filling up in my lung, like a constant trickling or bubbling of water.
The next morning I try to eat some porridge to see if I can get another antibiotic down. But it comes straight back up in less than 5 minutes.
And so we debate what to do next? I’m still thinking the Dr knew best, but inside my head is screaming – NO! Something is really wrong.
Then my mum tells me I look terrible, grey mixed with luminous yellow and to go back to A&E for a 2nd opinion.
In A&E we don’t spent more than a couple of minutes with the triage nurse. She didn’t really give me a chance to speak. She pats me on the knee and says ‘don’t worry we’ll get your ‘wee’ antibiotic sorted out’ and I tell my husband that she wasn’t listening to me telling her that I had gotten worse, and he nods his head in agreement.
And A&E is mega busy.
And we wait…for another 3 hours.
The Dr In Green
I don’t even remember what the female Dr in green asks me, or even what she looked like.
All I can remember is crying and she tells me she needs to get another blood sample off, but she can’t wait for the results and we need to start an IV line straight away.
I say again about my anaphylaxis to antibiotics and she says something like ‘I know, its complicated. We don’t have many options here, its a serious infection and we need to hit this with all we’ve got’.
So I know then that its not good! And she starts IV fluids, IV antibiotics and IV paracetamol.
I know at this point my vitals have deteriorated as a short while after, the nurse tells me ‘its good’ my blood pressure has ‘come up a little’ with the fluids. And later when I research how the antibiotic IV Teicoplanin is ‘reserved for life threatening infections’ I know I was a lucky girl and that this Dr’s actions, saved my life!
Then I’m asked to move to a chair connected to a drip.
…And I have to wait, on that chair with my drip, for a further 8 hours before a bed becomes available.
I spend the night in the Ambulatory ward and I know my body is fighting and I experience extremely scary ‘visions’. I can feel my heart racing. I have a high pitch frequency screaming in one ear whilst my blood thumps in the other. I can feel the pressure in my body, my temples pulse and it feels like my head might explode.
Every part of me aches, my muscles and all my joints. I jerk uncontrollably, I have the shakes and I sweat all over. And the pain in my back is like being stabbed with a knife. I felt totally wired, like I’ve been electrified somehow and plugged into an electrical socket.
And I think of Renton in the movie Trainspotting doing the Junkie Limbo – and I feel just like that!
When I’m transferred to the ward, its my friend who’s the ward sister. She takes a look at my chart and I can see the brief look of horror on her face but she goes into professional mode and tells me that I am coping and not to worry, her team will look after me.
…And they do and I can’t fault the care on the ward.
I meet the older consultant on my 3rd day of treatment. When he asks what my infection levels are, he rolls his eyes and looks at me and says ‘thats some infection you have on board’. And then he asks me about how I’ve ended up in this mess and we discuss the events of the previous week.
And this is when I hear I have Sepsis. I’ve never heard the word before so I keep saying it over and over again in my head so I can go look it up. And he tells me how lucky I am.
And they reckon the most likely place I picked up the pneumonia was 5 weeks previous when I stayed overnight in hospital with my daughter when she got her tonsils out – and how could I have changed an event like that!!
I spend 7 days in hospital before norovirus breaks out and they get me off the ward. And part of me is scared to leave but part of me wants to escape. And its not until I get home that I realise how ill I still am.
When I leave hospital my lung is still collapsed, my blood pressure is high, my liver function is out and I still have a high inflammation marker. It would later transpire that although the infection disappears, throughout the next 9 months I would become neutropenic, my bloods go up and down and my liver function hasn’t returned to normal.
It would take me 3 weeks before I can sleep more than 20 minutes in any one hour period. I spend 3 months confined to bed and a month trying to get out of it.
…And I would dream of dying every single night for two months straight – like a disaster movie on repeat.
Post Sepsis Syndrome
I discover there are NO pneumonia or sepsis recovery protocols in place and the GP doesn’t know quite how to help.
And so I’m forced to do my own research and this is how I find out about Post Sepsis Syndrome. And I get friendly with my GP and she tells me to ask if I need help – but its only really now that I know what I actually needed then.
And I realise that recovery is NOT going to take a few weeks – it could take years!
AFTER THOUGHTS – 6 MONTH MARKER
And the list is long!
From my bloods, to the affects it has had on my muscles, my joints and the fact it damaged one of my hips. To the pain I carry around in my back every single day which sometimes hurts so much it feels like its on fire.
To the brain fog, the chronic fatigue, the total insomnia and the post traumatic stress.
And to the more visible things like how Sepsis has turned my hair white down both sides!
And of course, to the fact that I live the conversation with Dr Grumpy over and over again in my head and to know that if I hadn’t gone back to hospital on that 2nd day, I would be DEAD!
And thats how my blog Sepsis Vitality was born and I start to write about my experiences. I become a member of the Global Sepsis Alliance and the UK Sepsis Trust asks would I consider joining them.
Now I’m the N. Ireland Lead for the Sepsis Trust. I’m meeting some amazing people doing amazing Sepsis work and my job will be to help raise the profile of Sepsis Awareness in N.Ireland
And I’m thrown into this new world of being a Sepsis Warrior!
…But that’s a different story for another day!
Love Sarah xoxo
Founder of Sepsis Vitality & Sepsis N.Ireland: www.sepsisvitality.com
N.Ireland Lead Representative for The UK Sepsis Trust: www.sepsistrust.org
Member of Global Sepsis Alliance: www.global-sepsis-alliance.org
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