Mark Stuart shares his experience with sepsis

When and where were you first diagnosed with sepsis?

I was first diagnosed on a Wednesday morning, October 31, 2018, at Charing Cross hospital. I was DJing both nights the weekend before and on the second night I just didn’t feel right – not that I felt particularly ill or anything but more like I was on drugs, it was more cerebral. Then on Sunday I noticed a really bad pain in my leg, but I just thought ‘I’ll take some painkillers, I’ll be okay’. The pain came back on Sunday night and then stayed through until Monday morning, when it became painful to walk. Again, I just thought I’d tweaked something, but the more that time went on the more painful it got and it became complete agony.

I went home and called my parents who just said you’ve probably pulled a muscle, go to bed and see how you feel in the morning. So I took some painkillers, but that night was the worst night of my life. I was sweating, I was so uncomfortable, again it was agony. So, I called 111 and they said the same thing as my parents.

About 6am Tuesday morning I was in so much pain I was nearly crying, so I rang my parents again and said I need to do something about this. They came round and I had to belly crawl my way to the front door because I couldn’t stand, chin-first down the stairs. So, there I was in my boxer shorts lying in my hallway waiting for my parents, who then had to hoist me up, dress me and take me to hospital.

We went straight to A&E and again they told me they thought it was just back pain or a pulled muscle, they thought it was spinal initially or that I had broken a bone.

They said everything looked fine, but I couldn’t walk so they couldn’t let me leave. On Tuesday I was really clammy and sweaty and they took a blood test, the physios were dangling my leg around – sepsis wasn’t even on the cards at this point, they just kept telling me I’d pulled a muscle.

The result eventually came back and said I had clots in my blood and blood poisoning – just something in my blood that shouldn’t be there. So they put me on generic antibiotics until they were sure of what it was.

What were the initial symptoms?

Initially the pain in my leg. I also felt kind of dizzy, but mainly the pain.

Do you know how you contracted it?

No, that’s the thing, they had no clue whatsoever. You can get sepsis from cuts and all kinds of things, but it was never really specified. I did have mould in my bedroom, I thought it could have been that, but it’s also really unlikely.

I was told that more than likely it was a bad beer, or toilets in a dodgy venue as you can get it through your urinal tract. Stuff like that. It was really frustrating for me that there was never an official reason given. What was it? What should I avoid in the future? Do I have to walk around like Darth Vader now, telling everyone not to touch me?

How long did it take you to recover?

I still am. I was off work until December 10, so six weeks. I was off alcohol for two months, I still have flashbacks and I still get panic attacks. There’s nothing that I can’t do now that I could do before really, but recovery time is still ongoing. It messed up my muscles on one side, so I can’t do little things like raise one arm as high as the other.

What treatment did you receive?

I was on a course of antibiotics and morphine, I had to fast for 48 hours, intravenous medicine.

How long did the entire ordeal last?

I was in hospital for 16 nights, but off work for six weeks.

Does it have lasting effects that you’re aware of?

Confidence definitely, and also now every time I get even slightly ill I panic. But mainly mental things, self esteem and panic attacks, etc. It’s also messed with my stomach, so now I get terribly bad gastritis. Apparently the morphine got into my stomach and affected something to do with my vitamin D, so I’m having to take vitamin D supplements too. I have to watch what I eat, I can’t do shots of alcohol, I’m sick quite a lot too. I was actually given the all clear on Monday, officially! But sepsis doesn’t have an endpoint, really. It’s also a modern disease. Before if you had sepsis you would just die, but now we know what it is and how to treat it.

How much did you know about sepsis before you contracted it?

Nothing, nowt.

Do you think information on sepsis available to the public is adequate?

No, no way. It’s getting better though!

Were you satisfied with the care you received from the NHS?

Well they saved my life, so yes. But I would say that things weren’t properly explained to me. It took 24 hours from me being admitted to hospital to me being diagnosed, which isn’t bad but in a situation like that it’s not great either. NHS 111 had no idea, I haven’t been given any information or a post-sepsis care-plan, nothing. It was like: ‘You’re alright now, we need the bed back’ – but I understand that’s what they’ve got to be like. The nurses gave me a lot of tough love, but I’m not really used to tough love, so I found it quite difficult.

What is your greatest hope or fear for the future?

Ooh, my greatest hope is that this will clear and I don’t have deal with it again in my life. There’s no remission, so if I did have it again that would be like being struck by lightning twice. Once it’s gone it’s gone.

Another greatest hope of mine is that I get to carry on smashing the DJ sets, and help some people along the way by raising awareness about sepsis. I learnt a lot through this experience, which I’m taking through into my life now.

What would you say to someone going through, or who is just diagnosed with sepsis?

Get to the hospital, haha! Obviously it’s not a slow process, it all happens very quickly.

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What is sepsis?

Sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. Under normal circumstances the immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it attacks the body’s own organs and tissues. Sepsis can be caused by a variety of germs, like Streptococcus, E-coli, MRSA or C difficile. However, most cases are caused by common bacteria, which normally cause illness.

Sepsis can result in organ failure and death if not treated immediately, but with early diagnosis can be treated with antibiotics.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms of sepsis can be similar to flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. In adults, help medical help should be sought if any of the following are experienced:

* Slurred speech or confusion

* Extreme shivering or muscle pain

* Passing no urine

* Severe breathlessness

* It feels like you’re going to die

* Skin mottled or discoloured.

Symptons in children can include very fast breathing, a fit or convulsion, very fast breathing, a rash that doesn’t fade when pressed, and lethargy.

In the UK, five people are killed every hour by sepsis, while 25% of all survivors suffer life-changing after effects. Early diagnosis is critical.