My life changed in February 2017 when I woke up in the middle of the night with severe abdominal pain. I had been fit and healthy so it was a shock to me to feel pain that was completely off the scale. After admission to the Luton and Dunstable hospital, and a diagnosis of a kidney stone that had blocked the tube leading to my kidney, my condition rapidly deteriorated and I become critically ill with a condition called sepsis.
Sepsis is the body’s immune system extreme over-reaction to an infection. It can start with flu or a simple cut, a chest infection or perhaps a urinary tract infection. Sepsis kills 44,000 people a year which is more than bowel, prostate and breast cancer plus road accidents in the UK put together. It has been called ‘the biggest killer you’ve never heard of’ and it can happen to any age group, fit, healthy people too. If you listen to The Archers or Call the Midwife, you will have seen that it often takes control very quickly and that can lead to a catalogue of issues both medical and psychological.
In my case I developed septic shock and blood poisoning, my blood pressure dropped to dangerously low levels and I required intensive support to stay alive. Following a night of resuscitation, and a trip to theatre to repair my infected kidney, I had a heart attack which required me to stay in the Luton and Dunstable hospital for more than two weeks.
My road to recovery was a very slow one. Currently there is no aftercare or support once you leave hospital having had sepsis. It’s one of the things I’m campaigning about as people leave hospital with no support or guidance and it’s very difficult to cope. Walking was exhausting and I used a wheelchair to get around outside when I left hospital. It knocked my confidence and made me feel very isolated.
I wasn’t doing parkrun before I became ill with sepsis, as I had undergone a hip replacement previously and was recovering from that, building up walking mileage but not running yet. Once I had been signed off by the cardiac rehabilitation team, running became a fundamental part of my recovery. It’s something I can do easily and efficiently, with others or without and this flexibility has made it an attractive option for me.
It took eight months before I started running again. I’d been building up my walking mileage and knew that, if I could get over that dreaded ‘first mile’ I could keep going. It was frustrating for me as I was very slow and it didn’t feel like I was improving but I decided that I’d play on that strength and enjoy my runs – taking pictures, enjoying the bird song, feeling the accomplishment of running again.
I started my love of parkrun in November 2017 at Luton Wardown parkrun, as I felt that 5k was a manageable distance for me. Luckily my family members are happy to run with me and so we started making it a weekly event in our diaries, and various family members and their partners join us in our love. I really appreciate the sense of community - the volunteers are so supportive and I enjoy having a little chat on my way around. In turn, I really cherish my time as a volunteer, and get that warm fuzzy feeling of sharing other people’s accomplishments. parkrun is for everyone and it feels incredible to be part of a group of people who want to make a difference to their lives.
I have strategies in place to help with my cognitive difficulties as I find them very challenging. I lose words a lot and this affects my confidence in conversation. It makes it hard for me to want to join new situations where I’m meeting people for the first time so I have become even more introverted than I was before sepsis. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard to explain to others how difficult I find it. I have short term memory loss and I have a safe place where I leave my keys/phone/wallet so that I know I’ll find them again.
If you’ve been a sepsis survivor my first tip would be to contact the UK Sepsis Trust, a fantastic charity offering support and guidance for those leaving hospital and their families. They do a huge amount of work promoting the detection of sepsis too as it can happen extremely quickly with catastrophic consequences. I’d recommend attending a local support group. I run one in the Herts, Beds and Bucks area but they have groups all over the country. Again, check the trust website. Take it easy and gently push the limits whilst being aware that it can take over a year to start to feel anywhere normal again. It’s a devastating attack on your body and you need time to recover.
Physical activity has turned me from someone who had lost confidence in their body and its capabilities to one who feels strong, confident and invincible. I had spent a year in and out of hospital with various sepsis related complications and I thought that another illness or symptom was always around the corner. Once I took control back and pushed my limits, whilst being mindful of the crushing fatigue I had suffered with post sepsis syndrome, I started to feel on top of the world. In March of this year, it felt like my unwelcome visitor had left me. As mentioned, I had various symptoms associated with post sepsis syndrome – fatigue, breathlessness, chest pain, cognitive difficulties – and they all (apart from the cognitive issues which remain) seem to have disappeared, leaving me with a healthy body once more. Almost overnight I started to feel great.
Physically I am in good shape so it’s a case of maintaining that fitness and improving weekly, building up my mileage and endurance. Cross training, cycling and swimming a few times a week too. I ran 40 miles last week and that felt great. I have a positive resilient mindset and I feel as though I can do anything. I have recently completed a half marathon and have two more coming up plus a triathlon and full marathon later this year. I’m loving life and sharing my story with others!
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