Late in February of 2006, I got an ingrown hair on my bottom. Other than making sitting a bit uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much about it.
About a week later, I started to have flu-like symptoms. “Great”, I thought, ” I’ve got a sore bottom AND the flu, just my luck!”. By Thursday the 2nd of March, I was starting to feel pretty miserable. I went in to work that day, but was sent home at lunchtime by my manager. I went home, crawled into bed and slept. The next day, I wasn’t feeling any better, so I decided to go and see the doctor. I was nearing the end of a major project at work and hoped the doctor could give me something to ease my symptoms. I told her all about my nasty flu symptoms, but didn’t even bother mentioning my sore butt. Of course, she told me there was really nothing that could be done for me, and sent me home. I thought, “Oh well, it’s Friday, I’ll spend the weekend in bed and I’ll be better by Monday morning.
Saturday morning, I woke up and actually did feel a little better. I drove down to Portsmouth with my eldest boy, who was five at the time, to pick up some parts for the Vespa scooter I was rebuilding. By the time I got back I felt awful and crawled back into bed.
I spent Sunday morning in bed, finally appearing at around 3:00 in the afternoon to try a bit of lukewarm tomato soup that my wife had made me. It tasted awful and came straight back up. In fact, that afternoon, anything I ingested just came back up. I was drinking lots of water, because I was incredibly thirsty and also because I wanted something in my stomach to ease the dry heaving. I crawled into bed again later that afternoon and stayed there until about 9:00 in the evening. I got up because I just couldn’t handle the fever any more; my wife, Jennie, took my temperature and it was 40C. She rang the on-call doctor at the hospital to come and see me because we didn’t want to bother the neighbours to mind our kids while we went to the A & E.
When the doctor arrived, he examined the abscess on my bottom and called for an ambulance to transport me to the hospital because my wife didn’t drive at the time. Since it was a transport call and not an emergency call, the ambulance took about two and a half hours to arrive. Whilst waiting for the ambulance, I became more and more ill. I was delirious and vomiting, and believed that I had terrible diarrhea. The diarrhea, as it turns out, was blood and rotting flesh rushing out of the site of my infection. In any event, my wife made arrangements for our boys, the ambulance finally arrived and she and I were taken to Frimley Park hospital in Surrey. I vaguely remember the ride in the ambulance, knowing something was very wrong with me, and feeling that I would be all right if we could get to the hospital.
I don’t remember much about what happened that night, or for the next two and a half weeks for that matter. Apparently, I sent Jennie home at about 4:00AM so that she would be home when the boys woke up, telling her I would be fine. I was moved to the assessment ward, and then to the high dependancy unit a couple hours later.
At about 9:00AM on the 5th of March, Jennie received a call from the hospital to tell her that I was going in for emergency surgery to debride the site of infection. During the surgery, my heart stopped, my blood pressure dropped to nil and I went into toxic shock and suffered multiple organ failure.
After the initial surgery, I spent 16 days on full life support, completely sedated and unaware of anything that was going on. I had two further surgeries, cutting away more dead and infected tissue. The prognosis was not good at all, Jennie was told that I had about a 10% chance of survival. The staff at the hospital told my mum, who lives in Canada, that she should come as quickly as she could because I was not likely to make it.
I developed a serious lung infection, which filled my lungs with fluid. I’m told that the physiotherapists spent hours upon hours, pounding on my chest and back to clear my lungs. I’m also told that every time it seemed that I was improving, another thing would set me back and put me in danger again. Jennie, my mum and my stepfather took shifts with me in the ITU, and through their care and the amazing work done by the doctors, nurses and physiotherapists at the hospital, I began to improve.
The first thing that I remember after being admitted to A & E was Jennie telling me that I was in the hospital and that I was very ill and not to try to talk because I had a ventilator tube down my throat. I thought it was the same night as I had been admitted; I had no idea about what had gone in in the previous two and a half weeks. They told me that they were going to take the ventilator tube out. I didn’t know that they were doing that because they intended to give me a tracheostemy. In any event, the tube came out and I actually started breathing on my own – no tracheostemy.
The next few days were a bizarre and terrifying mixture of hallucinations and delirium, interspersed with brief periods of lucidity. I’m grateful to all of the nurses who patiently soothed me during my insane moments, and who assured my wife and mum that I would eventually come back. After all of the sedation, medication and trauma my body and mind had suffered, it was natural for me to be completely off my head. I had tubes and wires coming and going everywhere and was hooked up to more machines that I could count.
During the time that I was sedated, my muscles wasted quite significantly. That, in addition to the fragile state of my organs, meant that I couldn’t lift my arms, or legs, or really move at all. Four days after coming off the ventilator, the nurses and physiotherapists hoisted me to a chair. Fifteen minutes of sitting left me absolutely exhausted. Eventually, the tubes started to come out, at the rate of about one a day. A few days later I was managing a dozen or so shuffling steps across the room, with a walking frame to lean on, a physiotherapist on one arm and Jennie on the other.
In the ITU, I pined for my sons, who were five and nearly three at the time. Children aren’t allowed in there, so I had to settle for a picture and few bedtime phone calls with a nurse holding the handset to my ear. I counted the minutes every day when my mum and my beautiful Jennie would come and visit.
Things got better, I got stronger every day and on the 30th of March I was moved from intensive care to a regular ward. Things went very well, I got stronger at an amazing rate and I was able to have visits from my boys. I gained an appreciation of the things we all take for granted. I was frustrated very often because I couldn’t walk, or feed myself, or wash without assistance. But, gradually, all of those things came back. After two weeks on the ward, I was discharged from the hospital. Home in time to see my boys hunt for Easter eggs in the garden!
I spent a couple of months convalescing at home and then went back to work part time. After about a month of that, I started back at work full-time. It’s now October, six months after I fell ill, and I’m still recovering. Most days I feel good, but I still tire easily and am still absorbing everything that happened. NF took a fair-sized bite out of my bottom, but I am getting better though, and I know that I will make a full recovery.
Before I finish, I’d like to say my thanks to a few people:
All of the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and staff at Frimley Park hospital in Surrey. The NHS takes a lot of stick, but they were amazing, and I owe them my life for diagnosing and treating me quickly and correctly. And I owe them my gratitude for caring for me compassionately and patiently.
My mum, for coming to our aid and helping out with the kids and for helping me recover at home.
My family and friends, for all their encouragement and hope. Even the ones who now take the mickey about my “half-assed” comments.
My handsome boys, Eric and Alec, whose picture next to the bed gave me a reason to get out of the hospital.
My employer and all my co-workers, who have given me and my family more support than we could have asked for.
And mostly, my wonderful wife Jennie, without whose love and support I don’t think I would have made it. I can’t imagine how hard this was for her. I love you honey.