One Friday in June 2013, after suffering a bad cough for two weeks I’d had enough. It was just a cough and you wouldn’t normally panic over ‘just a cough’, would you? As a busy mum of four-year-old Rory, with a house to keep and a stressful job, I hadn’t allowed a cough to floor me but I was spreading germs and it needed an antibiotic. After a thorough check, the doctor seemed to agree with me and I came home, took the drugs, and went to bed.
The next morning I was worse. I was sick all over my bedroom floor and there was a lot of blood in it. With a bit of persuasion, I agreed to call NHS 24 to ask for advice, as the doctor’s surgery is closed on a Saturday. They sounded unconcerned, too, but suggested I go up to see them, to be safe. The journey was hot, and I was feverish and felt a bit faint, but I got there… just.
I was taken straight in to a doctor who immediately asked me to move to a bed. I collapsed before reaching it. The last thing I remember is medics all around me.
Acute Pneumonia, flooded lungs, together with a Streptococcal virus A (which apparently lives dormant in us all) in places it shouldn’t have been, and together they caused sepsis. My family are saying goodbye; I’m being kept alive for my young brother, Scott, to arrive on a flight from Dubai; and there is less than a 5% chance of me living.
I now know the trauma doctors who had the hard job of trying to save me, and I have heard their account of the fight we were all losing. They also had to contend with the full might of the Hutton family in ‘there-must-be-a-way’ battle mode, so they couldn’t give up! Against their expectations, I survived the night, with my older brother, Davy, taking all the responsibility on his (thankfully broad) shoulders. He was communicating with nurses and doctors, trying to learn all the terminology and what each machine was doing, and relaying that to family and friends, whilst considering funeral options and how to help bring up his nephew, Rory, without his mum.
Fortunately, one doctor suggested they should try ECMO, and called to see if I was eligible. This rare machine — ‘Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation’ — does the work of the lungs, in my case, and oxygenates the blood outside the body whilst chilling it to bring down body temperature. The ECMO team was in Leicester, and they agreed to fly a crew up to see me. I later learned that my stats were so poor that they weren’t confident of being able to take me.
Unfortunately, my stats had slipped and I was to be rejected. The lead consultant, Chris, later told me that his team needed to return to Leicester anyway, and that I was almost certainly going to die so there was nothing to lose in taking me. Thankfully, it was his decision on weekends; he intimated that he might have had a harder job convincing his superiors on a weekday.
So I flew to Leicester by air ambulance, while my family drove the six hours to be there with me. I had already responded to the treatment by the time they arrived. As the priority was the vital organs, the doctors warned that my extremities may suffer loss of circulation, and my hands and feet had started to turn blue/black. But I was alive, and my family were happy with that for the moment.
I spent two weeks there until I was considered stable enough to return to Paisley RAH Intensive Care. That’s when they brought me slowly back to consciousness.
Only then was it explained to me exactly what my family had gone through. Not me, though. I’d slept through it all! I still fill up when I think of their worry and concern for me.
There followed three weeks of great progress. I was still on life support machines, had a tracheotomy fitted, catheters, being drip-fed, could do nothing for myself, and couldn’t speak. I had frequent temperature spikes, made worse by the stunning weather and the 6 foot windows I lay beside. I take pride in knowing I was responsible for the ICU in Paisley getting their first Dyson bladeless fan, as no others were allowed for hygiene reasons!
My feet and hands were bandaged and bubble-wrapped for protection, but Davy insisted we check them every day and we knew they were getting worse. We watched as my fingers shrivelled up and went crooked, whilst the colour was now almost black. My feet were slightly better and we had great hopes for them improving, but it wasn’t the priority then.
I had frequent unexplained panic attacks. An episode of rigor shakes really scared me, and that was one of very few times I had a negative nursing experience.
With only two exceptions, I have the utmost respect and gratitude for the nurses who looked after me in my time of need. Every domestic, every auxiliary, every nurse, porter or doctor: you played such an important part in repairing my body and my attitude. Thank you.
Those three weeks since I’d returned from Leicester were almost all positive, with doctors and nurses complimenting me and congratulating me as I was taken off each machine or device, then ate for myself, breathed through my mouth, talked again, and defied all the odds — and expectations, apparently.
They called me the wonder patient, the miracle supergirl. But I’m only telling you that to emphasise the almighty crash that came after…
When I was deemed well enough (week 6), I was transferred to Glasgow Royal Infirmary for what we thought would be a series of tests and scans to identify what could be saved of my hands and feet. I arrived late on the Thursday afternoon, and settled in for my first night in my new accommodation.
After breakfast, the usual ‘doctor’s rounds’ began at 7.45 and that amounted to a visit from the consultant, several interns, the sister, a nurse, and a physio.
When they reached my bedside, the consultant introduced my medical situation with these words, ‘Ms. Hutton is to have her legs and hands amputated later this week.’ He may have gone on to say more, but that’s all I heard. After some fighting back, we booked the amputations. I managed to survive sepsis, but lost both my hands and legs during the battle.
Every four hours, someone in Scotland dies of sepsis. Myself and Finding Your Feet have joined The Scottish Government and FEAT in a campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of sepsis. Time is critical when it comes to treating sepsis and every hour counts. If you suspect sepsis, call NHS24 on 111. If you or someone you care about has a rapid progression of symptoms call 999.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
• Very high or low temperature;
• Uncontrolled shivering;
• Cold or blotchy hands and feet;
• Not passing as much urine as normal.