Meet Natalie

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It was Friday 26th August 2022. A day I remember as it was my mum’s birthday but also the day that things in my life took a turn. I started my day with my usual ‘Tone’ class at the gym. I was 43, healthy and fit.  As I was in the shower getting ready for my day I got a sudden, stabbing pain in my back on the left hand side which intensified to the point that I fell to the shower floor in agony. I slowly crawled my way out of the shower along my bedroom floor hoping it would go away but it didn’t. I started screaming for my husband who was downstairs in the kitchen. My screams didn’t get his attention so I started thumping on the walls yelling out his name so he could come help me. Eventually he came and saw me in disbelief.  I immediately said to him that we needed to go to the hospital. Thankfully we only live around the corner from a major hospital.

I don’t remember too much of the next two days as my body must have been in extreme pain and the trauma of the event effected my memory. I have however managed to pull together most of it from questioning my family. As I arrived at the ED entrance I could barely walk in. I was triaged by the nurse and at some point taken to a bed. I recall rolling around in the bed in agony watching the nurses flinch every time I screamed as they prepared the morphine. We spent several hours at the hospital. I was administered several dosages of morphine throughout my time there and given anti-nausea tablets as I vomited several times. I had a CT scan which showed I had a 4mm kidney stone. Later that evening I was discharged with pain and anti-nausea medication. We were told due to the size of the stone it should pass on its own. What we didn’t know was that was never going to occur and that evening was the beginning of almost the end for me.

I started to deteriorate quickly throughout the night and the following day. What we didn’t know was that I had sepsis already and my body was going into Septic Shock. The stone had blocked my ureter which meant my kidney wasn’t passing urine and was quickly getting infected. My husband continued to medicate me however the pain relief was not working. I started to vomit and did move out of bed. My daughter recalls walking in on me shivering and my teeth chattering as they tried to comfort me with heat bags and her Oodie. My husband called ED and was transferred to a health line who provided general advice on kidney stones.

Later that evening he took me back to hospital. I was in a critical state. I remember turning up to ED and vomiting profusely outside their entry doors. I was sat in a wheelchair and was quickly seen by a triage nurse. I recall placing my head on his desk moaning in pain. My blood pressure was incredibly low and my heart rate was incredibly high. Much of what happened afterwards was a blur. I remember lying in bed and a team of doctors standing at the edge of my bed. One doctor introduced himself to me and told me he had been called in to conduct a emergency operation on me. I would be required to stay in ICU for a few days then the ward for another few. I was taken into another room where I was prepared for surgery and told to say goodbye to my husband. I have never been so scared and physically ill in my life. I could hear the operating theatre being prepared and felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing to the point I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The anaesthetist kept monitoring my blood pressure as it was getting lower and lower the longer we waited. I remember being hurried into the operating theatre. It felt so, so cold. I was terrified. I fought the oxygen mask as I was terrified of what was about to happen and then moved onto the operating bed.

I was told that when they went into my kidney it was infected and full of puss, a lot worse than they had imagined. A 24cm ureter stent was inserted but the stone was left in. When I questioned doctors about this later they advised if they had removed the stone they would have killed me on the operating table. My surgeon said to me that he has never seen a case like mine. My body was like an atomic bomb that just went off and I got sick very, very quick. The words “very, very sick’ were used by every doctor and every nurse that looked after me during my two week stay in hospital.

I spent 7 days in ICU fighting my for life. I was intubated and was sedated following the surgery as I suffered multi organ failure and ICU spent the following day resuscitating my organs. Once awake I recall feeling extremely scared, lost, confused and a complete loss of dignity. I recall having difficulty breathing as my lungs had coped a beating and had fluid. ICU was terrible. As I started to improve I was moved onto a ward where I was faced with some of the biggest challenges of them all. I remember my beautiful nurse Michelle peeling back the curtains the first morning on the ward telling me she was going to make me feel nice by getting me out of bed and giving me my first shower. Little did I know this was going to be one of the hardest things I would do in my life. I remember placing my two feet on the ground and having no sense of balance or strength. I could barely lift my head. I was hunched over in a little ball as I had lost all muscle control. I was wheeled into the shower where I started crying and as I held onto the rail thinking how the hell was I ever going to get over this. Each day afterwards we would set a new goal. I would need to learn to shower on my own, feed myself and spend time in the chair to gain my strength. Showering itself would take a huge physical toll and I would have to sleep afterwards.

I was discharged in a very weak state. I was actually horrified that I was allowed to go home. I didn’t want to go home although I had 3 beautiful daughters. I didn’t want to face my home as it brought back memories. I remember my husband picking me up early Wednesday morning and being wheelchaired down to the hospitals front entrance. Everything seemed so strange like I didn’t belong. I had to spend the next 2 weeks at my parents house where they looked after me as it was too much for my husband with the kids and our house had a lot of stairs which were too difficult for me to use. I eventually went home on Thursday 22nd September, 4 weeks since I arrived at ED. I felt strange in my own house. I couldn’t and still don’t sleep on my side of the bed or shower with the door closed!

Although I was finally home it wasn’t the end for me. I still needed to have the stone and stent removed. I was anxious and scared and cranky that I had to have another operation after all I had been through. On the Tuesday 27 September I went in for another procedure. I was terrified and felt like I was going to vomit, being in a hospital again was too soon since the sepsis ordeal!

It’s been 7 weeks since I was discharged from hospital for Septic Shock and looking back now I have improved tremendously. I’ve started seeing a psychologist to help deal with the trauma which has been great and I have started walking and slowly getting out. I do get frustrated as I’m not at the same level as I was before but hope over time this will improve. I have noticed my ability to focus and concentrate is much harder, my short-term memory is not as good and I get breathlessness over simple tasks however I am trying to remain positive and hope that I can get to where I was before. I still have a long road to recovery but I know one thing for sure. I’m appreciative of my family and friends who showed me constant love and support. I am forever grateful to my husband who not only had to endure the trauma of seeing me so sick but for never leaving my side. I don’t feel the same and hope I never do as I have a new profound appreciation for life. I listen to the birds, I literally stop to smell the flowers and love the warmth of the sun on my skin as I recall desperately wanting this whilst in hospital. I joined the sepsis network as I was desperately searching for answers. What I learnt is that sepsis can touch anyone in so many different ways. I received some great advice from sepsis survivors which didn’t make me feel so alone.  If there is anything that I want more is that hospitals and their staff and the community are more educated on sepsis. Sepsis screening should be compulsory and form part of every hospital process.