A SCOTTISH woman has told how she had to learn to walk again after suffering from severe blood poisoning.
Suzanne Graham, 45, suffered from what was believed to be a bad cold in the run-up to Christmas.
Because she was having difficulty breathing and speaking, she made an appointment with her family doctor.
Suzanne hoped for a quick recovery, but her symptoms rapidly worsened and she was taken to intensive care and placed on a ventilator.
She had severe pneumonia and 10-20 percent lung function, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis.
Suzanne, from Glasgow, was in intensive care for ten days – that’s how long her muscles had atrophied – and she couldn’t sit up in bed.
She couldn’t stand and had to learn to walk again with the help of three physical therapists.
After intensive work throughout the week with physical therapists to learn to adjust to using crutches, Suzanne was finally able to return home following the ordeal in 2019.
Speaking about her first fall, she said: “I was busy and a lot was happening.”
“I had a cold that I didn’t think much about, but it just stuck.
“As Christmas approached I started feeling worse and worse, but I thought the cold had just turned into flu.
“Looking back, I had no idea how uncomfortable I really was. I had been feeling sick for a few days and couldn’t sleep. I was really having trouble breathing.
“One night I couldn’t sleep and remembered that my friend, who was the same age as me, had pneumonia.
“I found this unusual because I had always associated pneumonia with older people, so I looked up the symptoms of pneumonia and flu and quickly realized that my symptoms were all indicative of pneumonia.”
Suzanne made an emergency appointment with her GP, but her condition had deteriorated to the point where she was unable to walk for a long period of time.
“My husband had to help me get to the family doctor. It was about 50 meters up the road, but my husband had to drive me.”
“The family doctor measured my blood oxygen and listened to my lungs. I just remember her saying to me, ‘I don’t want to worry you, but we’re going to call an ambulance – you need to go to hospital.’
“The ambulance came and took me to the intensive care unit. I still remember getting into the ambulance, but I have no memory of that time, so this is all just what my family members told me.”
When Suzanne arrived in intensive care, she was placed on a ventilator – but the situation deteriorated again.
“I needed oxygen. It took a while to get the ventilator hooked up and then they came back and talked to my husband.”
“They said the situation was out of control and the oxygen I was getting from the ventilator wasn’t enough to keep me alive.”
“The only treatment option available was ECMO treatment. It is specifically coordinated in Leicester and there is a specific protocol that one must follow to access the treatment.”
“They had to see if I was suitable for it too, because not everyone is – and they only deliver it to a few places in the UK,” said Suzanne.
ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a treatment used in extreme cases when a patient’s lungs or heart are not functioning normally.
The machine uses an artificial lung to oxygenate the blood outside the body.
Luckily, Suzanne was eligible for the treatment – but the nearest plane was 145 miles away, in Aberdeen.
A team of five medical staff traveled through the night with a portable ECMO machine, to which Suzanne was immediately connected upon arrival.
“Normally in a theater they would put you on an ECMO machine, but I was so sick they couldn’t move me at all. Then they took me and drove me in an ambulance through the night to Aberdeen.”
“Essentially the pneumonia had become severe. I had 10-20% lung function, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis.
“It went into a kind of multi-organ failure – my lungs and kidneys failed.”
Suzanne was in Aberdeen for seven days where she continued to receive ECMO treatment. Luckily she responded well and was able to be returned to Glasgow to continue her treatment.
Hospital staff told her that recovery could take a year, depending on the severity of her illness and the time spent in the intensive care unit.
Symptoms to look out for include a very high or low temperature, confusion, shaking, patchy skin and difficulty urinating, according to the Sepsis Research charity FEAT – combinations of these symptoms or rapidly worsening symptoms are reason to seek urgent medical attention to see a doctor.
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