Sepsis – The Silent Killer

The Sepsis Six

The Sepsis Six

I was so drunk on apprehension and high on anxiety that the moment I sat down after the inquest I hit the wall running, at 100mph. The full force of the impact manifesting itself in an all-consuming emotional hangover. In the months leading up to the inquest I had to focus on arriving at the one goal I knew I had to be part of. Representing William, and to be his voice. The enormity of the task that lay ahead of me was overwhelming. I had long since given up trying to deal with people’s expectations. I knew that the only way I would reach that goal was pressure, and the only pressure that was acceptable was from me. Only I could prepare myself for the inquest.

I knew the day would be fraught with tension. I didn’t understand why we were there, and I still don’t understand now. As Professor Peter Fleming said “I think there is a very good chance that his illness could have been treated successfully.” To hear those words made any possibility of healing the wound an impossibility. The wound irreparably damaged. William’s death we knew in our hearts was avoidable but to have those words spoken by a world-renowned paediatric specialist after reviewing the evidence was gut wrenching.

As parents, we are not doctors, we worry, we panic, we ask a million questions but we have every right to. We trust and believe the health professionals that we are forced to rely on. Professor Fleming expressed concern that neither the 111 service nor the out-of-hours GP, had acted on William’s temperature change which had been over 40C on the Friday but had subsequently fallen to 35C on the Saturday, a symptom of circulatory failure, and later we found out, a symptom of Sepsis. We took William to the doctors on the Friday because we were concerned. We were reassured it was “nothing grisly” we followed the guidance and advice we were given. I was still worried and called for help on the Saturday. From the analysis of this phone call, which was played at the 8 hour-long inquest, Professor Fleming said he “was disappointed the ‘algorithm’ used by the 111 service did not appear to have assessed the situation effectively…they are working from a script, not their professional knowledge.” Ultimately, our little boy had been unwell for months with what we were told was “just a cough” in the latter stages he developed pneumonia, this caused sepsis (septicemia).

Who knows what Sepsis is? Who knows what causes sepsis? I had heard of sepsis, septicemia blood poisoning, but I never for one second sat and thought in that last week that William had it because I didn’t know what it was. As parents we had it drummed into us that if our children are unwell, always check for a rash, meningitis, do the glass test, meningitis kills. Every doctor who William saw or I spoke to were always very thorough in checking for a rash, but no-one discussed the symptoms or the possibility of sepsis. We were not warned what to look or check for.  There are several clinical indications for sepsis, one is a temperature over 38C or below 36C and another is a rapid pulse of over 90 beats per minute. William’s temperature on the Friday was 40.1C and his pulse wasn’t even taken. I will never understand, with a doctor’s knowledge, how this was missed. How William’s cough was never investigated and subsequently how the pneumonia was never diagnosed.  Ultimately causing sepsis which took his life.  It is estimated that 3200 people per year die from meningitis, but 37,000 people die from sepsis. I think it’s about time that sepsis should be granted the air time that meningitis has. Parents need to be educated, no more children should die needlessly like William.

We were let down, in the most unimaginable way. It is not fair that William had to lose his life in order to recognise that changes have to be made. What those changes are only time will tell. All I continue to do is just take one day at a time, I no longer pressure myself or set any unrealistic expectations, I’m breathing, that is a huge accomplishment. After all, people can try to imagine what it’s like in my shoes, but no-one can imagine what it’s like being in my head.