Sepsis and Me

I have a very strange relationship with sepsis. Ultimately it is what caused the most devastating loss in our family. It is what robbed my first-born child of his life. I didn’t even know what it was and hadn’t even heard of it before William’s death certificate was presented to me. Now I know so much about it that it seems impossible that there was ever a time when I didn’t know that it existed or that it was an integral part of my life.

You would think that because sepsis stole the life my of one-year old baby that I would never want to let the word roll off my tongue again but it is what consumes my life on an almost daily basis. It is something that I cannot let go of. It is something that I have to speak about and it is always on my mind.

I work for the UK Sepsis Trust but to me it doesn’t feel like a job. If I didn’t work for them I would campaign, I would blog, I would educate the public and health professionals about sepsis and the reality of what it can do. Sepsis is an integral part of my life that is unavoidable, perhaps not as unavoidable as William’s death. William couldn’t avoid it and neither can I.

When I talk to health professionals about William’s death, about those horrifying moments that I found my lifeless child in his cot, rigor mortis having taken over his fragile little body, the words catch in my throat. Reliving it, retelling it and recounting every single painful moment is almost like a punishment, dipping myself back in to that moment. I invest so much emotionally when I talk. But it is not something that I can escape from. I could of course choose not to talk about it. I could choose not to revisit, but these thoughts and those memories live in my mind, they are part of my make-up. As much as William’s life is made up of the most wonderful memories, William’s death happened too. It is part of my life and it is what has redefined me.

I am always asked when I arrive at a talk or conference whether I get nervous. I don’t, not really. I don’t have butterflies in my stomach, I don’t have sweaty palms and I don’t feel any sense of anxiety. After all, the subject I talk about is my life, I can’t get it wrong. It’s not a test and no one is judging me. Something that every parent wants to do is talk about their children. Their pride and joy. I cannot talk about William’s latest achievements or what he’s up to. I have finite memories that I can recall, there will be no more memories to make. So, in order to talk about William, I talk about his death, because that is also part of his life.

Sometimes I get messages from people, saying that because of a talk that I’ve delivered, or a blog I’ve written or a video I’ve shared that they heeded my advice and due to that their loved one was diagnosed and treated successfully for sepsis. This warms my heart and for every story, every child, every life it still gives me goose bumps and it still makes me cry. I cannot help but feel that I wish there had been a ‘me’ several years ago when William was poorly.

I know that whatever I do William lives on in the hearts of the lives that he’s saved. I cannot bring him back, if I could, I would. I have not accepted William’s death, how can you accept something that is unacceptable, but what I have done is made peace with myself that one day I will be with him again. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I know that it is but one heartbeat and one breath away.

I haven’t just seen the devastation that happens when sepsis enters one’s life, I live it, I breathe it. It is what tore my family apart, it crept in to my son’s life and it was what stopped that golden heart from beating. I will not forgive it, I will not give in to it. I have embraced it, I implore it, I share it, sepsis forms every part of my way of being William’s mum. If I can help just one family from enduring the pain that we live in, then I’ll keep sharing, I’ll keep talking, I’ll keep telling sepsis that you might have won the battle but you most certainly have not won the war.

Love prevails. Always.


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

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Christmas will never be the same…

Today is a sad day, every day is a sad day, but this time three years ago we announced when William’s funeral would be. Instead of uploading hundreds of photos that all seemed to look identical, William covered in paper and sellotape, playing with the boxes that the toys came in, instead we were inviting people to his funeral.

Christmas, a time of year that over the centuries has evolved from its very religious beginnings, now a commercialised time of year, that we all use as an excuse to down tools and spend time with our loved ones. Who can blame you? No-one needs an excuse to see that joy on their little ones faces, that excitement of knowing Father Christmas is coming, writing a letter to Santa, leaving a mince-pie, carrot and a tipple for Santa on Christmas Eve, visiting any number of events laid on by local attractions for our children to sit on Santa’s knee, and finally that sound of tiny stomping feet and squeals of glee, when they discover Santa has been, a stocking brimming full of toys that will be played with once, a tree that is barely recognisable under the weight of all the gifts.

We have none of that for William. We will never have any of that, not with William. William didn’t get to learn about Father Christmas, William didn’t get to star in his first nativity, William didn’t get to write a letter to Santa, he did sit on Santa’s knee, his bear containing William’s ashes gripped tightly by Santa, but that isn’t what we imagined would be the first time William would sit on Santa’s knee. We didn’t get to track Santa’s sleigh as he visited those in the Far East before he made it to the UK, we didn’t get to buy him a personalised book from Santa. On Christmas morning we awoke to silence, no little feet stomping down the corridor, no squealing, no excited little face, no ‘mummy, daddy, he’s been’. No William.

Our floor was clear of William’s wrapping paper, we didn’t have an obstacle course of his toys littered around the house. We didn’t have a little boy to give his first brussel sprout too. We didn’t get to show him a cracker, he didn’t get to wear a party hat or a cute little outfit. We didn’t have the struggle to put him to bed, too high on the simplicity of playing with his toys. We didn’t get to pack him and 500 toys into the car to visit family and friends, where his beautiful smile would make anyone’s Christmas. No, we had nothing of William.

Two years ago we went away, we went to stay somewhere completely unfamiliar, needing to get away from the suffocation of William’s absence in our home. But, regardless of where we were, the crushing pain packed itself in our suitcase and followed us. My heart hurts, it physically hurts in my chest, it doesn’t go away when I breathe in or out, whether I lie down or stand up, whether I have a glass of wine or not. My chest is crushed, my heart aching, aching to hold my little boy on Christmas. Three years ago at Christmas William’s fragile and broken body was still with us. I held him for several hours twice on Christmas day. I cried over his beautiful presence, I held him so close, I feared I might squash him. This year, we didn’t even have that. We will never have that again.There are very few that will understand this pain.

Paul and I stayed in a beautiful hideaway in Dartmoor National Park, there were families with children there, but we spoke to lots of couples who like us were ‘hiding’. Christmas not a happy time for them either. Some vastly wealthy couples, but grief does not discriminate, a loss of both parents recently meant one couple needed to be somewhere unfamiliar. At Christmas dinner, we had William’s teddy in a high chair, the chap on the next table ordered his parents favourite wine. Simple things, that somehow bring us closer to those loved ones we so desperately pine for. We met a U.S district judge, a man with a very powerful and influential position in society, reduced to tears by William’s story. For some Christmas isn’t a time of joy or craziness, it has become a time of painful reflection. A time that you look at your watch and hope that another hour has passed.

Every painful aspect a reminder of what should be, William would have loved the Christmas trees in every room, William would have loved splashing in the muddy puddles in his wellies, William would have loved the array of treats littered around the castle to keep the kids entertained, William would have loved afternoon tea, bitesize little sandwiches, perfect for his dinky little fingers, William would have loved to have found the stocking hanging on our door on Christmas morning, William would have loved to decorate the Christmas tree in our room, William would have loved the table magician, William would have loved the owl that sat on the reception desk, William would have loved watching the hunt as the horses and hounds made their way off the estate, William would have loved to sit in front of the grand fire by the most extravagant Christmas tree waiting for Father Christmas to call his name out to go and collect his present, William would have loved to watch the ferret racing, William would have loved the playbarn, William would have loved everything, but William was robbed of all of those things and we were robbed of William. All I want for Christmas is my son. Just one second, just one cuddle, just one stroke of those chubby little cheeks, just one look at that infectious smile, just one smell, just one touch. Just William. This is a wish that will never be answered.

I have felt nothing but guilt, my whole body consumed by Williams last few hours, what must my boy have been feeling, what did he want to say but couldn’t, what sort of mother am I to listen to what I was told to do, what sort of mother am I to listen to people who had no idea what they were doing, not just one person but multiple people, not just once but multiple times. The one thing I wanted to do and prided myself on was protecting my little boy, knowing that no-one could ever protect him and love him like I do. But sepsis does not discriminate, William was not unlucky, William was let down in the most unimaginable way possible. They have taken away our Christmas, our birthdays, every day, our life, our William. No manner of apology or putting right what went wrong will change anything, nothing will bring William back. Nothing can make Christmas bearable. Nothing can take away the fear, the anxiety and the guilt that any mother would feel for not somehow saving her child.

During midnight mass in the local church, William’s teddy was wrapped in my embrace, I struggled to make it through the service, the tears came rolling down my cheeks, choking on the tears, the words the heart cannot speak. As I stood, I went to the vicar and I asked him to please pray with me. He held me and William, and he prayed that his little soul would be in peace and to bless his beautiful soul. He also prayed for me, William’s mummy, to find comfort. I am yet to find any. I know that day will come, I know that day will be when I get to join my son again. In a place where there are no hours, days or years, where it is eternity. Where there is peace from this suffering, where I know that I will never be separated from my darling little boy again. A place where the first thing I will do is find my son, and the second will be to never let him go again. On that day, and that day only I will find peace.

This year, this Christmas we are blessed with William’s brother, Arthur. Something I could never have imagined three years ago. Something, sometimes I still struggle to comprehend. How can I be so lucky, lucky to have two beautiful children, but for this to be entwined with such pain and loss. As I drink in every movement Arthur makes I am crippled by the movements that William will never make. It is like living in a parallel universe, for every simply euphoric moment with Arthur I am reminded and crushed by the moments that I will never have with William. I feel as though every moment I live I am lost and once again found.

Life doesn’t get easier. Christmas doesn’t get better, torn between love and loss. But what these last three years have taught me is that life is so unbelievably fragile. Life is not promised. We are but one breath, one heart beat from it being over. Savour every moment, every breath, be thankful when you open your eyes in the morning and hug your children close. Make your memories today. Love today. Live today. I will never take one single second with Arthur for granted.

William, wherever you are my darling little boy. For every step I take on Earth, it is one step closer to you. One day we will be forever. Until then, all of my love is being sent to you this Christmas. It is one less that we have to spend without each other.

You would be incredibly proud of your amazing little brother. And for every waking moment, everyday is Christmas day, every day brings with it your greatest gift to daddy and I, Arthur. There is no greater gift, than life itself, and mummy cannot articulate how proud she is of you for giving your life to save others. And mummy wants to say thank you. Thank you for giving me Arthur, thank you for saving my life, and thank you for making me the person that I am today. Without you, I would be a shadow. You have bought me into the light and through Arthur you have once again given me light.

I love you, x


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

I’m so so sorry mummy couldn’t save you

I don’t ever know where to start sweetheart. It’s been three years. Three whole years that we’ve had to live without each other. Three whole years since I last held your warm, squishy, strawberry scented little self in my arms. Three whole years since I got to whisper ‘I love you’ in your ear. Three whole years. How is that even possible, how have I managed? Simply, I don’t know.

The first year without you was complete and utter turmoil, total and complete devastation. My mind was like living inside a tornado, I was picked up and thrown around at the mercy of my thoughts. It was relentless. Last year I begun to find my feet. Sometimes I was able to put my feet on the ground and feel stable, sometimes I was able to communicate, willingly. I was learning. Learning how to live with your daddy, as two. Not three anymore. We didn’t choose that, we didn’t want that. A complete and total loss of control. I don’t like having no control. Last year I learned to go with the flow. Knowing that I was not able to swim against the riptide of grief, I had to close my eyes, turn on my back and wait for it to set me down again. This year has been strange; ‘living’ has been slightly easier, perhaps because your little brother has given us an injection of life again. He has given us hope, a future, he was one of the greatest gifts you ever gave us. But missing you has got so much harder. I find myself crying more often, I am often sad, not just for myself but for you. I often think about giving up and retreating, I think more often about the injustice of your death, your treatment and how cruelly your life was taken away. I’m struggling quite a bit at the minute, but I know that for every step I take, it is one step closer to you. I think that because the better days have become easier to bear, it makes the bad days even worse. It is like being on an awful roller-coaster that sometimes gets stuck, I have no choice but to ride it out.

I can’t remember what life was like before you were born. It seems like it was a different life. It was a life that I thought I was happy in, content with my lot. I couldn’t have imagined how wrong I was. When you were born you showed me what really mattered. I can remember watching you sleep, feeling utterly in love. A feeling that is difficult to articulate. You were part of me, I was you and you were me. You taught me a love that I didn’t know existed. You are woven into the fabric of my soul. When you died, I didn’t know what to do. How would I love again? How would I ever smile again, laugh, be happy? Life was constantly referred to as ‘before William was born’ and ‘after William died’ like our life had somehow been truncated and completely fractured.

 

Then you gave us Arthur. I was worried, more than worried. What would happen if I didn’t love him like I love you? What happened if I resented him, because he wasn’t you? But you knew. You knew I could be a mummy to two little people, you knew just what mummy needed, like your little brother, you heal my broken heart. I feel incredibly sad that I will never feel complete again, that wholesome feeling that cannot be bought.

You have taught me so much William. You have taught me complete kindness, you have taught me to be compassionate always, to be patient, to love fiercely, you have taught me that no matter where I go, you are with me always, I know that you are mine, and death cannot take that away from me. I cannot even begin to describe how proud I am of you. You graced this Earth for just 382 days, but you changed everything so profoundly. Your love feeds my determination, enables me to live, helps me to put one foot in front of the other,  gives me the strength to somehow fight to try to stop others from meeting your fate. Your love has changed so much, changed so many people, saved so many lives. I know you live on in the hearts of the many thousands of lives you have saved.

But you are not here and I just want you. I want nothing more than to hold you one last time. Forever is a long time. I know that you are just one breath away, one heartbeat, but I don’t know when I will take that breath and wake up with you. I wish I did. I wish I could put a big cross through every day, knowing that I was counting down. What I would give to make eye contact with you once more, to rub my cheek on yours, to feel you in my arms once more. My arms ache for you. They are heavy, my heart is heavy, my head is heavy. The living might get easier but the longing gets so much harder.

I remember the last time I ever held you, before I placed you in your forever bed and closed the lid, I kissed your forehead, I ran my fingers through your hair, I kissed your lips and I rubbed my cheek on yours, and I said “I’m so so sorry mummy couldn’t save you.” This hurts me, physically hurts me. I would do anything for you, and Arthur, give you both all you need, physically, emotionally and mentally, but the one thing I couldn’t do was make you better. I tried so hard to get you the help you needed, despite the apologies for your care, you’re still my responsibility and your life is in my hands. I failed you in the worst way possible. I let you down when you so desperately needed me the most. I tried so so hard.

I love you darling boy. You know. I told you always, I showed you always, they were the last words you ever heard me whisper, “Goodnight sweetheart, I love you.” You knew only love but three years on, the words that still sting me every single day “I’m so so sorry mummy couldn’t save you.”


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

Dear Arthur,

Today you turn one. A day that when you were first placed in my arms I never thought we would make. With every day passing filled with so much anxiety that you are on loan, that after day 382 we will have to hand you back, like we did with your big brother William, it felt like we would never reach this milestone. I have learned from losing William that I must manage my days and hours in bitesize pieces. Never looking too far ahead. A whole year seemed impossible back then. But here we are, we did it. You did it.

You my darling boy were born out of hope in the midst of grief. An innocent little boy with absolutely no knowledge of all that has happened before you. I have tried so hard to make sure that you have never witnessed mummy crumble, I don’t want you to be scared or worried about why mummy is upset. The time will come when we tell you that you have the most beautiful big brother, a brother who lived before you, a big brother that you will never meet but a big brother who is with you with every breath that you take. You see William’s photos all around you, you’ve watched mummy on the television talking about him, the time will come, but slowly you will get to know him.

But, you are you. You are your own little person. The most independent, determined and head strong little baby I know. Some say they wonder where you get that from…I don’t want you to grow up in your brothers shadow. Despite the attention your brother receives, it is YOU who bought us light out of suffocating darkness. You have been the reason that I have put one foot in front of the other. You are the reason I get out of bed on the days when life seems impossible; because do you know my little man, YOU saved my life. Some say that your big brother has saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives because he has given me the passion to campaign, but it was YOU that gave me the life to continue. You are part of this incredible journey. You are responsible for mummy taking a completely different path.

There was a time when mummy couldn’t bear to think about the next ten minutes of being alive. There was a time when mummy tried to take her own life; at the time believing that I could never exist without William. Had it not been for your daddy, mummy wouldn’t be here. There was a time when I couldn’t move, dress, speak coherently, or even think. I remember this time so vividly. A time I don’t wish to forget about, a time that is part of this indescribable journey of survival. It is a painful reminder of how many steps I have taken since then. They say there are five stages in grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I would say I have experienced some of these things. Not necessarily in that order. But the one thing I haven’t done is accept it. I don’t think I can accept the unacceptable. But during the most insufferable days when life has felt too much of a challenge I started to realise that the one thing your brother wants is his life. Who am I to waste the one, most precious gift that was robbed of him? I never realised this before you came along, you gave me the ability to see that as much as it’s okay to not be okay, it’s also okay to be okay. As they say the past is in our heads but the future is in our hands.

You have taught me that it’s okay to miss William whilst being able to love you too. You have taught me that it is okay to pine for William whilst being happy that you are in my arms. You have taught me that it is okay to be sad that William won’t reach the milestones that you will reach. As much as your brother floored me with the most overwhelming love, you have taught me that it can continue, for him AND for you. You have taught me that it is okay to live. You my darling boy, have lived on this Earth for 365 days and you will soon be older than William was but your innocence, your total, unrivaled, uninhibited love is something that I feed off daily, something that keeps me going and something that allows me to realise that you and William share a bond that is entirely unbreakable.

You are his and he is yours. You are both mine, and I am both yours, always.

Happy birthday sweetheart xxxxx


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead

My worst enemy is my memory…

William would be four this year. We would be planning his transition to pre-school. Buying him his first little uniform. We would be watching him play and encourage his little brother, perhaps having a calming effect, perhaps feeding his boisterous side; we will never know. We would have to keep reminding him to be quiet, be careful not to wake your little brother. So many things that we should be doing, but we’re not.

Everyday is full of moments, where we are stuck in a time, a time where life stood still. The only way I can explain what it is like to live with losing a child is like being on a train. You can see life, almost reach out and touch it but you have to mind the step. There is something permanent between you and it. Sometimes you sit, motionless from behind a pane of glass, taking in all that is going on around you, sensitive to your surroundings, hyper-sensitive, noises, colours, movements, proving all too much. Other times you sit back and watch it whizzing by, knowing that you can’t get off, you are in transit, your world is moving, but you are stationary, perfectly stationary. I feel as though I am a ghost. I can see in, but people can’t see me.

Sometimes I’m strong enough to stand and get off at the stations. Step over the gap. Feel the rush of air in my hair. Be a part of life. I think taking part gets easier with time, I suppose more experienced with the grief. Perhaps recognising your personal cues, noticing subtle changes in your mood, your  motivation, knowing when rough times are coming, eventually you learn that your train is waiting, all you have to do is get back on it when your knees buckle. And they do buckle. Sometimes I have a bad week, and I put one in front of the other just for one solitary ‘good’ day.

Every time I sit in front of a camera and talk about William, about his death, about how much it hurts to miss him, it takes days, sometimes weeks of sitting in my carriage on that train to prepare. My eyes shut, feet firmly rooted to the floor, preparing. Preparing to relive, preparing to reignite that fear, those emotions, and go ‘there’. But it doesn’t quite compare, it doesn’t even come close to what I had to endure today.

You know when you have children and all of a sudden a switch is flicked over, it is no longer about you, but this tiny, fragile, human being you have created, and the FEAR. People try to explain the fear to you, an emotion like no other, a feeling of complete helplessness, like you are living in constant dread that something bad is going to happen to your little bundle of joy, every time the phone rings and it flashes up ‘nursery’, you fear the worst. Every time they step outside, within 3 seconds you have visualised every possible option of what could go wrong. The cars, falling debris, is there anything they could potentially trip on, eat? anything? maybe a piano might fall out of the sky and land on them? irrational, I know, but we have all been there. That feeling of not having total control over our little ones, even worse knowing they have no fear, leaping around the front room like they’re in mortal combat, but what we see is mortal danger. Now imagine all those fears being realised. That moment, when completely out of your control, their life is taken, snuffed out in one single heartbeat, not because you put them in harm’s way but because those that were supposed to relinquish the danger, increased it. Because their incompetence led to your child taking their last breath at the tender age of one. That fear is no longer a fear, but reality.

Now I know, I know what it is like to live the unimaginable, the pain that just cannot be expelled. I know what it is like to live without my child, I know what it is like to have stretch marks, but no baby to cradle in my arms. I know what it is like to go in to hospital with my baby and to walk away broken, leaving my baby behind. I know what it is like to wake every morning, knowing I will never see, hold, touch, smell, kiss or soothe my baby to sleep ever again. Ever.

Now imagine living like that and then adding another baby into the mix. All the fear that I experienced first time round with William is now tangible, it is no longer fear to me but a plausible, possible outcome. It is almost an expectation. In 52 days Arthur will be 382 days old, the age William was when he lost his life. I feel completely and fully committed to the belief that Arthur is on loan, that in 52 days he will be taken away, and it is soul-destroying. No one can convince me otherwise, no one can assure me that Arthur won’t die, no one has that power. No amount of counselling, EMDR, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, writing, talking or other form of therapy will make me feel any differently; and if Arthur reaches 383 days old I am of the belief that it is borrowed time.

Arthur is now the same size that William was, he sleeps in the same positions and like most infants is living with an insufferable cold. Par for the course when they start nursery, multiple children together is like a germ fest, but you can’t stop them living, socialising and growing up. Arthur has been suffering with a cold for nearly four weeks now. It has been worse at times and I have taken him to the doctors on several occasions. I knew that it was viral and not bacterial but I feel reassured knowing that his throat, ears and chest were clear. Towards the end of last week his little cough had become worse but during the night he became a little wheezy, and the next morning it seemed worse so we called 111. We saw a doctor and he was prescribed antibiotics. Arthur napped at lunch time but when he woke he just didn’t seem himself and he had a temperature. We called 111 and they sent a paramedic. This paramedic determined based on Arthur’s observations that an ambulance should come to take Arthur to hospital. Arthur’s temperature was 39.1c, he started to vomit and his respiratory rate was double what it should be. He was just not himself at all.

I was already panicking and experiencing flashbacks from the paramedics being in our front room. The big, bright yellow wagon parked outside, just like when William died, blocking the road; a paramedic car too. It just haunted me. The equipment, the vocabulary, the dark green uniform. I knew Arthur was not seriously unwell, I knew he was ‘safe’ to some extent, but what I wanted was for them to go and revive my other baby, who I imagined to be lying on his nursery floor, dead. it took all my might to convince myself he was not there. The mind is a dangerous and powerful entity. You may not see it on the outside but if you could just see inside you would see torment.

Every single second of being conveyed to hospital in an ambulance was agonising. Cradling my little baby, one who looks so similar to William, sat on the same trolley’s, in an ambulance that looked identical, on the same route, the same visuals, the same sounds. As I sat there cradling Arthur I closed my eyes, and I smelled his hair, the same, sweet strawberry smell as William. Knowing that Arthur was safe, I wished and prayed so hard that the tiny little poorly baby I was cradling was William, that he was alive, that what happened on the 14th December 2014 was a nightmare and I was now waking up. But it wasn’t.

I will never wake up from that nightmare, but what is certain is that everyday there are triggers; reminders that force me back there, and I don’t want to go back there, but I have no choice. You see, living the way I live isn’t a choice, it is something that I must bear, I’m fed the tools with which I must rebuild my life. It is not how I want it, nor how I planned it. It is something that changes daily and no matter how much I fight grief I cannot change it. I must embrace all the changes that each day brings. I feel safe in the knowledge that with every step I take it is one step closer to my little William.

One Step Closer…


www.justgiving.com/williamoscarmead