A mother has relived her trauma after a simple ‘back pain’ turned out to be deadly sepsis, which almost claimed her life and saw her spending six weeks in hospital.
When Jo Tucker, 45, of Bedworth, Warwickshire, woke one morning in October 2018 with a bad back, she assumed she had slept awkwardly.
But, by the next morning, she was vomiting with the pain and, becoming feverish and disorientated, was raced to hospital, where medics performed emergency tests – her life, by then, hanging in the balance.
Diagnosed with sepsis – a potentially fatal reaction to an infection, where the body attacks its own organs and tissues – while treatment saved her life, she now has Post-Sepsis Syndrome (PSS), causing exhaustion, memory issues and hair loss.
Jo, who does not work, but whose partner Paul Kelly, 50, is an IT consultant, said: “Going from being absolutely fine to nearly dying was a huge shock, so now my body is just trying to piece itself back together.
“It’s awful how suddenly sepsis can take hold. I’m still battling the lasting damage now.”
She continued: “Because I look well and I’m no longer in hospital, people assume I am fine but, in reality, I will never be the same again, physically or emotionally.”
Leading up to her nightmare, Jo was the picture of health, walking between four and five miles a day with her pet Labradoodle dog Austin.
But, on the morning of October 2 last year, she woke with an agonizing twinge in her back.
She recalled: “I thought I’d just slept funny, so made sure I rested up that day. People kept telling me to sleep on the floor, as apparently a hard surface is good for pain.
“The next morning, though, it was even worse. I was literally vomiting with the pain.”
Heading to an out-of-hours doctor, Jo was told she had likely pulled a muscle, and was given Naproxen, a medicine that reduces inflammation.
As the day wore on though, the tablets were not working and she started getting feverish.
Then, in the early hours of October 4, her daughter Danielle, 22, woke at around 4am to get ready for her job at a warehouse to find her mom almost delirious with pain.
“I told her to get Paul and to ring an ambulance. It isn’t like me to be dramatic, so she knew I was serious,” said Jo.
She continued: “The paramedics came and I was told that, if it was just back pain, there was little that could be done for me at hospital.
“But a voice inside me was urging me to go, telling me something more sinister was happening.”
At George Eliot (COR) Hospital in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Jo had a series of tests, including two lumbar punctures, a procedure where a hollow needle is inserted into the spinal canal to test the fluid, which she described as “traumatic.”
Eventually diagnosing her with sepsis, medics then transferred her to the more specialist University Hospital Coventry, by that point gravely ill and fearing the worst.
Jo continued: “I thought I was going to die. I took some photos during those two weeks and when I look back now, it’s like seeing a different person. I was so close to death.
“I don’t remember much about the first two weeks I spent in hospital, as I was so full of drugs, but it must have been awful for Paul and Danielle too.”
Slowly, Jo began to rally – but faced another setback when doctors found an abscess on her spine, which was causing her agonizing pain.
In total, she spent six weeks in hospital, during which time she had to learn to walk again due to muscle wastage.
“I’d no idea that could happen so quickly. I was like a toddler, finding my feet all over again,” she said.
After being discharged with a drip Jo was visited every day by a nurse until December 11.
But it became clear that her ordeal was far from over, as she was soon struck down by PSS, which continues to affect her.
According to the charity The UK Sepsis Trust, which estimates that five people are killed by sepsis every hour in the UK, PSS has no specific treatment. It usually gets better with time, but can last between six and 18 months.
Symptoms include lethargy, hair loss, poor appetite, reduced kidney function, anxiety and short-term memory loss – all of which Jo has experienced.
“I’ve been left a wreck -there’s no other word for it,” she said. “The panic and anxiety has hit from nowhere, but I think it stems from the shock of being fine one minute, then almost dying the next.
“Nobody knows what caused my sepsis, so it could happen again. I’m trying to get on with it and not be a hypochondriac, panicking over every pain I feel, but this has been so traumatic.”
She continued: “My arms still ache to the point where I can’t brush my hair, and it took a month of building up strength to even be able to walk to the shop. I feel like I’m about 90 years old.”
Now, though, Jo – who continues to be monitored by medics – has no choice but to simply wait and see how long her symptoms will last.
Sadly, with few specific treatments available to her, she said she feels as if she has been left on her own to deal with the aftermath of her near-death experience.
“I know the NHS is overstretched, but I do feel as if I’ve just been left to wait and see what happens,” she said. “I understand I’m no longer an emergency, but I’m still dealing with a lot.
“People don’t understand the huge after-effects that sepsis can have.”
Now, by speaking out, Jo hopes to raise awareness of PSS and urge others to seek help right away if they are feeling unwell.
She continued: “You know your own body, so if you don’t feel right, don’t take no for an answer and fight for tests and treatment.
“I am trying my best to get on with things, and know it does no good to keep looking back, but life will never be the same again for me after this.”