Rachael’s Story

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Rachael experienced a series of UTI infections, sepsis and a dreadful time of uncertainty for her and her family when she was only 16 years old.

At 16 years old, I suffered with lots of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). I had heard drinking cranberry juice and taking cranberry tablets were good to get rid of a UTI so I did that. However, one Friday I began to feel really ill. I was so feverish that I went to see the GP and took a urine sample with me. They tested it and confirmed I had a UTI infection. I was prescribed cefalexin and took this antibiotic while a urine culture was sent off to the lab.

The antibiotics didn’t control the infection, and because I had left the infection untreated so long, I then experienced high fever, uncontrollable shivering, and real weakness. My mum insisted on taking me to the A & E Dept at the hospital where they found my pulse was racing, my temperature was very high, I felt delusional and just wanted to sleep. The nurse realised I was going into sepsis and treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics through drips began.  I was also put into an isolated room. It all became very blurry for me after that, but I remember they said I had an E Coli infection resistant to the antibiotics I had been given previously. I was given the ‘heavy duty’ intravenous antibiotic, Colistin. My family felt these UTIs had been recurring too often and decided to take me for private treatment.

The consultant at the private hospital did more tests, including an ultrasound check of my bladder and kidneys. He found no signs of active infection in my urine anymore, but as a precaution, put me on 6 months of prophylactic antibiotic treatment.

This IV treatment for sepsis followed by prophylactic treatment appears to have been successful to date, as I have not experienced another UTI for several years now. I was advised to take probiotics at same time as the 6-month antibiotic course to replenish the good gut bacteria that would be adversely affected by the long course of antibiotics. This was helpful information as I wouldn’t have known about that side effect of antibiotics otherwise.

What impact did your experience have on you?

I was studying for my A levels when the UTI progressed into sepsis, so I was quite stubborn and wanted to be discharged and go home. I was becoming more stressed about completing my university applications and catching up with classwork I had missed. I battled on but ended up sleeping 14 hrs a night after that. However, I continued to struggle to get the balance right between resting and working. There’s no doubt that the tough recovery period from the resistant infection had an adverse effect on my ability to keep up with the schoolwork.

I realised I was angry about this happening to me, because I believed I had always used antibiotics correctly, so wouldn’t have been at risk of antibiotic resistance! How could this have happened to me?  The more information I gathered during my own research into this, the angrier I became, realising there was nothing I could do! I realised to my horror that infection by bacteria resistant to antibiotics can happen to anybody. Even me!

I am now left frightened of developing infection in different parts of my body in the future – for example, will I have developed resistant dental infections if my wisdom teeth have to be removed due to infection? I realise that I am overthinking some of these things now – and have found that the help and information that Arlene, the Patient Support Officer, has given me has helped ease my anxieties about some of these worries.

My mum was calm at the time and coped well during the traumatic period of infection and sepsis treatment. However, she now worries about any illness or complaint my sister or I develop, fearing the worst might happen again.  My parents hated not being able to help or sort the problem – and so my dad went into ‘work mode’ wanting to get to the root cause of this infection and the resulting sepsis!

My younger sister probably had no idea what was happening to me, but she was probably quite frightened by the whole episode.

To what extent did your experience change your knowledge about antibiotic resistance?

Before I developed infection resistant to antibiotics and sepsis, I did know that antibiotic resistance existed. However, I believed it only happened in third world countries or areas of high deprivation – which I now recognise was very naive. I am now really pleased to see TV adverts and public awareness campaigns everywhere talking about antibiotic resistance and how it can affect any of us! It’s good for everyone to know they have a part to play – and what we each must do to help overcome antibiotic resistance.

The main problem I encountered was that no one was talking directly to me as I was only 16 years old. There weren’t many doctors or nurses able to tell me what had happened to me during that period of illness, from admission to hospital into a separate room, through to treatment for sepsis. I would have appreciated more information on resistant infection-causes, diagnosis, treatment and how it might affect me thereafter. It was only when I attended the private hospital for treatment that this was all explained to me.  I was given no information on dealing with recovery from sepsis. For example, I felt lethargic for a while afterwards and constantly cold at times, but since it was winter, I assumed I felt run down anyway and didn’t know why I felt so tired. So patient information was really lacking during hospital treatment and even on discharge. I am really pleased that Antibiotic Research UK are working to develop resources to help patients in this way.

It is now terrifying to read that antibiotic resistance is now going to be a bigger killer than many diseases. We knew resistance existed back at the time of Alexander Fleming, when he himself warned us about it, on discovering penicillin.  It frustrates me and makes me angry that we have ignored that warning until now! I keep asking myself why it has taken so long for the world to recognise this life-threatening issue of antibiotic resistance and to do something concrete about it? I am very glad that Antibiotic Research UK is leading the way in developing more effective treatments and raising awareness of this serious problem we are now facing.

Rachael says “A big thank you for the work you and everyone else (at Antibiotic Research UK) is doing. This is such a personal issue for me, so it is great to see how much support and advice is out there.  I just wish I had known about this organisation when I was ill! “