Vicki’s Story

Arlene Brailey

In 1991 I was undergoing treatment for a serious type of vasculitis in the form of immuno-suppressant therapy and contracted pyelonephritis which developed into a bloodstream infection (septicaemia). I was initially treated at home pending urine tests as blood was showing in my urine but developed a high fever so I was then admitted as an emergency to hospital. It soon became clear that I was suffering from a life-threatening infection and I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. My blood pressure was so low that it had to be measured internally and there was concern that my vital organs were starting to fail so a central line was inserted into my heart.

As the bacteria causing the infection was unknown at that time, I was given an intravenous broad-spectrum antibiotic called Gentamycin. Unfortunately, this was not effective and as my condition deteriorated during the night my husband was contacted to visit me in ICU immediately. The next day when I still failed to respond, a different antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin was introduced. Fortunately, the bacteria causing my infection were sensitive to Ciprofloxacin, which was a newer antibiotic with less resistance amongst the bacterial population. It was nearly a year before I recovered fully from the infection.

What impact did your experience have on you?

Thinking I was about to die was terrifying! I had always assumed that when you have an infection, there was an antibiotic to treat it, so people no longer die from infections but I soon learnt that was not the case when the ICU consultant told me I only had a 50:50 chance of survival, but they would do their best. As I had a chronic underlying illness (vasculitis) I still needed treatment to suppress my immune system, therefore I was always worried that it would happen again and there may not be an effective antibiotic next time.

What impact did this experience have on your family?

It was particularly hard for my husband as we had 3 children aged between 7 and 3 at the time. When he was called in to ICU during the night he had to find a babysitter and in the months of recovery that followed he had the role of mother, father and nurse plus a full time and demanding job. The children had to rely on babysitters on a regular basis which was very unsettling for them.

The internet did not exist when I was going through this experience so I could only rely on Healthcare Professionals to give me information. It would have been helpful to have had access to some form of patient support, like ANTRUK now offers, to understand how long recovery would take and any self-help I could do to prevent future infections.

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

I wasn’t aware of antibiotic resistance and its causes until it was explained to me in ICU. It made me much more conscious of the need to protect and treasure the antibiotics that we have, to keep them working so that serious infections can continue to be treated and lives saved.