Jodie Fraser, 39, is CEO of her own property management company. She lives in Bristol with husband James, 44, a civil servant and their daughter, Lily, who is three. Here, Fraser shares her sepsis experience in the hope it will help others.
Sitting in my GP’s surgery feeling completely exhausted, the nurse looked concerned. As she took my pulse and oxygen levels, I could tell by her expression that something wasn’t right.
"I’m going to get the doctor," she said, and hurried out of the door. A few seconds later, the GP was kneeling at my side telling me not to worry but they were going to give me some oxygen and call for an ambulance.
They suspected I had sepsis, a serious and life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to infection injures its own tissues and organs.
Read more: Jason Watkins highlights key sepsis symptoms after daughter’s death – what is the condition? (Yahoo Life UK, 9-min read)
My mind raced to my three-year-old daughter, Lily. I couldn’t leave her behind.
I burst into tears. My grandfather had developed sepsis some years ago and although he had survived, I remember how our family had each said their goodbyes to him. My mind raced to my three-year-old daughter, Lily. I couldn’t leave her behind.
I immediately tried to contact my husband James but he was at a conference and I couldn’t reach him. "I’m scared," I texted. "You need to come home". Then I contacted my mum, who thankfully arrived at the surgery within minutes. She even jumped in the ambulance with me. By this time I was feeling increasingly weak, on the verge of passing out.
Mum tells me that there were nine ambulances in the queue when we arrived at the hospital but the paramedics took me straight past them and into A&E. By this stage I was semi-conscious, I don’t remember the canula going into my hand as the doctors hooked me up to strong antibiotics.
I don’t even recall the doctors telling my mum that if I didn’t respond to the treatment within the hour, I only had a 10% chance of surviving. It makes me go cold to think about my poor mum having to hear that news.
There were nine ambulances in the A&E queue but the paramedics took me straight past them. I only had a 10% chance of surviving.
Complete and utter burn out
Even now, 10 months on I find it hard to process how I nearly died – how I almost left my family – and it was because I simply hadn’t listened to my own body.
In the lead-up to my admission to hospital – in November 2022 – I’d had an incredibly stressful year. Running your own company can be exhausting anyway but this particular year I’d had several staff and client issues and I was worn out, sleeping a lot more than usual. Even the sight of an email dropping into my inbox that I knew would cause me problems gave me a headache, I’d feel sick and I’d have to go to bed. Mum said I looked grey and my weight was yo-yo’ing dramatically. Although I was never diagnosed, I was probably having a nervous breakdown.
I was probably having a nervous breakdown.
Around September 2022, I went on holiday with my family and spent half of it in bed feeling dizzy. I developed a really bad cough so when I arrived home I went straight to the GP who diagnosed a chest infection and gave me three days of antibiotics. But by the end of those three days, I was still coughing.
The GP did some tests which came up clear. But as the hospital later told me, those tests would have been clear because there were still antibiotics in my system clearing up infection. So, I was sent away and told to come back if I got worse.
I did get worse. But I did myself no favours. I continued to work silly hours over weekends and evenings, trying to keep on top of everything. I see now that was trying to be the best boss, the best wife, the best mum, the best daughter but my body was telling me to slow down. I managed to get another weeks’ worth of antibiotics from the GP after a phone appointment, which did help a little bit.
I was shivering one minute, boiling the next. It was frightening.
But on a trip to London in November for an award ceremony, I knew I wasn’t well. I was shivering one minute, boiling the next. It was frightening. But ever the professional, I attended the ceremony and next morning even did a Zoom call with clients from the hotel room before catching the train home. At the train station, I thought I was going to collapse and when I got home I went straight to bed for a couple of hours.
But I kept pushing myself. Later that evening, I had yet another event and I couldn’t cancel it because my company was sponsoring it. I put on a dress, did my make-up and off I went. James came with me. He was so worried about me that at one point he put his Apple watch on me which tested my oxygen levels and heart rate. My oxygen levels were 90 (a healthy person’s should be over 95) and my heart rate was a fast 114. He said I should go to hospital, he was scared I was going to have a heart attack.
My skin felt sore to touch, I ached all over and was completely exhausted.
"I’m fine, I’m fine," I kept telling him, even though everything hurt. My skin felt sore to touch, I ached all over and was completely exhausted. "I’ve already had antibiotics and there’s nothing more they can do," I said.
A miraculous diagnosis
That was on the Saturday but by Monday I was feeling even worse and I knew I had to go back to my GP. Thank goodness I did. Had I left it another day, I’m not sure I’d be alive right now.
Thankfully, the nurse picked up straight away that I was seriously ill. My oxygen levels had dropped to 89 and my heart rate when I went into the ward was 140. My temperature was 39 degrees. At the hospital, the doctors did a test on a protein in my liver that should be below the level of three but mine was 200.
Had I left it another day, I’m not sure I’d be alive right now.
Thankfully, the antibiotics did work and I remember coming round in the hospital later that evening. I couldn’t breathe without oxygen and they kept me in A&E for two days, at one point even placing me on a corridor because there were no beds.
Sepsis: Read more
Five signs of sepsis you need to know and act on immediately (The Independent, 5-min read)
We thought Mum was just exhausted. A few days later, she was gone (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
Warwick Davis opens up on wife's sepsis trauma as his family gathered to 'say goodbye' (Yahoo Celebrity UK, 2-min read)
The long road to recovery
I will never forget the look of fear on Lily’s face when she came to visit me a few days later, while I was on a ward. It broke my heart. She had brought her little doctor’s kit with her to make me better. Thankfully, I was discharged on day six and took several weeks off work. Even so, I had a relapse in the March, developing another chest infection and sore skin within a day I was back in hospital. I sobbed as they put another canula into my arm, it felt like a red hot poker going into my skin. I had been warned that I could be more susceptible to sepsis but thankfully I was treated quickly and out in 24 hours.
The experience has been a huge wake up call for me and my body has lasting damage. I’ve got a Vitamin D deficiency and I can no longer absorb vitamin B12 so I need regular injections. I’m no longer on call 24/7 for my business and have managed to streamline work and delegate. I’ve stopped doomscrolling on my phone and started reading books to relax again. I’ve recently started doing Zumba to build up my fitness.
My body has lasting damage.
If anyone can learn anything from my story then I hope it is that they listen to their bodies more. On my hospital notes when I left the ward that first time, doctors advised that I ‘reduce my stress levels’ yet I was back at work within weeks and probably did too much. I was the woman who wanted to be the best at everything and I didn’t want to burden the NHS or cause a lot of fuss.
Mentally and emotionally it has scarred me and it’s taken me months for me to be able to talk about how close I came to leaving my husband widowed and my daughter without her mother. Even now, Lily gets worried if I fall asleep on the sofa. She’ll come up to me and ask me if I’m just tired, or if I’m sick again. I am hoping that she is young enough to forget about what happened. But I never want to put her – or any of us - through that again.