Joe Briggs was out for his daily walk during the first lockdown when he rang his mother Paula, 56, for a chat. Paula, a mother of three, had been working tirelessly in a care-home during the Covid pandemic and was understandably stressed.
She’d been feeling a little unwell in recent days, too. But when Joe, 21, heard her voice, he knew something was seriously wrong.
"She seemed disorientated, her speech was slurred and she kept going quiet and loud," says Joe, a recent graduate who lives with girlfriend Alice, 21, also a graduate, in Bath.
"I said to her: ‘Mum, you’re not making any sense’. I knew she had been exhausted and we had all been scared she might get Covid, but she always went above and beyond with her residents and continued to work full-time.
"A few days earlier, she’d started to feel slightly unwell but it was obvious to me that she’d got worse. I rang my auntie and she agreed and so an ambulance was called."
Paula was taken to hospital and despite no test being available, she was told she had Covid but was not in a serious enough condition to be kept in overnight.
She was discharged home to Malmesbury, Wiltshire and told to keep an eye on her temperature.
"Next day, she seemed a little better and I phoned her again asking what it was like to have Covid. ‘Bloody horrible,’ she said, but she seemed OK.
"But next day, my auntie rang to say mum had been taken to hospital again in an ambulance and that she had been tested and it wasn’t Covid."
In fact 48 hours later, tests showed that Paula had sepsis, an overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection.
According to the UK Sepsis Trust, at least 48,000 deaths a year are related to the condition, yet caught early, it can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Joe and his family were in shock.
"I’d heard of sepsis but wasn’t really sure about the symptoms," he says.
"Everyone’s focus at that time was on Covid and of course no one was allowed to come in and out to visit, so I was really shocked to be phoned up by the hospital a few days later and told we should get there quickly if we wanted to say goodbye.
"I refused to believe it. My two brothers and I went in and I sat with her and said: ‘I love you more than anything’ and she mouthed back: ‘I love you’.
"She knew I was there but I couldn’t accept that that would be the last time I saw her alive. I left that visit with some hope that she would pull through."
Tragically, however, Paula died days later on 29th April 2020, just after midnight.
"My brother called to my apartment and told me she had died very peacefully and we simply sat looking at the stars for a while," says Joe.
"Afterwards, I went to bed and slept for hours – exhausted – but when I woke up it hit me that she’d gone. We were able to see her again in the Chapel of Rest which was strangely calming, even if it did make it all feel too real.
"I received so many messages from people who had known her, telling me how wonderful she was and what a difference she had made to their lives.
"I always describe her as ‘unapologetically herself'. She was ditzy, often said the wrong things but she was simply true to herself - and incredible.
"She loved the outdoors, her dogs and wanted to retire to a place on the coast. We’re heartbroken she is gone."
Joe has decided that his mum’s death will not be in vain and he wants to raise awareness of the symptoms of sepsis to spare other families his pain.
"It’s vital to be able to recognise the symptoms’’ he says.
"In adults, you look out for slurred speech, extreme shivering, passing no urine in a day, high heart rate and blood pressure and even a sense that you’re ‘going to die’."
"Meanwhile, children are cold to the touch, they can be lethargic and have a fast heartbeat and appear pale.
"Don’t be afraid of challenging medical staff and asking the simple question: Could it be sepsis?
"A simple test can set off a protocol that means the correct treatment will be given and it could just save that person’s life."
For more info visit: sepsistrust.org
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