Advice and development

What I learned about nursing care after developing sepsis myself

Nurses who looked after me while I was a nursing student were role models for patient-centred care 

Nurses who looked after me while I was a nursing student were role models for patient-centred care 


Positive communication and the 'little things' are fundamental to good care. Picture: Getty

To care for others, you must first take care of yourself. I learned this lesson after spending my summer in intensive care, fighting for my life.

On the day I was admitted to hospital with severe septic shock, I woke up feeling unwell but forced myself to go on placement as I did not want to risk having to make up any hours due to sickness.

I managed to make it through the morning but by lunchtime I had a sudden onset of severe abdominal pain and an episode of violent vomiting, so the nurse in charge sent me home.

I deteriorated rapidly

By the time I got home I was feeling a lot worse. I had a roaring fever, had started to turn grey and clammy and was in agony despite taking paracetamol. I had also started becoming extremely breathless.

I called NHS 111 and was advised to attend my nearest emergency department (ED) within the hour. I don’t recall all of what happened in the ED but I do know how swiftly the registrar moved me from majors to resus after taking one look at me.

Despite there being a dozen or more bodies surrounding me trying to gain intravenous access, the ED consultant remained calm and composed, even when I could not be fluid-resuscitated and required a lot of cardiovascular support to try and stabilise my critically low blood pressure.

‘The NHS may be critically underfunded and short-staffed, but not once did the care I received reflect this’

The consultant had already started treating me for sepsis and broad-spectrum antibiotics had been administered. After a central and arterial line were inserted, an intensive care (ITU) consultant and specialist ITU nurse escorted me to the X-ray department for a full-body CT angiogram.

I was immediately transferred to ITU where I was told I needed to be intubated straight away. I was heavily sedated for four days, remaining on maximum inotropic and cardiovascular support. I had also been started on renal replacement therapy as my kidneys had begun to fail.

ITUs team's care was incredible

The team in ITU worked round-the-clock to keep me alive. I was in hospital for 11 days, spending most of my time in ITU before being stepped down to the surgical acute dependency unit. The care I received was incredible; the NHS may be critically underfunded and short-staffed, but not once did the care I received reflect this.

The first night the breathing tube was removed, I still required respiratory support via continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). I was experiencing delirium, seeing and hearing things that weren’t there. I was really struggling with the CPAP mask, which was tightly strapped to my face.

‘I came to realise just how much the look on someone’s face and the tone of voice can affect you as a patient’

Thankfully, the two nurses who cared for me that night treated me with so much kindness and compassion that I soon relaxed and managed to get some rest. Although the things I was seeing weren’t there, they didn’t make me feel silly – they made me feel safe. I came to realise just how much the look on someone’s face and the tone of someone’s voice can affect you as a patient.

In the surgical acute dependency unit, I was visited every day by an intensive care outreach nurse called Frances, who is extremely passionate about the aftercare of patients who leave ICU.

Coming to terms with being that close to dying was really difficult but Frances talked me through each day that I’d spent on the unit, explaining that it could take up to a year to fully recover from such a serious illness.

‘I will be forever grateful to my intensive care outreach nurse – her influence in my recovery cannot be overestimated’

Not only did she talk to me, she went above and beyond; she came to wash my hair one day with a nursing student who was spending her elective placement with her, and they also arranged for my partner to bring my French bulldog Achilles in to see me.


Natasha with her bulldog Achilles

The last time I saw my dog I was leaving the house to go to the ED, feeling extremely poorly and scared. Seeing him had such a positive effect on me emotionally and psychologically, and I will be forever grateful to Frances for arranging this.

Her influence in my recovery cannot be overestimated; when I experienced severe anxiety and felt as though I would never get better or be able to go back to university, she reassured me that this was normal. Having someone who really listened to me was invaluable, and there were days where her presence alone made me realise that I could, and would, get through this.

‘I now realise just how important the small things are to patients’

I have a follow-up appointment in clinic in a couple of months with Frances and an ITU consultant to check how I am recovering both physically and emotionally.

So grateful to be returning to university

Having such a life-threatening illness has really put things in perspective for me – I will never take simple tasks such as being able to wash and dress myself for granted again, and am so grateful that I will shortly be returning to university as a second-year nursing student.

This experience made me realise just how important the small things are to patients. One of the things that affected me the most was when staff ensured they introduced themselves to me and took the time to talk me through what was happening, even if it was as simple as checking my observations.

Being in hospital surrounded by staff and equipment is surprisingly lonely, so it is wonderful when staff take the time to talk to you and comfort you through what is quite possibly the scariest and most vulnerable period of your life.

The look on someone’s face and their tone of voice are fundamental to providing excellent, person-centred care. This will be at the forefront of my mind throughout my training and once I qualify as a nurse, and I will always remember how important the little things are to patients.


 Natasha Clarkson is a second-year nursing student at the University of West London

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