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‘Recognising sepsis early can prevent lives being destroyed’


Being a nurse is an emotional job at times and, sometimes, so is being the editor of Nursing Times. Last week, I cried at the University Hospitals of North Midlands nursing conference. I don’t mean a little tear was shed, I mean I really cried.

Chief nurse Liz Rix invited Tom and Nicola Ray to speak to her nursing staff about their experience of the health system. Their idyllic life was destroyed when Tom contracted sepsis in 1999, through – they believe – a nick that occurred during a routine dental examination. After falling gravely ill, Tom needed leg and arm amputations, and part of his face removed. This happened while he was in a coma and Nicola was about to give birth to their second child.

Their story was captured in a film, Starfish, which was screened at the event. It charts the story of how Tom’s symptoms were missed and there was a 10-hour wait on his blood analysis, while he lay undiagnosed and curtained off. Post surgery, he spent many hours isolated in a ward.

“Starfish documents with brutal candour the impact of disability”

The film is brimming with poignant moments, but one that stood out for me was when Tom lamented that he can no longer hold his children’s hands, kiss them goodnight or even smell his wife. Starfish documents with brutal candour the impact of disability on Tom and his entire family. The physical, emotional, mental and financial impact is often unbearable.

The film depicts the terrible consequences of health professionals’ action and lack of action. The staff on duty did not telephone a consultant because, Nicola says, they were worried they would get into trouble for not handling it themselves.

Two decades later, Tom, once a creative writer, works earning minimum wage in a call centre. His earnings have risen 46p an hour in 14 years. He wants to start a career as a motivational speaker and, judging by what I saw last Thursday, he’d be superb.

“The staff on duty did not telephone a consultant”

Please take a minute to visit the Sepsis Trust’s website, which documents how you can identify sepsis in your patients. ‘Think Sepsis’ if your patient slurs, has extreme shivers or muscle pain, passes no urine in a day, is severely breathless, feels like they might die and has mottled or discoloured skin. Feeling cold or feverish and being confused are other symptoms, which can make it easy to miss sepsis or misdiagnose it as flu.

Starfish is also available from the charity’s website and Facebook page – I urge you to buy it and watch it. You’ll probably cry.


Readers' comments (2)

  • I have just tried the link to the charity website and been unable to find the Starfish film which I would like to buy as an educational tool.....

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  • I bought the DVD from Tesco. I understand it's also available on Amazon.

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