When many of us were 15, we were awkward, grouchy teenagers trying to fit in and pay just enough attention in school to pass GCSEs.
But Archie Veale found himself in Alder Hey Hospital fighting for his life after a vicious infection attacked his body. Now 22 Archie has told Gef about how sepsis changed his life. This is the first of two parts of our interview with Archie.
‘I was gyming quite a lot at the time and I started noticing back pain at the start of the week and then it got worse into Thursday and Friday, I was still at school and everything, but then by Friday evening, I was like, no this isn’t right,’ Archie said.
‘So we’re good friends with an osteopath, who subsequently became the main man during my rehab, but he came round and visited me at home to look at my back and he thought it was just a bit of inflammation or slipped disc from the gym. On the Saturday I felt a bit better but then started to feel a lot worse and I started to feel feverish and then couldn’t sleep too well so we went to A&E on the Sunday and they did tests on me and said it was just back pain and gave me some painkillers and said go home and rest it up.’
On the Sunday afternoon Archie began to be physically sick and couldn’t sleep.
He said: ‘One of the symptoms they now recognise for sepsis is feeling like you’re going to die and I felt like the world was closing in around me and everything just sort of fading away. So I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night and on Monday morning I went to my GP to try and get some sleeping pills so I could actually get some rest. So I walked in and the GP just said “what have they done”. He rang 999 and put me in an ambulance and then from there, March 10, I was taken to Nobles and put straight into ICU and the last thing I remember was going into the MRI scanner.’
After studying the MRI scan, doctors discovered Archie had a severe infection which was attacking his entire body. That night he was airlifted to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool.
After going in for that MRI scan, Archie said the next day he remembers is April 1, when his friend Charlie visited him in hospital. By this time, Archie had been in an induced coma for three weeks and said he was having hallucinations due to the drugs doctors had put him on, was unsure of where he was and had lost almost three stone in weight.
After spending three weeks in an induced coma in ICU, Archie spent five months both fighting sepsis and beginning his rehab to wean him off the medication he’d been on and getting his strength back. He said: ‘The battle with my mental health was the biggest one, I was pretty much paralysed from the neck down at that point, I could just about move my right hand and I was having passive physio, where they were doing work on me but I couldn’t really be involved.
‘But the battle with my mental health at that point was pretty horrendous and I was in very dark places because of the medication I was on, with suicidal thoughts. Once I was off the drugs completely and back in a sound state of mind, I was able to focus on my physical rehab.’
The physical recovered Archie underwent focused on hydrotherapy, physio sessions, attending a classroom at Alder Hey in an attempt to try to continue his schooling. He said: ‘Before I was ill, I was quite academic but then I was in a classroom with people who had traumatic brain injuries and I was 15 at the time and I’d be in there with five-year-olds. But the dynamic was actually great and I went from hating it to wanting to be there for longer than I needed to be.’
As his recovery continued, Archie went from being able to scratch his own nose, to a ‘poignant’ point where he literally waved goodbye to his dialysis machine and his family helping him get back to a vertical base and being able to stand up again.
Archie said: ‘I’m happy to share my story, in all its glory in a way. One of the big things for me is the reminder of where I am now, because I still have problems now and I have days that I wonder why the f**k do I bother because of pain and things like that. But when I look back at where I’ve come from to where I am now is pretty bad ass really.
‘So we progressed from me sort of standing up, to going through physio, starting off with exercises on the bed to going down to the physio gym instead of having it in my room and then it was onwards and upwards. I started walking, initially with a pulpit frame, which I had three physios assisting me with at that point, so it was just progressing from there really. When I was allowed home I was still in my wheelchair and then I just carried on with my physio on island, I was really grateful to have two NHS physio sessions per week, two private sessions per week with Gareth the osteopath and I would have a session a week with an antigravity treadmill which was sponsored by Gym and Tonic and they did a great job.
‘The antigravity treadmill was great in the early days at it helped take the weight off my legs whilst getting into the motion of walking again and as I got stronger, walking became easier, so I went from the wheelchair to crutches and then occasionally with walking poles and the day I was finally able to walk unaided was a significant day in my rehab. I was walking like a dinosaur and waddling around but that freedom of not being held or held up was a great feeling.’
Having returned to the island, Archie went back to school part time in the September, he said the support from Castle Rushen High School was ‘amazing’ as they allowed him to go into sixth form with his friends and catch up on his GCSEs from there as opposed to having to drop back a year. That year Archie not only did his GCSE exams, but also his A-Levels, in the end it worked out that he did an extra year of sixth form to allow him to do all of his work and ensure he was able to get to university.