Woman reveals signs of sepsis after she almost died from infected wisdom tooth

A young woman has revealed how doctors mistook her light rash, slight fever and fatigue as signs of a common cold, in an error that almost cost her life.

The cause was actually an infected, compacted wisdom tooth. 

Two days later Caitlin Alsop, 27, was in a coma at the Gold Coast University Hospital, her tongue so swollen and black doctors thought they might need to amputate.

The then 23-year-old told FEMAIL she had been having an ‘easy day’ trying to get over the flu-like-symptoms when things deteriorated, quickly.

‘I was lying in bed after dinner, trying to relax, but I felt tired and hot like something just wasn’t right,’ she said.

‘Then one side of my tongue swelled up to the point where I couldn’t swallow,’ she said.

So she went to her local hospital where doctors assumed she was having a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis.

Two days later Caitlin Alsop was in a coma at the Gold Coast University Hospital, her tongue so swollen and black doctors thought they might need to amputate

Caitlin became very swollen, had a rash and then was placed into a medical coma as doctors puzzled over what was making her so sick

Caitlin became very swollen, had a rash and then was placed into a medical coma as doctors puzzled over what was making her so sick

‘They gave me painkillers and two shots of adrenaline and told me I would be out of there in 45 minutes,’ she said.

But she wasn’t. 

Her condition continued to deteriorate and she became covered head to toe with a blue and red mottled rash, her heart rate ‘got worse’ and she kept passing out.

Doctors made the decision to transfer her to the the university hospital, which was better equipped to handle what was quickly being described as her ‘mystery’ illness.

At first just half of her tongue was swollen

Before long her whole face was and her tongue had gone black as the organ 'began to die'

At first just half of her tongue was swollen. Before long her whole face was and her tongue had gone black as the organ ‘began to die’

‘My aunt and mum were with me at the first hospital, but they weren’t allowed to ride with me in the ambulance. It was terrifying,’ she said.

Doctors went with her instead, in case her breathing became so laboured they had to do an emergency tracheotomy.

At this point Caitlin needed a mask to help her breathe, was so breathless she wanted to pass out and ‘felt like’ she was going to die.

In the ambulance doctors explained she would likely be put into a coma on arrival – but she ‘doesn’t remember much of that’.

‘They told me it was really serious – which was terrifying because I didn’t know if I was going to wake up again,’ she said.

At this point Caitlin needed a mask to help her breathe, was so breathless she wanted to pass out and 'felt like' she was going to die

At this point Caitlin needed a mask to help her breathe, was so breathless she wanted to pass out and ‘felt like’ she was going to die

Nine days later she did wake up.

A team of 100 medical personnel were charged with working out what was wrong with the ‘mystery girl’.

‘They did heaps of tests, brought in tropical disease specialists, trying to work out what was wrong with me,’ she said.

‘In the end they found that I had an infected, compounded wisdom tooth,’ she said.

The tooth had never shown any signs of infection and Caitlin had good overall dental health and hygiene.

The problem tooth was taken out, along with another wisdom tooth, and drains were cut into her throat to help relieve the swelling. 

'They thought about amputating my tongue because it had turned black and was too swollen. My uncle joked they couldn't do that because I am always talking,' she said

‘They thought about amputating my tongue because it had turned black and was too swollen. My uncle joked they couldn’t do that because I am always talking,’ she said

She was also put on high doses of antibiotics to get rid of the deadly infection. 

When she woke up Caitlin was told how bad things had looked while she was sleeping.

‘They thought about amputating my tongue because it had turned black and was too swollen. My uncle joked they couldn’t do that because I am always talking,’ she said.

‘The end of my tongue did melt off though, so I still have a lisp and I had to learn to talk and eat again, but I am grateful they caught it in time.’ 

Two or three days after coming out of the coma Caitlin was able to go home, where she was treated as an out-patient, learned to talk and eat again. 

Signs of sepsis: 

Sepsis is known as the ‘silent killer’ as its symptoms often mimic that of other, less serious illnesses such as flu or gastro, making it extremely hard to recognise.

Symptoms of sepsis can vary a lot between cases, which is why it’s vital to know what to look out for and when to seek help.

Any one of these symptoms may mean your child is critically unwell. Come to hospital straight away, even if you have already been to the doctor:

Fast breathing or long pauses in breathing

Blotchy, pale or blue skin

Feels abnormally cold to touch

Rash that doesn’t fade when pressed (glass test)

Drowsy or difficult to wake up or confused

Floppy

Fit or convulsion

A lot of pain or very restless

Source: Children’s Health Queensland

‘It could have happened to anyone, sepsis can start with any infection,’ she said.

Caitlin is glad to be alive and is now making it her mission in life to share the common symptoms of sepsis.

‘On reflection everything I had in those early stages, when the doctor thought I had the flu and when I got to the hospital with a swollen tongue, pointed to sepsis.

‘More people need to know about it in case it happens to them, and more doctors need to know about the signs and symptoms too,’ she said.

Caitlin doesn’t blame anyone for missing her early symptoms, and feels like she ‘got off lightly’.

‘It could have been anaphylaxes, but they should known the symptoms of sepsis so they can check for that too,’ she said.

Caitlin now has a lisp and is affectionately known as ‘Dory’ by loved ones because she has difficulty with her memory, a common side effect of going into a coma. 

Four years on and she is still ‘scared’ every time she gets an infection, fearing her body will start to ‘shut down again’.

‘This isn’t just my story, it’s the story of thousands of people,’ she added.

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