A Blackpool musician thought he’d never play again when he was struck down with life-threatening sepsis - and told he would have to have the fingers on his right hand amputated.
When 65-year-old guitarist Alan Bowell, of Nesswood Avenue, started shivering violently in September last year, he thought he was suffering sickness due to his long-term Crohn’s Disease.
Little did he know he was suffering from sepsis - a rare but serious response to an infection that can cause multiple organ failure and death - and the clock was ticking fast.
He said: “I started shaking violently. This is a symptom of sepsis, but also of Crohn’s Disease. I rang an ambulance and the last thing I remember was being in the ambulance. Everything else is a blur.
“When I woke up I felt like I was trapped in an unreal situation.”
Alan, a grandad of two who has played the guitar, bass and ukelele for 50 years, spent 10 days in a coma at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
He developed extensive gangrene in his hands and feet, and when he awoke he was told by doctors that he would need both legs amputated below the knee, and all of his fingers and thumb removed from his right hand.
He said: “I said no, I didn’t want to go down that line. It’s not too bad losing the tips of your fingers. It means I can’t play the classical finger-style any more, but I can hold a plectrum between my first finger and thumb. If I had the thumb off, I wouldn’t have been able to do that, or write.
“Whether I could salvage it, I didn’t know. When you have got a few minutes to yourself, you might put the TV on or read the newspaper - I pick up a guitar. It’s a big thing for me.”
On the advice of a friend, Alan underwent treatment at the Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre in Morecambe in the hope of curing his gangrene.
As a result, he did not require the extreme amputations doctors thought he would - and was able to pick up his guitar again after a six month break.
He said: “I lost the tips of two fingers on my right hand. The rest of the hand was black with dry gangrene.
“I lost the three middle toes on my left foot. The right foot, which was worse, they had to take half of it off.
“It was always going to be difficult to start playing again. I used to do ragtime finger-style guitar, and I can’t do that any more. I have done lots of different styles, but finger-style acoustic is completely out now.”
Alan played his first gig of the year at The Links pub on Heeley Road, St Annes, this month, and recorded nine new songs with his band, The Sugar Daddies.
He said: “Everybody was glad to see me back after a good six months. They had heard the news of how bad it could have been, and the word had got out that I wouldn’t be turning up, and might never be back because it was a near-death situation. The response was tremendous.
“I’m only at the very beginning of my recovery and I can’t really get around very much at all, so there’s a lot to be done in just getting back to normal life.
“I’m able to walk only 100 yards with a stick. I’m hoping to have a prosthetic fitted but the foot is still not healed properly and they can’t do anything until it does.
“At the moment I’m still not allowing myself to drive.
“Hopefully at the end of the day I should be able to walk without the aid of a stick and it wouldn’t appear that I was any different from anybody else.”
Alan Bowell is playing guitar again after losing part of his fingers after suffering septic shock
Sepsis can be caused by an infection anywhere in the body, and without quick treatment can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
The main treatment for sepsis is antibiotics, ideally within an hour of diagnosis.
Early signs of sepsis include a fever, fast heart rate, and fast breathing. Signs of more severe sepsis include breathing problems, chills, discoloured skin, extreme weakness and unconsciousness.