I started to feel sick on a Sunday morning in April 2018 – nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and a headache that all began all at once. I went home early from work and went straight to bed, progressively feeling worse as the day went on. I began to have chills and body pain, weakness, loss of appetite, fever, and my abdomen looked distended. I saw my PCP on Tuesday and he tested me for the flu, which came back negative. He said he really wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, so he just prescribed me an anti-nausea medication and sent me home. I couldn’t take the medication. I tried but would instantly vomit it up as soon as I swallowed.
By Friday, my symptoms had worsened and I went to the ER. I hadn’t had any food or water that week so far. I had severe abdominal pain by this time, I was pale with dark purple circles around my eyes, I was so weak I could barely talk and I certainly had no strength to get out of bed. If I needed to walk somewhere, I had to use a cane. The ER doctor gave me Fentanyl while she ran tests. I was diagnosed with enteritis, dehydration, and renal insufficiency. She prescribed me yet another anti-nausea medication and discharged me 4 hours later. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that they would send someone home who was obviously in such intense pain, a healthy 30yr old with no prior medical conditions who all of sudden couldn’t walk without a cane. I might have had enteritis, but I knew there was something else going on. I didn’t speak up.
I didn’t think I was going to survive that night at home. I thought for sure my body was going to give up on me and surrender to whatever was making me so sick and that I was going to die right there in my bed and my mom would walk in in the morning and find me laying there. And to be honest, I thought to myself that if death is what it takes to make the pain stop, then I’d welcome it. But it wasn’t my time, and I woke up to see another day. I went straight back to the ER. This time, the doctors took one look at me and I was admitted immediately. I was already in the stages of severe sepsis.
I spent 5 days in the ICU (most of which I can’t recall) and needed to have surgery on my small intestine to remove a buildup of pus. I had a PICC line inserted and was on 9 different antibiotics before they finally found a combination that worked for me. I was tachycardic and hypertensive and severely dehydrated. I gained 38lbs worth of fluid weight in the first 2 days, swelling my body up twice my normal size. After my infection was under control, I was moved to a recovery room and discharged home 7 days later with a full course of home infusion antibiotics. My final primary diagnosis was peritonitis and severe sepsis with strep pyogenes. (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus) Unfortunately, I was readmitted to the hospital a week later with pleural effusion and a collapsed left lung. I received a thoracentesis and was sent home 7 days later, but thankfully there were no signs of recurrent sepsis. I did experience hair loss and a full body rash that peeled away in a few weeks, but other than that I made a full recovery. The doctors contributed my overall good health to why I made such a quick turn around, but had I waited another day to come in to the ER, things would’ve turned out very different.
I learned many things from this awful experience, but the most important is that only you know your body best! If something doesn’t feel right, you absolutely need to speak up. The signs of sepsis were there all along for me, and even though I didn’t know about sepsis at the time, I knew something was terribly wrong and I wish I would’ve pushed harder initially to get the help I needed.