Charity St. Clair
Posted on March 9th, 2018
March 2016, I was sitting alone in my brother’s apartment. I had to quit my job one week prior because I passed out in my car on the freeway and woke up to the cops knocking on my window. I’d had multiple infections, UTIs mostly, and had been on antibiotics for almost 8 months straight. I figured my blood pressure had dropped because I have something called orthostatic hypotension, but it was weird to me that I passed out while just sitting. My brother and his wife took me into their home, and here I was a week after that incident, still not feeling well but not sure why. My symptoms were strange—nosebleeds, random fevers, upset stomach, dehydration, and weirdest of all, ear bleeds. The doctors labeled me a “medical phenomenon” and kept me on antibiotics.
That day in March, I went to the bathroom and was feeling generally weak and dizzy, when I looked down at my hands and saw that my fingernails were turning blue. I realized how cold I was and walked over to grab a blanket. I couldn’t stop shaking. That’s when my vision started blacking out and it felt like my heart would explode. I quickly called my brother to take me to the ER.
By the time we got there, I was in the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I have a very high pain tolerance, but this was excruciating. I went straight to the bathroom and puked all over the place. I just laid there groaning while my brother got me checked in. When they took me back to a room, I was in and out of consciousness. I kept hearing screams and realized they were coming from me, but they sounded far away. There was a clipboard held in front of me and someone asked if I was an organ donor. So many nurses around me. I just wanted the pain to stop but I remember them telling me they couldn’t give me anything. I don’t remember much after that.
I woke up in a hospital room and they told me it was a new room and they had moved me out of the ICU. I had been there 3 days already. I didn’t know what had happened. I was hooked up to all kinds of stuff sticking out of my neck and arms. My legs had special boots on that would squeeze really tightly. Everyone who came in wore gowns and gloves and masks. My belly looked like I was pregnant. I hardly had strength to lift my arm.
A doctor came in, sat down, and stared at me for about a minute. Then she said “You’re very lucky, you know. The ER doctor said you weren’t going to make it.” (I later read my medical records from that night and sure enough, the ER doc had written of me “likely mortality”.)
Every few hours, they gave me injections in my belly. I could hardly breathe without coughing and they said there was fluid overflow in my lungs from all the IV saline I’d been given the last few days. I couldn’t pee so I gained 15 pounds of water weight. I couldn’t think straight and I felt frightened every time someone came in the room. I hated questions because it was hard to make sense of them. I felt like no one understood that. They said my organs had all started to shut down but they were able to reverse that in the ICU. They said they almost did surgery to remove an enlarged organ (I can’t remember which one) but decided against it because it could have killed me. They said my white blood cell count was 1 (the doctor laughed at this) and there’s no way my body should have recovered. They said I had something called septic shock and lots of people die from it. The bacteria in my bloodstream was called Pantoea and normally doesn’t survive in the human body, but since I had been on antibiotics for so long, I had no good bacteria in my body. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) No doctor had ever advised me to take probiotics with all the antibiotics. My immune system was broken down. I told them I had lots of people praying for me and they told me again that it was a miracle I was alive.
Recovery was very hard. Breathing treatments were frustrating. Moving was painful and very slow. I couldn’t use the bathroom by myself. I couldn’t even text on my phone because it felt so heavy. Everyone wanted to talk to me about what happened and I felt like I would have an emotional breakdown every time…I knew what they were asking but my brain couldn’t connect it fast enough to give an answer. I felt like a completely different person.
6 months later, I felt I was finally getting stronger and then I started having the same symptoms again. I was soon back in the hospital that September with a second round of sepsis, this time from a UTI. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) So horrible. So discouraging. When my vitals started leveling out around day 4, they wanted to discharge me. My parents had to fly there and demand that it was too early to discharge me. It was a fight, and it should not have been. Hours before my scheduled discharge, my body went into sepsis for a THIRD time. Terrible pain. Fever spiking up, blood pressure dropping. I was so angry that it felt like the doctor was not listening and I was telling them something was still wrong. My nurses were awesome and were not happy with the doctor’s decisions. THEY saved my life, not the doctor. I will always be thankful for them listening to me as the patient.
I cry when I think about all the people who have died from sepsis, maybe even from a doctor not listening. I did eventually get an awesome doctor who helped very much, but to have to fight for your own care in the one place that’s supposed to help you is extremely terrifying.
I’m now working my dream job, helping survivors of sex trafficking. I know God preserved my life in order to do this work, and I give Him the praise. For all of you who have lost loved ones because of sepsis, my heart hurts for you.
Those of us who’ve looked death in the face truly understand what your loved ones were feeling and as we use our voices to bring this issue to the forefront, know that they are not forgotten.
My life will never be the same, but I’m thankful to be alive with all body parts intact. I still have nightmares that I’m waking up in the hospital and no one can help me. I still have fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Quality of life is not what it was. Not many people understand this, but those who’ve been through it will relate wholeheartedly. You all are warriors!