Cheryl Douglass

Survivor

On February 2, 2008, the day after my 62nd birthday, I had just won my tennis match and was in a great mood as I prepared dinner to celebrate with my family.

The next day, however, I didn’t feel well at all, and I remember thinking that maybe I’d caught a stomach bug. After several days sick in bed, I began to talk nonsense and act strangely. (I don’t actually remember much about this period. Others have told me what followed.) My husband called the doctor, who ordered me to go to the ER at a nearby hospital. I was very agitated and actually refused at first to go with him to the hospital. My condition rapidly worsened as we waited for a doctor. Finally, after more than six hours, doctors realized that I was in serious trouble and I was rushed to another hospital in the middle of the night. I have since learned that for every hour that passes in septic shock a patient’s chance for survival drops by eight percent.

Doctors there put me on broad spectrum antibiotics as they waited for lab results. I was hooked up to IVs dispensing nutrients, fluids, and medications. I was put on a continuous dialysis machine and a breathing machine.

Tests showed that I had contracted a group A streptococcal blood infection. (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus) How this bacterium gets into the blood stream is often unknown – as it was in my case – but when it does it can trigger a life-threatening reaction in a matter of hours even though the infection might have started from something as small a minor skin scrape.

I spent over six weeks in ICU. In the first two weeks, my life hung by a thread. Doctors put me in a chemically induced coma. I remember nothing. My husband ordered round-the-clock nursing care for me because I couldn’t speak or push a call button. My extremities began to turn black for lack of blood flow. Gangrene set in.

Weeks passed. I was finally awakened to find a doctor standing at my bedside. She informed me that the tissue death from sepsis had required amputation of my legs (below the knees) and both arms (below the elbows). Until then, I had been a physically active woman who enjoyed playing tennis almost every day. I wondered: Was I having a bad dream? (Sepsis and Amputations)

By April, after enduring numerous medical complications, including pneumonia, MRSA, C. diff. and various other superbug infections, I was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital across town. I was a shadow of my former self. At 85 pounds, I had lost a third of my body mass and the strength to move. I was totally helpless.

Eventually I snapped back. Working hard every day with my physical therapists, I gradually gained enough strength to sit up, climb out of bed, and walk again. After six more weeks, I could finally go home.

Today my husband and I like to travel a great deal. I take long walks, climb stairs, play golf (sort of), and I drive a modified car. I have always enjoyed cooking. Since nobody was around to show me how to prepare a meal with prosthetic hands, I taught myself how to do it. I wrote a cookbook for amputees to pass on some of the techniques and recipes that I use in my kitchen.

Living with limb loss is no picnic. It takes me 20 minutes to put on my liners, socks and prosthetic legs every day. I carry around prosthetic arms and hands that weigh four pounds each. The legs weigh six. Sometimes the battery in my artificial arm gives out just as I’m in the middle of doing something.

Having less skin area now my body sweats a lot more after I exercise so I need to change clothes after each time. But I can say that I’m back to leading a reasonably normal life again.

I’ve come a long way since my bout with sepsis. Limb loss is the price I paid to survive it.