Chrissy Gruninger


It was December 2020, I was 46 at the time. I had just returned home, having been at a hotel, close to the hospital where I had had a hysterectomy the week before. I didn’t really know how I should be feeling given that I had just had major surgery, but I knew I didn’t feel well. (Sepsis and Surgery) Originally from California, my surgery took place in Costa Rica, where I live full time.

A friend that was supposed to stay with me that week had an emergency at his home and had to leave that night. Another friend had brought me over healthy vegan meals that would have lasted me several days, but I was in so much pain, and somewhat incoherent, that I couldn’t manage anything other than a bowl of dry cereal.

That night, I don’t remember much other than being in excruciating pain and I was incredibly cold. At one point in the middle of the night, I took my temperature. It was 95.6F. I figured my thermometer must be broken. It wasn’t.

Because of the abdominal surgery, I could barely walk. I didn’t know it at the time, but both lungs had what’s called atelectasis. Essentially, they were collapsed. It often happens with anesthesia but having severe sepsis, that damaged my organs, didn’t help matters.

After a night of no sleep and being in incredible pain, I knew in the morning that something was wrong, and I needed to get back to the hospital. My lung capacity continued to diminish. It was difficult to breathe or talk. And not being able to talk, calling 911 wasn’t an option.

I texted my regular driver, but he wasn’t available. He put me in touch with another taxi but as I wasn’t able to talk, I wasn’t able to tell him how to get to my house. I texted my regular taxi again and asked him to please help me and communicate with the driver with directions to my house. The driver arrived and was friendly, wanting to chat for the hour-long drive to the hospital, not realizing I wasn’t able to speak.

I was immediately seen by my surgeon, who then admitted me to the ER. They began running tests – blood work, urinalysis, CT scan – and all the while, my driver was waiting outside, in the hot summer sun. I didn’t even have cash on me to pay him, as I thought I could pick it up on the way home. I just thought I needed more antibiotics and would be able to leave that day. Several hours later, when we knew I wouldn’t be leaving, the driver kindly told me not to worry, that I could pay him at a later date.

Had I not gotten to the ER when I did, I likely would not be here today. My oxygen was very low, my temps throughout my hospital stay were very high, often at, or over, 104. One night about a week into my hospital stay, the nurses had to help me change my hospital gown three times as it was soaking wet from fever. My kidneys and lungs were the biggest problems.

I had a friend who lived 90 minutes away come every day to stay with me. Fortunately, the private hospital that I was at allowed visitors.

My housekeeper stayed at my house for the entire time I was away, taking care of my cats and making sure my house was safe and secure.

Upon returning home, it took me months to be able to breathe without extreme pain and be able to talk and walk again.

These last few years have been a blur. I continue to struggle with post sepsis syndrome (PSS). I have liver, lung and kidney damage. I suffer from chronic fatigue and insomnia, and when I do sleep, I have nightmares. I had muscle wasting and, as a result of that and PSS, I am in constant pain. Every part of my body hurts, it is difficult to walk just a few feet from my sofa to the kitchen and if I lay on my side, it feels like knives are stabbing into my hip. I also still find it difficult to breathe.

It’s challenging to do basic tasks, like prepare a simple meal, go to the grocery store, or shower. I also have anxiety and panic attacks, anytime I sneeze or have a cut or bug bite or anything that can turn into an infection.

I’m an online entrepreneur and award-winning author, but it’s now difficult to work more than a few hours a week. I had ideas for two new books before the surgery, but I haven’t been able to focus and write, which has been disheartening.

While I survived severe sepsis, I now have an invisible illness that is challenging and frustrating. Doctors, worldwide, are unfamiliar with PSS. Some people just think you had the flu and should get over it. You quickly learn who is going to be there for you, in your time of need, and who will minimize, ignore or disparage what you’re going through. When I finally started to share what had happened, I received several lectures from people saying it was essentially my fault.

Sepsis can happen to anyone, anywhere. My hospital was modern and clean. I developed a UTI from the catheter that I had during the surgery. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections, Sepsis and Invasive Devices) The UTI turned into severe sepsis. I’m grateful for the people who have supported me from the beginning, as well as organizations like Sepsis Alliance who have helped me learn that I’m not alone, and it’s not my fault. Thanks for reading my story.

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