Within 24 hours, what started as a small bump on my shoulder turned into life-threatening septic shock.
When I first noticed the bump on my shoulder, I figured it was an insect bite, although I didn’t recall having been bitten. I didn’t give the seemingly insignificant bump much thought, even later that evening, when the area became swollen and tender. I surmised that I was having an allergic reaction to the presumed bug bite, and I didn’t worry.
The next morning I awoke with my shoulder somewhat swollen. Then everything started happening fast. By mid-morning, I felt as though I was coming down with the flu. By mid-afternoon, I was unable to get out of bed.
By 8pm, when my husband checked on me, I had a fever of 104, and my entire arm was swelling. We needed to go to the emergency room, he said. A trip to the ER for what seemed like a bad bug bite and a terrible flu seemed over the top to me, but I was too sick to protest.
At the emergency room, I was immediately identified as a patient who was in septic shock. Apparently the “bug bite” on my shoulder actually was an infection, which had become cellulitis and now sepsis.
My blood pressure was extremely low, and I was put on IVs of fluids and antibiotics. I was advised that if my blood pressure did not respond promptly to the IV, I would need to be admitted to the ICU to have a central line installed in my neck in order to deliver special medications to raise my blood pressure. Without such intervention, I was told, I would be risking organ failure and death.
My blood pressure did not rise in response to the fluids and antibiotics. I was admitted to the ICU, where I remained for several days. My blood pressure became stable, thankfully, and I was transferred to the regular hospital for several more days, and then I had to complete a course of IV antibiotics on an outpatient basis once I eventually was discharged.
The months ahead were not easy and I was surprised by a lot of what I learned, such as that new research is showing that sepsis impacts survivors in ways not yet fully understood and that sepsis is a leading cause of death, yet a majority of Americans have not heard the word, “sepsis.”
If you have survived sepsis, there is much that doctors do not know about what the recovery will be like and as survivors we must make our voices heard.