There I was…standing at a patient bedside and assessing my patient alongside my paramedic partner while receiving bedside report, and a wave of pain and weakness came over me like I had never experienced before. The urge to faint was hard to resist as I backed away to gain my bearings. How did I let it get this bad? I’m a nurse, a flight nurse and Emergency Department nurse at that, and I know better. I take care of sepsis patients frequently, so why didn’t I see the horrifying cascade of events taking on inside my body until I was at rock bottom?
Sepsis has a way of overwhelming your body with such discreet intent and as healthcare providers we seem to develop a sense of invincibility to the disease processes we treat every single day. At 32 I believed I was healthy and able to fight off a simple UTI without going to get a prescription, because who has time to go see a doctor unless we are actively dying, right? (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) That’s common among nurses, we can be very stubborn and we tend to self treat and put our needs last on the totem pole. When my mom and my best friend finally convinced me to go to the emergency room (which was a huge caveat for me to overcome) I was found to be septic and progressing into septic shock. What started as a simple urinary tract infection turned into multiple organ dysfunction syndrome and transpired my week long hospital stay. The sepsis had enveloped my right kidney with a cyst that was resistant to all oral antibiotics and I also showed evidence of pneumonia in both lungs on radiology reports. (Sepsis and Pneumonia)
The renal pain I experienced was intense and like nothing I have experienced in the past, and the generalized weakness and confused/altered state of mind was hard to come to grips with as a seasoned clinician.
While at the hospital I also developed a clot in my right lower extremity that had to be dealt with so it wouldn’t travel to my lungs or cardiac muscle tissue. When I was finally released to go home supervised by my mom, I left with a PICC line in that I would have to have home infusions administered through for 8 more weeks. While my strength slowly started to come back, this meant no work and definitely no flying for me for the duration of time. Sitting still and recovering was very difficult for an active, usually healthy caregiver like myself. It was probably one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome physically and mentally in my adult life.
I remember the day I went back to work like it was yesterday, and I also remember the recurring infections I developed shortly after. Each time I developed a recurring infection my heart sank a little more inside knowing I could inadvertently start the whole cascade of events over again if I didn’t act quickly.
I am proud to say that today I am a sepsis survivor of 10 months, and I will never forget November 2019 and the events that followed. My goal now is to educate others on the importance of recognizing sepsis early for better treatment outcomes, to help prevent sepsis, and to help be there for those who have struggled with this personally or secondarily. I am still a flight nurse, I am still an ER nurse, and I’m a healthy mom of three growing boys who are beyond thankful for my health today. Sepsis is an equal opportunity killer and nobody is invincible.