My husband, Jordan, our two sons (ages 4 & 1), and I had been living on the island of St. Maarten where Jordan was a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean- School of Medicine. On Friday, February 3, 2017 after watching some television in the evening, Jordan complained of a headache and started running a fever. He took some Tylenol and went to sleep. Throughout the night he had the chills so badly that the bed was shaking and I moved to the couch to sleep.
The next day, Saturday, he spent the majority of the day between the bathroom with vomiting and diarrhea and resting in the bedroom. I had went to buy him some Gatorade, but he could not keep that down either. I asked him if he thought he needed to be checked out, but he felt certain it was just a 24-hour bug. Being a medical student I trusted his judgement, and left him to rest.
By Sunday morning, I knew something was seriously wrong as he stared at me blankly. He had severe mental status change. I called our friend to come babysit our children while I rushed him to the emergency room. The hospital on the Dutch side of the island was thirty minutes away. In hindsight, I should have called an ambulance. When we arrived at the ER, there were 3 other patients waiting ahead of us. We were forced to wait. While we were waiting Jordan could barely talk, but he did tell me he felt like he was dying. I started crying, and shouted, “can he be seen?! He is really sick!!” Thankfully my persistence paid off and he was finally seen.
The first thing the nurse said was, “is that water on his head?!” No, it was sweat!! Immediately it was clear that the island ER did not quite know how to handle Jordan’s situation. They started him on IVs in both arms because he was severely dehydrated, but Jordan kept wanting to curl up into the fetal position, so I had to physically hold his arms down so that the IVs would drip. Jordan kept shouting out “I need meds!” But the staff said they could not give him any medicine until his blood pressure stabilized. His bp was 86/42 and his heart rate was in the 150s. In the meantime the ER doctor kept asking me about what he had eaten in the past 24 hours, his medical history, etc. The doctor seemed floored with his condition, and I had a feeling she didn’t know what to do with him. The next thing I know, an internist physician stormed the room in regular clothes shouting, “He’s septic! He’s in septic shock!” He started shouting commands and more and more staff members rushed the room. By this point, Jordan’s bp had dropped to 70/30 and he would not open his eyes.
The doctor would ask him to open his eyes and he would open his mouth instead. I also noticed that his right ear was purple and he has purple streaking down his neck. The next thing I knew, a staff member grabbed me by the shoulders and took me out of the room into a hallway by myself. I kept trying to go back in, but they put up a divider in the room so I could not see or hear anything.
In the hallway the word “septic” kept coming to mind. I had never heard of sepsis before and Googling it didn’t put my mind at ease in the slightest. I was so nervous as to what the doctor would say to me the next time I saw him. About 30 minutes later the internist finally came to me and told me that they were able to get Jordan’s bp stabilized and breathing on his own, so he did not need to be intubated, but that he was very sick and was being moved to the ICU. The ICU in St. Maarten is not private rooms, but one big room with multiple beds for patients. I was more than worried about the quality of healthcare he would be receiving. After Jordan was settled in the ICU, his doctor told me that the next day he would be medically evacuated to the United States and to bring his passport. He also told me there was a chance he may not survive through the night. It was a hopeless feeling going home to our 2 children that evening worrying if their dad was going to make it through the night.
The next morning bright and early I arrived at the hospital, passports in hand. However, his doctor told me that he was stable, actually talking, and could recover there in the hospital and did not need to be air lifted off of the island. I was still anxious, but if he was responding to the medications I figured it would be okay for him to stay there until he was well enough to be discharged. I was naive about what his recovery would be like.
In the following days, I was told that his stool sample showed that gram negative sepsis, most likely E. Coli, is what caused him to become so ill so quickly. He was also in liver and kidney failure. He had also developed DIC. (Sepsis and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)
Jordan also lost hearing in his right ear due to hypoxia. With me not being in the medical field, I relied on Jordan’s classmates to guide me through exactly what was going on with him. After 10 days in the St. Maarten medical center, and no real progress in his condition (other than stable), I had two of Jordan’s classmates go to the hospital with me to convince him that we needed to go back to the United States for his rehabilitation. This would mean he would have to withdrawal from the semester of medical school for recovery. Luckily he agreed without too much of a fight.
Because we were electing to leave the country, Jordan’s insurance was not going to cover a medical evacuation for him. We were looking into quotes of $30k to have him medically flown back to the United States. A few days later the hospital changed Jordan to oral medications and cleared him to fly commercially. Flying was a challenge because at this point he could not barely walk and was still very sick. Fortunately we had 3 family members that were able to fly to St. Maarten to help us travel back with our children. Jordan was able to successfully withstand the flight home.
When we arrived back in our home state of Kansas, Jordan was readmitted to one of our local hospitals. It was the hospital he had previously worked at for 7 years prior to be accepted into medical school. We felt confident with the level of healthcare he would receive. During his hospital stay in the States it was found that his shoulder capsule was also septic so he had a surgery to wash the joint. He was seen by infectious disease and placed on high doses of antibiotics. After 17 days in the hospital, he was discharged and completed 6 weeks of outpatient physical therapy on his shoulder and balance issues due to his hearing loss.
Almost 3 months post septic shock, Jordan is doing better than anyone could have imagined. Although he still has some balance issues and fatigue, we are so thankful for his recovery and the love and support we received from our friends and family. Jordan will be returning to medical school this May to complete his dream of becoming an Emergency Room physician to help those in need, as he once was.
Source: Allie Marshall (Jordan's wife)