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Katherine Shea


In 2011, I was caring for 18+ month old twin boys while working full-time and expecting a second set of twins due that July/Aug. Our nanny caring for the twins had a baby she would bring, who was often sick. My twins would get sick, and hence, me too. I repeatedly complained to my OB/GYN about coughing and feeling ill and despite multiple visits, they never gave me an antibiotic or ordered an x-ray.

On June 29th, I woke during the night shaking uncontrollably (rigors), and literally felt as if I could shake the babies out. I was so cold but also burning up. I called ahead to my OB/GYN as I had a visit that day already planned and alerted them I again had a fever, and was feeling ill so needed top priority upon arriving. They quickly did the usual non-stress test and the doctor rushed in saying multiple times, the baby was in distress and the sign he sees were ominous. Luckily, the hospital was across the street so, coughing, I headed over and checked in for what I thought was just shots to slow the process (33 weeks).

As soon as they hooked me up, they were very worried and said the babies were indeed in distress, immediately sent a team in to prep me and dad barely made it in time for me to get started on in the OR. They tipped the table to allow the spinal to more quickly work and out the babies came. They were FINE despite being so early to my shock and pleasant surprise, and whisked off to NICU. I kept coughing and was in pain due to the c-section hurting every time I coughed, and I begged for cough syrup. I was feeling drained and harder time breathing. A really good nurse showered me and combed out my hair asking me questions about how long I was sick. She noted my lips and nails looked purplish and immediately requested an x-ray and blood work for me. Next thing I knew, doctors in charge came running in and asked, “do you know how sick you are?!” I of course said no, and they said I had sepsis and pneumonia badly in both lungs. (Sepsis and Pneumonia)

They whisked me to ICU and there I stayed the next week. That next week is a blur but I tanked upon arriving there, my organs went into shut down and I was scared to tell them that I could still not breathe even on hi-flo oxygen. I held my new babies photos until they bent and warped and were stained with water and tears. I would focus on their faces in the photo and try to calm myself down, taking one breath at a time. The few first nights I begged my mom to sleep next to me in ICU and woke her several times each night asking “are you there?” Years later I told her it was because I thought I was going to die. But God had other plans for me. The second week, I still was not getting better despite multiple IV antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Doctors looked at me scratching their heads wondering why I was getting worse not better. I recalled my grandmother who had been in a nursing home had had some blood transfusions that made a big difference. I suggested this. Next day, they showed up and I had 2 blood transfusions. That had a huge impact on my turnaround.

Two weeks in I felt I would die if I stayed in the hospital so I begged to go home on oxygen. I left with two 33-week-old preemies, coming home to two just turned 2-year-old twins. Not much help but my mom stayed that summer. The next couple of years were physically brutal. I got very angry and not really depressed but honestly traumatized and saw a counselor but would leave feeling drained and empty, worse than going in. I realize now, reading about post-sepsis syndrome, that it is what I had and have had, and it altered me forever. (Sepsis and Post-Sepsis Syndrome )

Two years ago, suffering from limbs falling asleep and tingling and hurting, I had a blood draw. I have MGUS, which is your immune system making clones of one immuniglobin (mine IgM). It is a pre-cancerous state, studied by major cancer hospital Dana Farber, where I go now. At last the sepsis makes sense. But I also know what to look for and know to shout it from the hilltops to others — especially in light of this “flu epidemic” to look out for themselves and others. Had I not had a good nurse, I would have died. I couldn’t even fight for my own self in my low state. I couldn’t even care I had newborn twins waiting for me. But she fought for me and for that I will be forever grateful.

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