In September of 2018, while living on the island of Kauai, I became ill with an infection in a cut on my finger and what I thought was mild flu symptoms. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) I visited a medical clinic and was given antibiotics for the infection on my finger and sent home because my vital signs were strong with no fever and normal blood pressure. I was told to call the clinic if my symptoms got worse.
I took my temperature throughout the following day, but assumed that because I had no fever, I probably didn’t have a bad infection, even though I was tired and just didn’t feel right. (Mistake number 1 – sepsis doesn’t necessarily have a high fever) It wasn’t until 36 hours later at 6:00 AM that I texted a friend saying I needed to go to the hospital because, “I have never been so sick”. I was home alone and didn’t think my illness was serious enough to call 911. (Mistake number 2 – every hour counts) I don’t remember the weekend but assume that I waited to call until morning so that I wouldn’t bother anybody in the middle of the night. (Mistake number 3 – trust your instincts and don’t wait)
My friend found me nearly unresponsive, and drove me to the hospital where I was admitted directly into the ICU with what my doctors suspected was septic shock because of burning pain in my hands and feet, delirium, and critically low blood pressure. I received IV fluids, oxygen, and IV antibiotics, but my blood pressure remained critically low. I spent 30 hours in the hospital on Kauai while they tried to stabilize my vitals enough so I could fly by air-ambulance to the level one trauma center in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. I was intubated and put into a drug induced coma in order to make me more stable for the flight. My husband and daughters (ages 20 and 23) flew to Hawaii to be by my side, and were told that I might not survive because of multiple organ failure. They were told that if I did survive, I would likely lose my hands and feet because of complications with my circulation and a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which impacted circulation in my extremities.
Miraculously, I did survive and had the breathing tube removed from my throat, and I was brought out of the drug-induced coma on my oldest daughter’s 23rd birthday one week after becoming sick. I suffered from post-ICU delirium, which caused hallucinations and extreme confusion, and I required kidney dialysis for an additional week. (Sepsis and Hallucinations) Although I lost seven of my fingertips, the doctors were able to save my hands with the use of daily hyperbaric chamber treatments and painful topical nitroglycerine treatments that were administered around the clock for three weeks. My family considered this a miracle because of the damage to my hands. Unfortunately, they were unable to save my feet and I now live life as a bilateral below-knee amputee. (Sepsis and Amputations)
After nearly 18 months, I have learned to walk, and I am beginning to try various activities with my new prosthetic limbs. I have re-learned how to drive, how to swim, how to ride a bike, how to stand up paddle, how to do yoga (using a chair for balance), and how to run slowly on a treadmill (using my arms for support). In honor of Sepsis Survivor Week, I snowboarded yesterday for the first time since losing my lower legs to sepsis. I’m a beginner again, but I can tell that I can do it! I’m going out again today with my family.
My brain is still foggy, and I find that I tire easily. I still suffer from mild PTSD and seek regular counseling for that. (Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) I need more sleep than I did before, and have to spend a large portion of every day off of my legs to let them rest. My vocal cords were damaged from the intubation, so I have done quite a bit of speech therapy, as well as PT and OT on my hands and legs.
I recently joined the Sepsis Alliance Board of Directors in order to share my story, spread awareness, and educate others about the prevention of sepsis and treatment of patients before, during, and after sepsis. I am also becoming active in the amputee community. I am beginning to speak publicly and write articles about my story in order to spread sepsis awareness. I am planning a stand-up paddle board event this summer in the Seattle area, and possibly another in Hawaii to raise money for Sepsis Alliance and raise awareness of sepsis prevention.
Learn more about infection in our Sepsis and… library.