Kelsie Rohrbough

pregnant
Survivor

My sepsis story starts with our cat, Snickers. My husband loves cats, but is severely allergic. When I found a Balinese kitten roughly five hours from our home, I knew he would make the perfect addition. Despite being 38 weeks pregnant, I wanted to bring the kitten home before Christmas. On Saturday, December 8, 2019 we packed up our car, grabbed some snacks for our toddler, and hit the road towards Muncie, Indiana, to finally meet the newest member of our family.

We arrived that afternoon, picked Snickers up, and started our five hour journey back to Pittsburgh. We made it to Springfield, Ohio, before stopping at a Walmart for some snacks and kitten supplies. As I got out of the car, my water broke. We got everyone back into the car and started, again, towards Pittsburgh. We made it to Columbus before the contractions started; I told my husband that we wouldn’t make it to Pittsburgh, and fearing a highway baby, we stopped at Ohio State University Medical Center. Of course we had some details to work out with our new kitten and our toddler, but thankfully my in-laws were able to drive nearly four hours from West Virginia to pick them up. Our daughter was born Sunday morning at 12:36am, a short four hours after checking into the hospital. Everything went well – we were healthy and anticipating a Monday morning discharge.

Sunday evening, twenty-two hours post delivery, I woke up in excruciating pain. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth) I called for the nurses, and they rushed in to check vitals. My heart rate jumped to 163, blood pressure dropped, and I spiked a fever. The nurse was yelling into her phone to “get someone down here” as I was crying and trembling in pain. Within minutes, twelve to fifteen people were crammed in our tiny room. A mobile X-ray machine was brought in- I remember hearing someone yell, “Prep an OR! She’s bleeding out!” but the X-ray didn’t show any internal bleeding; it came back clear. They rushed me into a CT scan and then an MRI. Everything came back clear.

The next few hours are still a blur – I drifted in and out of consciousness due to the full body pain. After what seemed like an eternity, a resident rushed in and exclaimed, “The blood tests showed a Group A strep infection – she’s in septic shock!” (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus) The room went silent for a millisecond; everyone froze and time felt like it stood still. Then panic ensued. “Septic shock, code ___!” was called over the intercom system in the hallway, and it felt like every employee was in our room. Everyone was frantic, and I remember seeing my husband pressed up against the wall trying to stay out of the way.

I could see the panic and sheer terror in his eyes, and all I could think about was how I wanted to wrap my arms around him and comfort him; I wanted to tell him how much I loved him. But I couldn’t – I was unable to form words. The nurses frantically tried to alleviate the pain, but it took a while for them to bring it to a manageable level. We were put on isolation and monitored very closely. It was obvious from how everyone was rushing around that the situation looked grim. We were told my survival odds were close to sixty percent.

The infectious disease specialists came in to talk to us and explain more about septic shock and the infection. I was immediately started on IV antibiotics and pain medication. It felt like my body was shutting down. The pain remains indescribable, but my legs, neck, and shoulders were numb. I was unable to walk unassisted for the better part of three days and breathing was accompanied by severe pain. Our nurse made us promise multiple times not to Google anything. I don’t think either of us knew what I was up against at the time; I had never heard of sepsis or septic shock. At one point, the hospital sent a chaplain in to offer grief counseling for my husband.

I remember lying there, thinking I wouldn’t leave the hospital. I remember crying out because our toddler wouldn’t remember his mom, my husband wouldn’t have his wife, and our daughter would never know me at all. A million thoughts ran through my mind, but I was unable to verbalize any of them.

The first two days were touch and go. Blood cultures were drawn every 24 hours for five days to monitor growth. Every vein in both arms and hands had collapsed. Towards the end of the week, a PICC line was placed. With no new growth showing up in the blood cultures by the fifth day, we were released on Friday, December 13th.

I remember seeing the sky and breathing fresh air for the first time in almost seven days. I had the PICC line for two more weeks with daily infusions and a couple more sets of cultures to ensure no new growths.

Shortly after the hospital stay, I developed high blood pressure and was unable to sleep for almost a week. I couldn’t close my eyes, because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD and post sepsis syndrome. (Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) (Sepsis and Post-Sepsis Syndrome) It’s been almost three months since everything happened, and I am finally starting to feel less anxious and afraid.

I will forever be thankful to the team of doctors, nurses, and specialists who saved my life. I will also be forever grateful for Snickers, who saved my life in his own way, by ensuring that I was in the right place at the right time and able to stop at one of the best hospitals in the country. I am thankful for this website for helping me to feel less alone. I am thankful to still be here to love my husband and to watch our children grow. I am thankful to be a survivor.