Summer had just started! I had taken a few days off work to enjoy them with my 3 kids (Britton 15, Kaylee 12 and little Blake was a year and a half). Also, my sister and mom were visiting for a few days.
I am a nurse. I have worked NICU, ER, Telemetry, Med-Surg, Hospice, and Pediatrics, to name a few.
It started on a Friday, in June, 2009. I had felt “off,” but unable to pinpoint exactly what felt wrong. So, I decided to go upstairs to lie down. Unable to sleep, I rolled over…that’s it, I only rolled over. Then it STRUCK like a vengeance.
I could not stand up, so I rolled over to get onto the floor, so, I had to crawl. I do not recall how I got down the stairs by myself, but somehow I did. I made it to the bottom bathroom and laid over the toilet. I was vomiting. I was sweating. I seemed to have shortness of breath. And I was in pain. Pain like no other pain I have ever felt in my life. My abdomen literally felt like it had exploded.
My older son was home. He called my sister; she came back to the house, after having left to go shopping. I told her something was very wrong and I think I may need to go to the hospital. We had my oldest son go with us so he could show her how to get there. I was in the back seat. I could not move. Every dip in the road just stabbed me more.
We finally got to the Emergency Room. I remember someone went to get a wheelchair. I remember the nurse at the desk brusquely saying “we have someone in front of you; you will just have to wait.” I was in staggering pain. I looked at the nurse with hatred spewing from my eyes, and then everything went Black. Black as night. And all alone. No kids in the background, no husband, no family. Nothing.
That was basically my last memory until sometime in July.
The remainder of my story will be what my husband, sisters, kids, and parents remember. My mind had essentially turned off. I believe, at times, when the pain is too much to bear, God intervenes. I don’t remember feeling anymore pain. I don’t remember the surgeries, the multiple IV sticks, CT scans, drain tubes, nothing.
The E.R. doctor called in a surgeon. They ‘thought’ they saw an obstruction in my bowel on the x-ray. The surgeon came after he finished his clinic and took me to surgery that evening. Four hours went by, and finally the surgeon came out to speak to my husband. What he told my husband, is he had been a surgeon going on 33+ years and has never had a patient with a diagnosis as mine. I had intussusption. I did not have an obstruction. My bowel “telescoped” itself. It is extremely rare, and even more rare for a 35-year-old to encounter. That evening he had to cut out over 5 inches of bowel. Without blood flow to the bowel, it dies. He also fixed a hernia I had since having Blake. I was placed on a medical-surgical floor and my husband was told I should be discharged in about 3 days. But, here, is where my story really begins.
By Saturday evening, my husband saw a completely different side of me. I was mean, hateful, I even threw items at him in the hospital room, and even accused him of infidelity. My husband was keeping my sister (who is an RN) updated on my condition via texting and phone calls. She kept questioning the vital signs. The vital signs were classic of Sepsis: fever, low blood pressure, high pulse. I also still had a Foley catheter in from surgery, but inside the bag, it started to look like a pitiful cup of mud. Not much was going in and what was going in, was getting grossly dark. My respirations were getting higher. After a few attempts of asking the nurse to assess me, my husband became angry.
I also don’t remember my kids visiting, my parents being there, along with my sisters and aunt and uncle. But I talked with them all.
That night, with my delusions and personality changes, my body finally was giving up. My mind was leaving me. At 3 am, they called in a ICU team to try to stabilize me and get me to the ICU floor. But, was it too late? Had this nurse whom had been ignoring all the signs of Sepsis let me die? Everything my husband had been trying to tell the nurse was all classic symptoms of sepsis. There are 3 stages of sepsis or “blood poisoning”.
The prognosis of sepsis is life threatening. A complication of sepsis is septic shock, otherwise known as the 3rd stage. Septic shock has a high death rate. The death rate depends on how many organs have failed. Between 40-60% of patients die. Gangrene can also occur and lead to amputation.
By this time, my body was entering into the third and final stage. My blood pressure was extremely low, and heart rate extremely high. My kidneys, liver and lungs were failing, along with my central nervous system. All my organs had stopped working properly. I was ridden with fever and shaking. I was on a Bi-pap machine to try to assist my breathing.
Within one week, I had been cut open from breast bone to past my navel, and had septic shock- my body was failing. The next decision was the scariest my husband had ever had to make. I had to undergo surgery, yet again. A week had passed since the first surgery and due to the lack of blood flow to my organs, I had a tear, which resulted in a leak in my stomach. This was introducing more bacteria into my blood system. The options were: either I could die without this surgery, or I could die while undergoing this surgery.
The surgeon informed my husband the chances of me surviving were very very slim. Already, I was being transfused multiple and multiple units of blood, plasma and platelets, due to the septic shock (I think the count was in the 30s). This condition known as D.I.C., did not allow my blood to clot, so I constantly was bleeding out. And another surgery would just complicate things more. But, what choice did he have? My husband signed the consent form and they rushed me back in for another all -nighter surgery. This time, the surgeon and nurses had prayed over me before they started. However, slim the chances.
When I came out of the 2nd surgery, I was on life-support. My body was tired, and my mind was even more tired. My husband and sister never left my side. Finding a couch, or an open conference room to take a nap was their goal every night. Afraid if they left, I would pass away without them being there and saying good-bye. Holding my hand one last time, kissing my cheek, telling me how very strong I had been. Or telling me they would make sure the kids never forgot me.
At this point, I remember being scared. I then remember thinking “Lord, I am SOOO scared.” And what happened next was amazing. PEACE. I had left the scary room I had been in, and was taken to the most peaceful place I have ever known. The sky so blue and the sun so clear. The grass green and there was one tree in this meadow. I was no longer scared. My troubles and pain had gone away! And the man beside me, holding my hand, held my life in the other hand. We just walked, for a long time. No talking, no noise, just extraordinary peace.
We walked for what seemed forever. Then, we stopped walking. And I said to him “But my family will be so sad.”
A choice was made.
Not a day during those next few months did I ever think I was on the “easy road”. In fact, during my rehab I knew it was the hardest road. I had to learn to walk again. NO easy task. My daughter had to help me shower and get to the bathroom, and even that task became a goal—to try and get to the bathroom before it was too late. At times I won, and at times I lost.
Eating was a challenge. Due to a raging whole body yeast infection, from my stomach to my mouth, I could not eat. To help, I was on a feeding tube. I also had PICC lines for my antibiotics, and eventually my husband would learn to administer the IV antibiotics that had to be given several times a day, at home. Oh, he did go to a few long-term care facilities to see which one was the best. But, I was NOT going. I needed my kids and my life back. I refused to go anywhere but home. I figured the best physical therapy would be to try to keep up with my 18 month old! For months, I bore a Wound Vac with tubes which was to try to speed up the wound infection. My stomach did not close or heal for months and months.
My hair fell out. And it took a few months before I actually would eat again.
Eventually, all the tubes came out. Eventually, I walked again. Eventually, my stomach healed.
People who survive sepsis or septic shock may still experience nagging health concerns. Some are obvious like amputations, while others are not: memory loss, post traumatic stress syndrome, kidney damage.
Fighting and surviving sepsis places an enormous strain on your body and much of the damage can be hidden.
I have memory loss. I have finally taught my children to NOT correct me when I say the wrong word, or when it takes me ‘extra’ long to find a word or finish a sentence. I may never remember the things my husband does, like when the kids began to walk, or a vacation we went on. But, I am blessed. I AM ALIVE.
I am sharing my story, to hopefully inspire those whom are going through this and give hope. My heart goes out to the loved ones lost from Sepsis. Eventually we WILL have every nurse and health care professional informed of this diagnosis.
April 1, 2014.
Unfortunately my story continues. It has been 4 and a half years and I continue to have health problems related to sepsis. (Sepsis and Post-Sepsis Syndrome) On December 5th, 2013, I had a fall. I fell back, they said “like a tree in the forest.” I had what is called a TBI or traumatic brain injury. I had a right orbital fracture, an occipital fracture, a brain bleed and a concussion. I bruised the frontal lobes of my brain, which affects your personality and mood. Now my PTSD is even worse.
I am at the best rehab place and am currently undergoing cognitive, emotional, and speech therapy. They have a Challenge group that I am now in. I have graduated from occupational and physical therapy. On December 20th, 2013- 5 days before Christmas, I had a Loop Recorder Heart monitor implanted in my chest to, hopefully, find the electrical issue that caused my fall. I have had a cardiologist since having gone through septic shock. When you faint, it is either from a neurology reason or cardiac reason. All my doctors think it is cardiac since I have had cardiac issues since being in septic shock.
What I am trying to do now, since I am not sure if or when I will be able to continue my work as a nurse is to help educate our medical community about sepsis. I currently have met with the supervisors of our local county EMS hospital district and I will work hand in hand with them to help educate 175-200 EMS, paramedics, and firefighters on a quarterly basis. I plan to educate them both on sepsis and TBI.
I also will be volunteering at the rehab center I attend. The center and I are also scheduling a seminar on sepsis and TBI to both outpatient and inpatient staff. This is both helpful for me with my cognitive and speech therapy, and helpful for me in the knowledge that something good is coming from the horrific road my family and I are traveling. I do not know physically or mentally where this road will end.