Kirsten Lavine

Survivor

I have always been in very good health, which I attribute to having an active lifestyle and being a long-term vegan. However, I also have a condition called endometriosis which has impacted on my life in a few minor ways. In recent years I developed irregular bleeding in the midst of my menstrual cycle, and concerned that it might have indicated a pre-cancerous state, I agreed to have a diagnostic hysteroscopy in July 2015.

The day surgery went smoothly and the results of the biopsy later proved to be negative. That night, however, I began to have horrific abdominal pain. (Sepsis and Surgery) After taking ibuprofen and later paracetamol and vomiting them both, the hospital suggested I come back. I was in so much agony that it took a while to bundle me into the car and drive the thankfully short distance to the hospital. I was eventually re-admitted and underwent various CT scans, X-rays and blood tests. It wasn’t until two days later, when my white blood cell count dropped to a dangerously low level, that it was finally determined that I had sepsis, which by then had escalated into severe sepsis.

I was immediately transferred to intensive care, where I was put into a medically-induced coma and placed on a ventilator. The first night my blood pressure was so low that I suffered organ failure and nearly died. Over the course of two weeks, the medical team performed two laparoscopic washout surgeries and pumped fluids and antibiotics into me to try and combat the infection, which was proving difficult to treat because the bacteria was discovered to be resistant to most standard antibiotics.

Thankfully, while I was in ICU, I was looked after by skillful and incredibly kind doctors and nurses. When I emerged from the coma towards the end of the second week, I had no memories or understanding of what had happened to me. I only learned much later that I had suffered a severe case of delirium and had been hallucinating most of the time I was there.

After two weeks in ICU, I was transferred back into a regular ward where I spent another two weeks being looked after by very caring and attentive staff. I was on a variety of antibiotics and other treatments, including injections for a blood clot I had developed in my leg from being immobile for so long. I was very weak and exhausted most of the time. I had to learn to walk again and had great difficulties eating. I was very fortunate that I was eventually able to undergo a radiologically-assisted drainage procedure which drained much of the infection and turned the corner on my recovery, thus averting the proposed option of major pelvic surgery.

I finally went home after a month in hospital. Since then I have been recovering slowly. It took me months to gain back all the weight I lost and much of my muscle strength as I was very, very weak for a long time. It also took me a long time to be able to eat properly again, and a blockage in my bowel due to scarring sent me back to hospital again for a few days, and I’ve had other bowel blockages since. I’ve resumed work off and on, and fortunately have a great deal of flexibility in the work that I do which has helped.

A couple of months after I came home, my partner and I launched an official enquiry with the hospital regarding the causes of me contracting sepsis. It was determined that the likelihood was that the hysteroscopy procedure, which involves using pressurised water, pushed bacteria from my urogenital tract into my body cavity, causing an infection which quickly escalated into septic shock. In that respect I was very unlucky, but in terms of the excellent treatment I received at hospital and my body’s ability and will to recover, I was in fact, very lucky.

I’ve recently published a book about my experience, entitled A Measure of Light. The book is in part to raise awareness about sepsis, but also to champion patient advocacy, particularly in making choices with regards to one’s recovery. In the book, I also try to inspire people to try and live their lives to the fullest once again, even after coming through such a traumatic experience. A Measure of Light has been endorsed by both the UK Sepsis Trust and the Global Sepsis Alliance as ‘an engaging and informative read…a valuable resource for health care professionals, while offering hope and encouragement to other survivors and their families.’ More details about the book can be found on the website: www.measureoflight.net. Overall, my experience has taught me how precious and precarious life is and to value its every gift – especially the gift of health.