Here’s hoping that sharing the story of my ordeal will bring closure to the trauma I suffered at the hands of sepsis on August 8th, 2008.
I had given birth to my first child two days before, by way of an emergency cesarean. My little boy was born happy and healthy and until I delivered him, I had been in the best shape of my life. I was a strong and fit 25-year-old woman who’d never had a real health problem in my life. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth)
During my labor I ran a little fever of 101 F, but IV antibiotics were administered and all seemed fine. The day following the birth I felt pretty crummy but attributed it to the major surgery I’d had the night before. Then the chills and shaking started… I was suddenly freezing and shivering uncontrollably. The nurse piled three blankets, fresh from the blanket warmer, on top of me. She chalked it up to my hormones changing and because I didn’t know any better, I didn’t second guess her. The chills subsided on their own, and I fell into a fitful (and very uncomfortable) sleep.
Approximately 24 hours later, the chills returned with a vengeance. The shaking was uncontrollable and soon turned into convulsions. While I could still comprehend things, I pleaded for my husband to get the nurse–something was NOT right. Within a minute or two, there was a team of roughly a dozen first responders in my room. Immediately I realized that this was serious.
I was having my temperature and blood pressure taken; being hooked up to a heart monitor and nasal canula with oxygen all at once. We found my heart racing, blood pressure ridiculously low, breathing rate up, and my temperature at a sudden 104 degrees. My consciousness began to shift. I saw myself as a young girl, doing all the things I truly loved and had given up. I came face to face with my regrets. I saw my life up until this moment playing out before me.
My doctor appeared at the bedside with a grave face and explained that he thought I needed “a little donation from the blood bank” to save my life, but that my fever was too high yet to receive the blood. It needed to be 102 or lower. It was at that moment when I realized I was in a battle for my life. I looked to the right and saw my husband’s face… looked a little further over and saw my 2-day-old son in his hospital crib next to me. I was not going to lose this fight.
I ordered my husband to go get ice, and spent the next couple hours steadily eating ice chips and forcing myself to breathe as calmly and deeply as I could in an effort to keep my heart rate in check.
Meanwhile, I experienced wild visions of religious figures, saints, angels and demons… Jesus came and told me I was going to live. Were these things real? Perhaps. Whether they were or not though is irrelevant to the fact that such alterations of consciousness are also a huge sign of sepsis.
Well, long story short, I was lucky. After the scariest night of my family’s life, I got my blood transfusion. I remained in the hospital another week, and on heavy-duty antibiotics for a month thereafter. Slowly I healed. My blood cultures revealed a rampant E. Coli infection was responsible for my brush with death. It took me–honestly–a full year before I felt like myself again. Even then I required psychotherapy and antidepressants. I suffered multiple panic attacks a day for yet another year, I was so traumatized.
Thank God himself that I was already inpatient at a hospital when I came down with sepsis. I’m quite certain I would have been dead quickly without that troop of first responders showing up in my room at a moment’s notice. Thank goodness for that, because I still have my family and my son has a mother.
Note from Sepsis Alliance. In an email exchange, we asked Natalie if she had ever heard of sepsis before. This was her response:
I had not heard of sepsis prior to my encounter with it. I’d heard anecdotes from other lay-people about “blood poisoning” but that was it. What’s more is that the hospital staff and the infectious disease specialist who treated me for sepsis didn’t even use the word. They didn’t even inform me that E. coli was to blame. They simply said there was “a gram negative bacteria infecting the bloodstream”. I’m not sure what they felt they had to hide, but I was so traumatized that I had to find out what happened to me. So upon my discharge I went to the record room, got a copy of my 148-page chart and learned the whole story. I was incredibly hurt by the hospital at how they glossed over my condition without telling me what actually happened.