On April 13, 2018, I was diagnosed with septic shock. The offending bacteria were staph and MSSA (the MRSA relative that is not resistant to antibiotics) and took the form of what is called ‘discitis’ which presents itself by creating pockets of pus up, down and inside the spine. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) I was told that discitis generally afflicts IV drug users. I am not, nor was I ever, an IV drug user. I’ve spent my life working hard and playing by the rules. Until this event, I was blessed with great health throughout my life. Very seldom did I even catch a cold or get the flu.
In the beginning of April 2018, I started to feel unwell: trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, a sharp pain in my back, night sweats in my scalp. At first I thought I must be coming down with the flu but the ‘flu’ continued to get worse over the ensuing days. I went to the ER of the local hospital (large Level 3 Trauma Center), where I was briefly checked over and then sent home. I was told my back pain was likely arthritis. Over the next few days I saw an orthopedist who sent me for an MRI and told me my issue was arthritis in my back. I then saw my internist who sent me back to the ER, which I did. For the second time they checked me but sent me home, again telling me to get some rest.
I continued to decline over the next couple of days and then, for the third time, went to the ER. This time I told them I wasn’t leaving until they figured out what was wrong with me. Within an hour of my arrival there, I slipped into a coma. The date was April 13, 2018 and it turned out to be the first day of the rest of my life.
Since I was in a coma, I don’t know how long it took but I was eventually diagnosed correctly. I don’t remember much about the next couple of weeks at all. I later learned that I had undergone surgery to remove the many pockets of pus from my spine. During that surgery, my kidneys failed and I technically died twice on the OR table but was brought back to life. One of my doctors later told me the only reason they were able to save me during that surgery was because my heart was very strong (who knew?) and was otherwise healthy.
I spent the next week or so in ICU on a ventilator in a medically induced coma. When I woke up, I realized where I was but was unable to speak for a few days as I was just too weak. I was very sick and weak, in a lot of pain, had no control over my bodily functions and was still in kidney failure. I was started on dialysis within about a week and that lasted for about 6 weeks, three sessions per week. I was also completely physically (yet temporarily) disabled. No strength, couldn’t eat, completely exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep.
After five weeks in the medical center I was transferred to an in-patient rehabilitation hospital. I spent the next four weeks in rehab where I learned to stand again and walk with the help of a walker. I was discharged on June 15 after spending a total of nine weeks in both facilities.
I continued to have at-home PT and, eventually, out-patient PT. By mid-September I was finally able to walk on my own again.
While still a patient in the rehab hospital, my kidney function was largely restored and, thankfully, dialysis ended. I was left with some minor yet permanent kidney damage that should not require further dialysis. Before the septic shock my kidneys were pretty perfect.
I also learned that strong consideration had been given to amputating my feet while I was still in the ICU. Thankfully, my cold purple feet started to come back to life before I lost them.
Many septic shock patients lose an arm or a leg, fingers, toes, eyesight or mental capacity. Some require permanent dialysis while others need a kidney transplant. And, of course, many patients lose their lives.
I was truly one of the lucky ones and I work to thank God every day for the gift of life He gave me after this ordeal. I’m still trying to understand why I was one of the lucky ones and have a certain amount of survivor guilt.
At some point last summer, I lost a lot of hair which has since grown back. My eyesight changed and I needed to get new glasses. I also lost 38 pounds.
In addition to some minor kidney problems, I have an issue with back pain and I’m getting help for that. The most difficult part of this for me, though, has been PTSD. (Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Although I’m getting help for this, I’m still an emotional mess. Because no one could figure out how this happened to me, I live in fear of it happening again. If you don’t know how it happened the first time, how can you protect yourself going forward? A couple of my doctors told me that sometimes things just happen and they can’t explain the whys and wherefores. I’m terrified of germs and am vigilant in my efforts to keep as many germs as possible away from me.
I’ve come to learn that trauma survivors become isolated from much of everyday life. The fears, the memories, the phobias all contribute to changing us. While I’ve not given up hope that my PTSD can be successfully dealt with, I can’t imagine that it will go away. I’m always on guard, trying to protect myself from the mystery invader that tried very hard to kill me. Another survivor wrote that her post-septic shock life will never be the same. I can echo that.