I was born and raised in rural NH. Values that are often admired about New Englanders – sturdiness, enthusiasm, and strict adherence to the traditions of the early settlers – naturally inhabited my brain. Expectations to be strong and ‘live through tough times’ were the norm, so I would avoid going to doctors for help unless I felt that I was on my deathbed.
In the early autumn of 2015, I started feeling flu symptoms kick in. I had just started a new job and was barely off an initial probation so I did not want to miss work. I let the flu symptoms go. It was a Thursday. Friday morning in the early AM I woke with a 104 degree fever. I didn’t have a sore throat or muscle soreness of any sort, but I had vertigo and I felt extremely weak. As I did the day before, I let the symptoms go, grabbed a pitcher of grapefruit juice and started taking ibuprofen to cut the symptoms down.
Also on Friday, I started getting a strange rash on my abdomen. It was painful and itchy. Again – in my bullheaded state – I figured it was just a side effect of the flu I seemed to have acquired, I figured I’d wait for the symptom to go away with the other symptoms.
I stayed home from work on Friday. I wasn’t happy about it, but I couldn’t get the energy to even drive myself to work. Between the time I called in sick on Friday and mid-day Sunday, I continued to feel worse and worse, the rash on my abdomen got worse and worse, and all I did to respond to the problem was drink copious amounts of grapefruit juice and water and pop ibuprofen like it was candy. I didn’t notice at the time that I had stopped urinating and had been having frequent periods of diarrhea instead.
By Sunday noon, my abdomen was stinging and had started to show dark blotches. My mother begged me to go to urgent care, so I went. The nursing assistant took my vitals and said they “looked questionable”. When the doctor saw the rash on my abdomen, immediately he said “You have severe cellulitis. (Sepsis and Cellulitis) You need to get yourself to the emergency room, now.” Luckily, the local ER was 1/2 a mile down the road, so driving there wasn’t so bad. I stopped for a few minutes to google my symptoms on my smartphone and found the word that I had been very fearful of as a possible cause of my related symptoms: sepsis. I also looked at my face in the mirror. I’d never looked so sick before; it looked like someone had made my face up to look like I was a zombie. When I arrived at the ER, I had to park my car and somehow walk to ER admissions. I had to ask a friendly stranger to wheel me in with a wheelchair so that I wouldn’t faint. During the intake, my blood pressure was measured at 80 over 60. I mentioned to LNA “By the way, I may be septic, but not in a bad way.” The LNA snorted and replied “there’s a good way to be septic?!?” I responded with “well, I don’t think I’m going to die or anything…” I’m sure the ER staff got a good laugh about my naivete.
An hour or so later I learned I was in acute kidney failure and had severe cellulitis and severe sepsis. The nephrologist on call mentioned that my blood tests returned numbers consistent with people who were comatose at this state in the infection. Oddly enough, I was fine – I yucked it up with the ER staff. Still, the pain was pretty bad and they were kind enough to give me morphine and I was moved to the Critical Care Unit of the hospital. There they continued to give me pain medication, which helped somewhat; I began to have terrible back spasms – likely caused by my severe dehydration – and they had to give me muscle relaxants so that I could breathe, and subsequently sleep.
In the meantime, I was catheterized and my guests and I were looking for any sign of urine collecting. I’m sure any number of inappropriate jokes could be made at this point in the story. There was no sign of any urine until mid day on Monday, after my nephrologist gave me a dose of a kidney ‘jump starter’ of sorts that would reset the kidneys so they’d start operating normally again. At that point, my dehydration was no longer a problem, my back was doing better, my blood pressure had gotten back to normal. However, I still had this pesky cellulitis infection. The amount of fluid seeping from the wound was alarming and the size of the wound was absolutely immense. The infection spread like wildfire. Also, there was no visible cut on my abdomen where the infection could have started and the hospital infectious disease specialist did not know what bacteria had taken my body hostage. I remained in the hospital for about two weeks while the specialist narrowed down the antibiotics I needed.
After I was discharged, I spent a month getting antibiotic infusion treatments daily. I was pretty much stuck in a wheelchair the whole time because I was so weak and felt so dizzy all the time. As the infection slowly cleared, I had to get additional wound modification surgery and treatments using a wound vacuum.
In closing, I must mention that my wound has finally healed; it took a year and 9 months to do so. I still have some leftover issues, like how I lost a lot of hair from the illness, and my hair re-grew in grey initially (I’m 40, so I wasn’t terribly thrilled about that). It’s just now coming back in at my normal brunette color.
To think the only reason I knew what sepsis was before I got diagnosed with it is that it was an ailment a character got on “Law and Order: SVU” is extremely unfortunate. That needs to change. Now.