HomeHealthSepsis almost killed me. That's how it was.

Sepsis almost killed me. That’s how it was.

The terror began on the morning of May 22, 2021, when the respiratory therapist inserted the ventilator tube down my throat. It was like swallowing a vacuum cleaner hose. They injected me with paralyzing drugs to prevent me from tearing it out instinctively.

I tried in vain to issue an SOS and looked for my husband with my eyes. I felt like he was trapped behind soundproof glass. Disembodied voices murmured over me as I lay on an emergency room gurney.

“Surgery…and a colostomy…maybe a tracheostomy,” I heard. She was talked about sending I was taken to a trauma center 75 miles away.

“Your blood pressure is going down.”

“How long until Baltimore?”

“She’ll never make it, call a pilot.”

And then, thankfully, everything went black. It was just the beginning of my journey into sepsis.

Sepsis is an extreme response of the immune system to an infection – a medical domino effect in which the final stage, septic shock, can lead to organ failure and death.

Is more likely to develop due to lung, urinary tract, skin or gastrointestinal infections, but they can also be due to viral infections, such as the flu, Covid-19 or fungal infections. Worldwide, 11 million people die annually from sepsis, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all global deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 3 million children under five die annually from sepsis, says the WHO.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.7 million American adults develop this life-threatening condition annually.

Sepsis is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the number one cause of hospital readmissions, says Thomas Heymann, president and CEO of the nonprofit group Sepsis Alliance. It is more common and more deadly than a stroke. People like me who are immunocompromised: I have Crohn’s disease and have been disabled by other conditions since 2011. – have a higher risk of sepsis. (Infants and people over 65 (I was 58) are also at higher risk.)

Later, I learned that untreated diverticulitis, an intestinal infection, which had been masked by medications I was taking for other problems, had triggered a near-fatal illness in my body. immune system response cascade.

Red flags and false clues

The morning my sepsis attack began, I had a fever, excruciating pain in my left hip, and low blood pressure. My breathing was rapid and shallow, and I was also confused and anxious, classic warning signs of sepsis.

At the emergency room near my house, a doctor correctly suspected that the pain in his left hip was a “red herring” and that the prednisone he was taking for chronic illnesses and breathing problems was masking pain in my gut until things reached a crisis stage.

Instead of focusing on the hip pain, he ordered an abdominal CT scan, which revealed that my colon had perforated and fecal matter and bacteria They were seeping into my gut. Consequently, my immune system went into overdrive, leading to sepsis and ultimately septic shock. My body was shutting down.

In Baltimore, I was treated with intravenous antibiotics. including vancomycinintravenous fluids and vasopressors, medications to make my blood vessels constrict and raise my dangerously low blood pressure.

“Our goal for every patient with sepsis is to start antibiotics within 60 minutes,” says Jonathan Baghdadi, an associate hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where I was flown. “Evidence shows that, in the case of septic shock, every hour of delay in antibiotics increases mortality.”

A colorectal surgeon also had to remove the source of my infection, about two feet of colon where the worst of the intestinal infection was. diverticulitis – was and where the colon had been perforated. Doctor Andrea Chao Bafford pulled a piece of intestine through my abdominal wall to form a stoma and remove waste. She would wear a colostomy bag for seven months while she healed.

After the surgery, in the dark intensive care unit, I heard a woman’s calm voice: “You were very sick.” It was Bafford, who had just saved my life. In the background, the machines beeped rhythmically. I nodded and went back to having nightmares about red lights on the ceiling chasing me and people melting like they were in a surreal Salvador Dali painting.

I spent eight days in the ICU and another five days in a post-surgical unit before being transferred to a nearby facility where I received intense physical rehabilitation and learned to walk again.

I was discharged on June 18. 27 days after my emergency flight and I rang the bell at the gym. Everyone applauded, but I didn’t feel triumphant; I felt lost, a shell of my former self.

Physical recovery, mental health struggles.

Weeks later, I heard the Fourth of July fireworks from inside my house and cried, remembering the previous summer, when our family had taken day trips to secluded beaches in southern Maryland to escape the coronavirus. On the contrary, in the summer of 2021 I would wake up fearful, anxious, and sobbing. my husband and my daughters He had to do everything for me and my hair fell out in clumps in the shower.

By the fall, he was well enough to begin outpatient physical therapy and mental health counseling. As the weeks passed, my pelvic floor strengthened and I was able to walk long distances again. But my iron level hit rock bottom, and I needed iron infusions, a colonoscopy, and cardiac and pulmonary medical clearances to prepare for another surgery, this one to reverse my colostomy.

Despite my intense anxiety about it, my colostomy reversal surgery on December 8, 2021 was a success. After that, adding aquatic therapy to my rehabilitation program was a turning point. I rejoined the YMCA for strength training and swimming and started writing again after a 10-year absence. I regained the muscle I lost.

Anyone who has been near death from sepsis can benefit from paying close attention to their mental health, because none of us seem to be the same after sepsis. I still have nightmares and a PTSD monster to tame. I also get very nervous before doctor appointments and fear receiving bad medical news, including a recurrence of sepsis; Once you’ve had sepsis, you’re more susceptible to getting it again.

Throughout my recovery, I connected with others through Sepsis Alliance Connection, an online support community, to talk about these feelings with other sepsis survivors. That helped me pivot and I have since become an advocate for sepsis awareness, speaking to community groups and the media about this insidious and dangerous disease.

Sepsis took away my strength, my sanity, my hair, and it almost took me away. But I am becoming much stronger and accepting everything around me.

What was almost my end was just another beginning.

Jackie Duda is a freelance writer and disability advocate in Frederick, Maryland. She documents her life with chronic illness and surviving sepsis on Instagram @jackiesjourney4.

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