“Surgery…and colostomy…probably a tracheostomy,” I heard.There was also talk of sending I went to a trauma center 110km away.
“Her blood pressure is dropping.”
“How long does it take to get to Baltimore?”
“She’ll never make it. Call the pilot.”
And then, thankfully, everything went black. That was just the beginning of my sepsis journey.
Sepsis is an extreme immune system response to infection, a medical domino effect in which the final stage, septic shock, can lead to organ failure and death.
the most likely to develop It is caused by infections of the lungs, urinary tract, skin, and gastrointestinal tract, but it can also be caused by viral infections such as influenza, COVID-19, and fungal infections. Globally, 11 million people die each year from sepsis, accounting for almost 20% of global deaths. who. According to the WHO, nearly 3 million children under the age of 5 die from sepsis each year.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Each year, 1.7 million American adults develop life-threatening symptoms.
Sepsis is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of hospital readmissions, said Thomas Heyman, president and CEO of the nonprofit Sepsis Alliance. It is more common than stroke and more deadly. People like me who are immunocompromised — I have Crohn’s disease and have been disabled by other illnesses since 2011. — Increased risk of sepsis. (Infants and people over 65 (I was 58) are also at increased risk.)
Later, I learned that untreated diverticulitis, an intestinal infection that had been masked by medications I was taking for other illnesses, had caused near-fatal symptoms in my body. I did. Cascade of immune system reactions.
red flags and red herrings
The morning my sepsis crisis started, I had a fever, excruciating pain in my left hip and low blood pressure. My breathing was rapid and shallow, and I was confused and anxious, classic red flags of sepsis.
At the ER near my home, the doctor correctly suspected that the pain in my left hip was a “red herring” and was hiding the prednisone I was taking for chronic illness and breathing issues. Ta. My gut was in pain until things reached a critical stage.
Instead of dwelling on the hip pain, he ordered an abdominal CT scan. As a result, it was discovered that I had a hole in my colon. feces and bacteria It was leaking into my intestines. As a result, my immune system went into overdrive, causing sepsis and eventually septic shock. My body was shutting down.
In Baltimore, he was treated with intravenous antibiotics. include Vancomycinintravenous fluids and vasopressors, drugs that constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure. Dangerously low blood pressure.
“Our goal for all sepsis patients is to start antibiotics within 60 minutes,” said Jonathan Baghdadi, a hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where I was flown. says. “Evidence shows that in septic shock, mortality increases with every delay in antibiotic administration.”
The colorectal surgeon also had to remove about a 2-foot section of my colon where my intestinal infection was the worst. diverticulitis — where there was a hole in my colon. My doctor, Andrea Chao Bufford, created a stoma by pulling a section of my intestine out of my abdominal wall to remove waste products. He had to wear a colostomy bag for seven months while he healed.
After the surgery, I heard a woman’s calm voice say, “It must have been tough,” in the dimly lit intensive care unit. It was Bufford who saved my life. Machines were beeping rhythmically in the background. I nodded and went back into my nightmare where the red light on the ceiling followed me and people melted away as if they were in a Salvador Dali surrealist painting.
I spent eight days in the ICU and another five days in the post-op ward before being transferred to a nearby facility where I underwent intensive rehabilitation and learned to walk again.
I was discharged from the hospital on June 18th. Twenty-seven days after my emergency flight, I rang the bell at the gym. Everyone applauded, but I didn’t feel triumphant. I felt wasted, a shell of my former self.
Physical recovery, fighting mental health
A few weeks later, as I listen to the Fourth of July fireworks from inside my house, I think back to the summer before when my family took a day trip to a remote beach in Southern Maryland to escape the coronavirus. I cried. In contrast, in the summer of 2021, I woke up crying with fear and anxiety.husband and daughters My hair fell out in clumps in the shower because I had to do it all.
By fall, I was well enough to begin outpatient physical therapy and mental health counseling. As the weeks went by, my pelvic floor became stronger and I was able to walk long distances again. However, my iron levels hit rock bottom and I needed an iron drip, a colonoscopy, and medical clearance for my heart and lungs in preparation for another surgery (to replace my colostomy).
Despite strong concerns about it, the colostomy reversal surgery performed on December 8, 2021 was successful. Then adding aquatic therapy to my rehabilitation program was a game-changer. I rejoined my girlfriend’s YMCA for strength training and swimming, and started writing again for the first time in 10 years. I regained the muscle I lost.
Anyone facing death from sepsis can benefit from paying special attention to their mental health. Because no one looks the same after sepsis. I still have nightmares and a PTSD monster to tame. People are also very nervous before seeing a doctor and are afraid to hear bad medical news, such as a recurrence of sepsis. Once you have sepsis, you are more likely to get it again.
Throughout my recovery, I have engaged with others in the following ways: Sepsis Alliance Connect, discuss these feelings with other sepsis survivors in our online support community. That helped me pivot, and I’ve since become an advocate for sepsis awareness, speaking to community groups and the media about this insidious and dangerous condition.
Sepsis took my strength, my sanity, my hair and almost took it away. But I am much stronger and accepting of everything around me.
What was almost the end for me was just another beginning.
Jackie Duda is a freelance writer and disability advocate in Frederick, Maryland. She chronicles her own life through chronic illness and sepsis on Instagram @jackiesjourney4.
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