What is sepsis?
Sepsis is your body’s overreaction to an infection.
What types of infection can become septic?
Any. By any, I mean viral or bacterial infection on the planet. The flu? Yep. A hangnail? Sure. Pneumonia, major surgery, even food poisoning can go septic.
There are three stages to sepsis.
2. Severe Sepsis
3. Septic Shock
It is my opinion the Stage One, sepsis, is the most dangerous. You might wonder why. It is because sepsis masquerades as the flu. Yes, the flu. Fever, aches, chills, nausea, and vomiting. Temperatures on the fever can reach over 108 degrees.
The flu is the one thing that doctors tell us to stay at home and wait it out. In the case of sepsis that is a deadly mistake. Almost sixty percent of people who make it to Stage two die. By Stage three that number doubles to ninety percent.
By Stave two you get to loss of motor control, difficulty breathing, and confusion. Loss of muscular skeletal systems also occurs. By now a patient risks brain damage from the infection and the fever.
Once a person hits septic shock they are intubated and put into a medical coma. Once a person enters the coma very rarely do they come out of it. When and if they do they could have memory loss, PTSD, limb loss, and above all post sepsis syndrome.
That last term is likely to be a new term to all of you. So allow me to explain the joys of post sepsis syndrome. Feel free to read as much sarcasm in that last statement as you wish.
Post sepsis syndrome is something that every survivor has to live with for the rest of their live (most live to be octogenarians). Some of the signs of post sepsis syndrome include lethargy, weakened immune system, and an exacerbation of any preexisting conditions that you might have had. Those are only some of the know long-term effects.
By lethargy I mean that they will most likely have to rotate the days they do work on; such as work two days, sleep two days. By the end of the day they are mumbling and possibly incoherent. There will be days they cannot get out of bed or off the couch. This is not their fault but that of the disease that struck them low in the first place.
A weakened immune system means they will likely catch any bug that is going around. Expect the need for antibiotics on a regular basis. Vitamins and probiotics may be needed by some. Especially B12.
Anxiety and panic are never far away. It sometimes seems that they can’t go a day without it. The feeling of uselessness because they can’t do what they once could is devastating to them. With the help of a good doctor and support from family and friends these things can be overcome. I promise.
Prior conditions is the worst one. If they had bronchitis before hand it is likely to turn into full blown asthma. If there was a kidney problem before hand, expect to need dialysis afterward. Blood pressure problems are known to get worse and so is arthritis.
Between twenty eight and fifty percent of people die each year from sepsis in the United States alone. This is more than the total of prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined. This is the primary reason we need to question something even as simple as the flu. Sepsis is survivable – the earlier it is detected the better your chances of survival. Thankfully the CDC has declared Sepsis its own disease and not a condition of a prior infection. This gives me hope that awareness of it will spread.
If the long-term frightens you the short-term will hurt you. Hair and appetite loss occur. The person also changes from the one you have known. Some of them get more wary of their surroundings and all are terrified of getting ill again. Many find a new purpose in life while others may lose their way.
A New Normal
After all this doom an gloom, I’ll move on to something a little brighter. That topic is, A New Normal. By that, many of you may be wondering what I mean. Unfortunately, there is no mystery to that fact. The words are self explanatory. Survivors of sepsis literally have to find what is now acceptable to them and their bodies. What they can tolerate now will be different than what they could before.
They may not be able to work as hard or as long as they once could before needing a break. They might not even be able to do the same job as before – more than one person has had to change careers. Many survivors end up on disability due to the amount of damage done to their bodies. Energy seems to be a recycled concept now. They have good days where they were almost what they once were (those are what I like to refer to as a shining moment in the sun); then they have the bad days.
Those are the days they can’t get out of bed and staying awake seems impossible.
Any medical problems they had before sepsis magnifies after. For instance, bronchitis can turn into full blown asthma.
Fibromyalgia is known to develop. Arthritis flares dramatically. Because of the high fevers hair loss occurs. That one at least grows back. Exhaustion becomes a familiar friend and memory loss is a regular occurrence. Some have an increase in appetite and others a decrease. Anxiety tends to go through the roof. You worry about ever getting that ill again. You don’t want to go through it again.
Life isn’t all doom and gloom though. The survivor finds a new appreciation for what was almost taken from them. They challenge themselves more and often find new purpose.
I know I have. I ended up with septic shock due to salmonella – that’ll teach me from eating out at a certain restaurant. How I survived, I don’t know. But I am grateful for it. At almost two years out I am still recovering and trying to find my New Normal.
I barely remember the beginning of my illness. I don’t remember my husband having to put me into the shower – clothes and all – to break my fever. I don’t remember not being able to hold any food down for a week. I don’t remember doing the can-can while trying to walk. I don’t remember arguing about not going to the hospital.
In that time I have gained so many memories. I’ve regrown my hair (which grew back curly instead of stick straight, the color also slightly changed) and learned to watch for the signs of exhaustion – weak knees and difficulty getting out of bed. I’ve gained an inhaler and have learned to watch my footing.
My favorite memory is the look on my husband’s face as I stood for the first time in two weeks. The combination of shock, awe, pride, and love on his face is one I will take with me to the grave. I remember that day well.
He walked into my hospital room and I was sitting in a chair with the table in front of me doing a crossword puzzle. A nurse was changing my bedding. When he walked in I pushed the table away and used the arms of the chair to push myself up. When I felt his arms around me for the first time in weeks I almost cried. I think he did too.
I’ve gained new skills during my recovery as well. I can help build a house and use the tools necessary. I can now make hand made jewelry, and in my personal opinion my writing has reached a new level. I’ve even learned to cook in a better way than I could before. That is something I am profoundly happy with.
I’ve learned my share of lessons as well. One is to be patient with myself. When I compare how I am now to how I was I am amazed at my own progress. It hasn’t been an easy road to travel, but I have overcome it. I somehow managed to turn insurmountable boulders into pebbles when I taught myself how to walk again. I’ve learned to accept that parts of my body will never recover. Thank you lungs and bladder – a ventilator and catheter for that length of time will do that to you I suppose (or so my doctor says).
I’ve also learned that coconut oil is great for your hair (I use a spray on) and that dissolvable B12 doesn’t leave an aftertaste in your mouth like the pill form does if you don’t swallow it fast enough. I’ve learned peace is hard to come by, but it does eventually find you. Patience is a friend that you become familiar with.
Of all these lessons though, the important one for me is to cherish what I have now. Because I almost wasn’t here to enjoy it.