As a young, healthy person, no one ever expects to suddenly come down with a life-threatening illness. In October, I had sepsis and I lived to tell the tale.
How Did This Happen?
I had just bought a new pair of jeans and I was super excited to start wearing them. I hastily cut out the tag, leaving a little bit of plastic behind that immediately gave me a tiny little cut on my lower back, near my tailbone. I assumed that a cut that small was nothing, and continued on with my life.
The next day I started experiencing intense lower back pain that was centered near my tailbone. I never get back pain, so I should have assumed something was very wrong then, but I just figured it would go away on its own. That was the first sign I should have listened to, but I didn’t want to waste time going to a doctor unless it was really bad.
In the next two days, the pain became so unbearable that I could barely sit down. It was so bad that I even had to leave work early and call in sick the next day. At this point, I decided it was worth the cash to go to the doctor.
I went to an urgent care center and they said the pain was from an infection. They gave me some basic antibiotics and sent me home. I assumed that would do the trick and felt relieved.
That was the night when things got really bad. I was playing scrabble with my roommate and some friends and I noticed I was extremely disoriented. I was an English major, so I knew something was up when I struggled to put words together. Blaming it on the antibiotics, I went to bed and hoped for the best. I barely slept that night because I had developed a fever that was rapidly rising. I also noticed that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom once in over twelve hours, which was really weird too. The next morning when I started struggling to breathe, I decided it was time to go to the hospital.
As soon as I got to the hospital, the staff saw how sick I was and immediately took me in. The head nurse looked at me and then picked up her radio and called in “code sepsis.”
What is Sepsis?
While you think this could never happen to you, sepsis is the result of an infection spreading through your bloodstream, causing a chain of inflammatory reactions in your body. There are three stages of sepsis, and the last one can result in all your major organs shutting down and even death. Sepsis can come from basic bacterial infections like the one I had, which makes it so scary. What was even scarier was how quickly I deteriorated. I was a young, healthy 22-year-old who ate healthily and worked out regularly. How could this happen to me?
Treating the Sepsis
When I came into the hospital, my kidneys, brain, and lungs were rapidly shutting down. I could barely walk, talk, or breathe at this point and the nurses told me how lucky I was that I came into the hospital when I did. I could have died if I had waited any longer.
They set me up with some IV antibiotics and admitted me for the night. That’s when the doctor told me that I may have to get surgery if I didn’t improve that night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t improve at all the first night in the hospital. I woke up at two in the morning because an IV of fluids was being shoved into my arm by a team of crisis nurses around me. Too disoriented to ask what was going on, I faded back out of consciousness.
Then it happened again, the alarms woke me up into what felt like a dream. I looked at the nurse to ask what was going on but couldn’t talk. She put another bag of fluid in and told me “There was another code, your blood pressure keeps plummeting.” I had never been so afraid in my life. I couldn’t believe that I could actually not make it through the night. Luckily, I was so out of it that I couldn’t truly register the seriousness of the situation and the next time I was woken up, it was to go into emergency surgery.
If you’re easily grossed out, don’t read this next sentence. I had an abscess that five by three inches in diameter that was pushing on my tailbone and spine. The surgery was able to alleviate it and I was finally able to start recovering.
The Recovery Process
Once again, I assumed because I was so young and healthy that this would be a walk in the park; only I couldn’t even walk. I was released from the hospital two days after the surgery, but I was still in really bad shape. Luckily, I still live in the same city as my parents and even better; they are both doctors so I still had the best care even at home.
I was not prepared for how serious my recovery would be. They told me in the hospital that it could take up to a month for the surgical wound to heal but I just didn’t want to believe it. My wound had to be repacked with gauze every single night for two weeks. The treatment of that wound was even more painful than what I went through in the hospital. I also suffered deep vein thrombosis from a botched IV so, in addition to not being able to walk, I also couldn’t move or bend my right arm for almost a week.
What helped me recover faster was trying to stay in good spirits and not focus on the pain. I celebrated successes like being able to walk up the stairs or being able to drive and finally, I started to heal.
It did take over a month for me to get back to what I considered normal but I was just so glad to feel like myself again. During that time I reflected on how lucky I was but also what I could have done differently.
Sepsis can happen to anyone, it doesn’t matter how healthy you are. I realized that if I had listened to my body sooner, the situation may not have gotten as bad as it did. I never get back pain, so I should have immediately gone to the doctor because it was so out of the ordinary for me. I don’t beat myself up about what I could have done differently, I just know that in the future I’m going to listen to the signs that my body is giving me and check out anything unusual, even if it is inconvenient.
If you ever feel like something is wrong, it’s always good to get it checked out. While there’s no regimented way to prevent sepsis, it’s always a good idea to clean and disinfect cuts no matter how small they may be. The most important thing is to listen to your body and what it’s telling you because only you know yourself best. You shouldn’t worry too much about getting sepsis, but it’s always a good idea to take care of yourself and get any illness checked out by a doctor.
Have you ever had a serious or life-threatening illness? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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I've got a case of wanderlust, I'll never stop traveling because my goal is to go to every single continent. I've made it to four out of seven so far. I graduated from Emory University in May of 2018 with a degree in English and Political Science. I will be attending law school this fall but in the meantime I write, travel, and love to be outside in nature.