The Faces of Sepsis
Heidi Ottilie - survivor
Sepsis...the word gives me chills and makes me angry that my doctors took so long to recognize it. The word Sepsis is one that I had never heard until April 2008, now I like to mention Sepsis as often as I can, to as many people that I can because it is a word that EVERYONE should know the meaning to.
Here is my story.
April 2, 2008, I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl via c-section after having gone through a 2-day induction that did not work. During my time in the OR for the C-Section, my bowel was somehow perforated by the surgeons, apparently unbeknown to them. I was released from the hospital to go home on April 5, 2008. At the time of my release I had a fever, had not had a bowel movement or urine output since the C-Section, I was vomiting and was in a great deal of pain. Being a first-time mother, I thought this was normal and within the rights of the patients Standard of Care. Also, as first-time mother and thinking this was the norm, I didn’t want complain or sound weak. So many women before me have done this and who was I to complain; I had just been blessed with an angel. As we drove home from the hospital my husband had to pull over numerous times as I was getting sick. My stomach was distended to the point where I looked more pregnant then I did at 9 months!
As the days and nights went by things didn't change. I couldn't hold anything down and I still had all the above symptoms, but they continued to progress. I called my doctor, who said it was the pain medicine causing this. I stopped taking it. I continued to get sicker. This is not what I had imagined my first few days as a mother would be. I thought I was just being a baby about all of this and need to suck it up.
I went to see the Nurse Practitioner to get the staples removed from c-section incision on April 12, 2008. I could barely lie down. My back hurt so badly. In my records, she said I was likely having postpartum depression. I told her my other symptoms and she told me to take colace, a stool softener. On April 13, 2008 my sister came over to help with me and the baby. I could barely walk. She got there and I showed her my mouth, when I opened it up it was full of thick, cottage cheese like pus. She immediately took me to an Immediate Care Clinic since it was a Sunday. They said I had Thrush. What? Usually the baby gets thrush? They prescribed an antibiotic and I was hopeful that I was on my way to better health.
The next day my mother-in-law came to help with the baby as my husband had to work and now I was at the point where I couldn’t walk. She took one look at me and drove me straight to my OB’s office. They checked me out and 5 minutes later I was in the ER on the way to get a CT Scan of my abdomen. From this moment, the next month of my life is nonexistent to me. I don’t remember anything from that point on until May 14, 2008. My first night there they drained 5 gallons of pus from my stomach. I was admitted with peritonitis, sepsis, and then eventually septic shock. They did FIVE exploratory surgeries on me in the first hospital. They discovered the perforation in my bowel on the third surgery. They wanted to give me a full hysterectomy. My family said no. They took my appendix and gall bladder. On my seventh surgery was when they were supposed to “close me up” (my stomach had been cut open down the middle from the right under my breasts to my C-Section incision). My family all prayed before I went into surgery and then went to the waiting area. They got the call. “There was nothing more they could do here”.
My family went into panic mode and made phone calls. In a matter of hours I was on my way to one of the best hospitals in the country in Chicago. I was on life support and flown by helicopter. Once I arrived at this hospital, things changed dramatically. I was assigned an infectious disease team, the head of gynecology was on my OB Team, a general surgeon and very special “plastics” doctor were also part of the team and I still see both of them to this day! They reviewed my case. Notes in my records state “a young women in very bad shape”. They decided NOT to jump in and do surgery right away. They decided I DID NOT need a hysterectomy. The decided the best thing to do was to let my body rest and let the antibiotics do their job. They put on a wound vac to help drain the infection from the stomach. Eventually they did a surgery to wash my organs and some other things. I am not sure when I woke up, but it was very hard to learn that my family had to go through all of this. That my brand new daughter had to be away from her mommy and daddy because of some doctors not paying attention to the patient. The hospital in Chicago was wonderful; they let my daughter come see me in ICU. It gave me motivation to get better. My husband wasn’t allowed to stay in my room ICU so he lived in a hotel right by the hospital until I was switched to a regular room and then he slept there every night until I went home.
I was in two different hospitals for about a month. A month being away from my brand new baby girl, my husband (he was physically there while I was not mentally there), and all the dreams I had dreamed of since I was a small child. When I was released to go home I was excited but sad, I couldn’t hold my little girl because I had had SIX abdominal surgeries. I was sent home with the wound vac and my stomach left “open”. The wound vac sponges’ started out diameter-wise was the size of a basketball and would need to be changed every other day. There would be a home health care nurse that would come and do that and change my IV that I was going home with as well. When we got home my husband became the main caregiver for Livy because I couldn't lift her or barely walk. Emotionally I was a wreck. I was dealing with the hormones of postpartum, as well as anger, guilt, and, even though the people that were helping me were those I loved, I wanted to be the one holding and feeding my baby girl.
Since 2008 I have endured a lot of things – a surgery to close me up, going back to work the week the doctors released me, a surgery for a hernia that I developed as a result of the infection, a hematoma surgery – a result of the hernia surgery. I’ve gained weight because I couldn't exercise for a while. AND, the biggest most disappointing bummer: the news that we can’t have anymore biological children. My stomach wall just isn't and never will be strong enough.
I sometimes wonder if they would have caught it earlier would my life be different. Would my child have sibling? Would I be able to be more active as I was before? Would our finances be better because we wouldn't have had to pay all the hospital bills? Would I be stronger emotionally?
Sepsis changed me. My body is weaker. I worry if I have a fever. But it has also made me a stronger person for all that my family had to endure. I always tell people when they feel something is wrong with them to trust THEIR body! Doctors can be great, but I wish I would have pushed the doctors in the beginning to tell them this NOT right.
Every chance I can, I tell people my story. They may not want to hear it, but one day it could save their life, or the life of one of their loved ones. I especially feel that younger people need to know about Sepsis. We need to educate doctors, nurses, students, physician assistants, etc on the signs. If my condition would have been caught earlier, my life could be A LOT different. I am so glad that my body was a fighter and that I was blessed with that team of Doctors in Chicago who did not give up on me. Whenever I see them know for annual check-ups they always say “You are one lucky lady.” And I truly believe that.
In the summer of 2012 I spoke with Illinois Public Radio about Sepsis during Sepsis Awareness Month.
Also if you ever have questions about my surviving sepsis story, please feel to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org