Just Say The Word
In the six-and-a-half years since my personal victory over sepsis, a lot has changed. Sepsis is the body’s overreaction to a minor infection that leads to a blood infection that’s fatal if it isn’t treated. Here’s an update, for this World Sepsis Day 2017.
Sepsis Alliance, the continent’s leading sepsis awareness and advocacy charity, conducted another survey of Americans this summer and more people than ever before have heard of sepsis. Sadly, that’s probably because of the deaths of famous people from sepsis, like Muhammad Ali and Patty Duke. (Note: Sepsis Alliance is working on creating a greater presence in Canada) However, there are a lot of misconceptions. People think it’s contagious. (It isn’t.) And a precious few know the symptoms. So it’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m proud to have voiced an eLearning project about recognizing sepsis that’s being taught to nurses across the US. After all, it’s usually the nurse who informs the doctor about the patient’s health status.
As time goes on and the distance grows between me and the illness that nearly took my life, my memory of certain aspects of it has sharpened. The scar where I had a PICC line inserted in my arm for a couple of months is now more obvious. I can vividly recall the feeling of partially-thawed transfusions of Fresh Frozen Plasma seeping into my veins. I remember the young ER doctor holding my hand and telling me he didn’t know what it was on my liver that caused it to stop working. I remember looking into Derek’s eyes and thinking, we just got married. I just changed my life. It can’t be over.
My gratitude also grows. So does my resolve to put the word “sepsis” on the lips of as many people as I can. I wrote a column about it for Our London (below). All I ask is that you tell one person about sepsis and ask them to do the same. All you have to say is, “I read this woman’s story about how she nearly died from sepsis. Do you know what it is?” I wrote an eBook about it. It’s $2.99 via Chapters or Amazon because it’s not a get-rich-slow scheme! It’s an awareness method. Thanks for reading and remember: Say the word – save a life!
Six years ago I learned about sepsis the hard way. I’d been feeling sick with some symptoms that were typical of the flu and some that weren’t. It was flu season so the medical professionals I consulted assumed I was one of thousands that caught the winter bug.
I knew that wasn’t what it was and I said so, but I didn’t know what else it could have been.
Finally, falling into a coma, I got treatment. I was lucky. I survived and I didn’t lose an organ or a limb. After a long recovery, I resumed my life.
Sepsis is the leading cause of death of children around the world. In Canada, 10,000 people die from sepsis each year because it’s often overlooked until it’s too late.
Little attention is paid to sepsis in medical school. Too many doctors still describe it as “complications.” When asked why, one physician responded, “Because no one knows what sepsis is.”
It’s the immune system’s overreaction to an infection. The body turns on itself and attacks organ systems.
If it isn’t treated it can lead to organ failure, amputation and death. It can start with a tiny cut, pneumonia, or a multitude of other reasons. Sepsis doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any stage of life, no matter how healthy or ill.
Doctors at University Hospital and I were only able to put the puzzle of my illness together in hindsight. I’d had dental surgery, and a couple of days later it felt as if an infection was settling in.
When the sponginess and pain suddenly went away, I rejoiced, not knowing that was the beginning of sepsis.
Most people know the signs of a heart attack. Sepsis Awareness Month aims to put the word sepsis on everyone’s lips, so its symptoms can become just as familiar:
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort
P – Pale or discoloured skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Shortness of breath
The flu is usually just the flu, but had I known about sepsis I would have been able to offer an alternative to simply repeating that I knew I was sicker than it sounded.
Early treatment means a far greater chance of survival and it’s less draining on the health care system.
I was in hospital for two weeks and had daily home care visits from a nurse for several weeks after that.
Wednesday, Sept. 13 is World Sepsis Day. Please say the word. You could save a life.
Visit SepsisAlliance.org and world-sepsis-day.org for more information.