My sepsis story began on February 22, 2013 with the birth of my daughter Hannah. I had a healthy, normal and natural delivery at East General Hospital in Toronto. Within 24 hours of delivery, I was released from the hospital and everything was fine.
At home that evening my four year old son returned from his father’s house to stay with me. My husband travelled to Oshawa to pick up his 12 year old daughter so she could come visit and meet her new little sister. Everything was fine. Later that night my husband left to drive his daughter home, an approximate three hour round trip there and back. My son was sleeping and I was in bed with baby Hannah. Suddenly things weren’t fine. I woke up and felt unbelievably hot. I made it to the bathroom and was suddenly having fits of vomiting and diarrhea. On my return from the bathroom I was shivering cold, shaking so uncontrollably I was struggling to walk back to my bedroom. Everything hurt. I fell back asleep. I woke up again a while later, this time burning hot again. More vomiting, more diarrhea followed by intense and painful chills.
At this point my husband comes home. I tell him I haven’t been feeling well and he brings a barf bowl to the bed for me. It’s now past midnight and my husband is installing a new toilet because one of our kids threw a hairbrush down ours and it requires immediate repair. At some point he comes to check on me and I am not very responsive. I remember the sight of him standing in the doorway. I remember him asking me if he should call an ambulance. I remember struggling to respond. I am hot and then cold, so cold the pain is unbearable.
I finally manage a response and I tell him to call my ex husband to come pick up my son before he calls an ambulance because I don’t want my son to be frightened. I don’t want him to see me die. This is where my memory gets hazy. I remember the paramedics arriving. They assist me on to the stretcher outside our home. It is below freezing, a typical winter in Toronto. They do not allow me to get a jacket. They refuse to give me a blanket. I hear the number “42” which I’ve since learned was my temperature. I am shaking. I can still hear the sound of my teeth clattering together so hard they feel like they might break. As I am put inside the ambulance the only thought that rings through my mind over and over is “What will my kids do without me?”
The hospital is a blur. There is a male nurse. He is Asian and stocky and he is amazing. He is everywhere and right beside me all at once. It’s like he’s moving at warp speed. I remember ice. I remember being forced to breastfeed while I beg to be left alone. I remember feeling so thirsty my tongue felt like it was peeling but being refused water. I remember my husband sneaking me one tiny little ice cube. I remember all these little bottles and vials being placed on my bed while they took blood and swabs and thinking “This is bad”.
Then I remember nothing. Five days of nothing. My husband fills in the gaps. He tells me I was talking. He tells me he brought me food. He tells me our daughter slept beside me the entire time and I continued to nurse her as needed. I have very little memory of my week in the hospital. Little details come back to me. My husband brushing my hair and singing Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” to me. I remember waking up to five or six people wearing yellow robes and full face masks all leaning over the bed looking at me saying “We’re trying to figure out how this happened.” I’ve since learned it was the Infectious Disease Team. There are more bags of medicine hanging off my IV pole than I have ever seen. They tell me they are trying to customize my antibiotics to the bacteria that has invaded my body. I’m not quite sure what this means. I never heard the word sepsis. My OB GYN came to see me and asked me if I had wiped my nose and then touched myself “down there”. At the time I didn’t think much of his comment other than it was an odd thing to imply. Firstly, I don’t wipe my my nose with my fingers and secondly, no woman on earth who has just had a baby is touching herself “down there”. In hindsight, it’s clear the hospital was terrified of the liability. I didn’t have Strep A and I certainly didn’t put it in my birth canal.
A couple days later I am released, brand new infant in tow and zero information about what had just happened other than Strep A bacteria somehow entered my birth canal and urinary tract and spread to my blood. I struggled to eat because everything tasted hot as if it was smothered in pepper. I felt like I had brand new baby taste buds that couldn’t tolerate the slightest hint of salt. The day I got home I started trying to clean the house because my parents were flying in from BC to meet the new baby. It amazes me looking back at how ill informed I was about what my body had just been through. I was trying to just carry on as if nothing had happened because that was how the hospital treated it. I was told to keep taking antibiotics and nothing else. I got tired very quickly.
The next day my mother in law insisted on throwing a birthday party for me. I had been released from the hospital on my birthday. I didn’t want to go, I wanted to rest, but she had made a big dinner and everyone said I should at least make an appearance for her sake. No one thought what I had been through was serious. I certainly didn’t. I sat through the dinner and opened presents and blew out candles on the cake but what I really wanted to do was cry and sleep.
From there, we just carried on and tried to live a normal life, except nothing was normal for me anymore. I kept getting sick. I always felt tired. My body hurt. I had terrible stomach aches. I got appendicitis and had to have surgery. Then my organs started to prolapse. My uterus, rectum and bladder were all starting to fall out of my body. My doctor told me I had “old lady problems”. I was told if I wanted another baby it was now or never, so I got pregnant again. Little did I know my body was in no way prepared to handle another pregnancy. I developed Hyperemesis Gravedarum, yes that glorious pregnancy illness where you throw up all day long. I also developed an extreme intolerance to gluten. My hair was falling out. I lost 22 pounds in my first trimester.
Every Sunday we went to the hospital where I was hooked up to an IV and given anti-nausea medication. I was a long nine months. Thankfully my second daughter Gianna was born healthy despite my body doing it’s best to do otherwise.
After Gianna was born my prolapsed organs decided they had had enough. Parts were literally falling out of my body and it was extremely painful despite my doctor telling me “it shouldn’t hurt that much.” In February of 2015 I was back in the hospital (on my birthday once again), this time to have a hysterectomy, cystocele repair, rectocele repair and umbilical hernia repair. After a gruelling six weeks of recovery, I was feeling ok. I was diagnosed with celiac disease (a diagnosis that was later reversed) and following a gluten free diet seemed to be really beneficial. Fatigue was still an issue. Hair loss was still an issue and I would always tell my husband that my skeleton hurt. A couple months after surgery during a follow up appointment, I was told they had found a 3cm lesion on my cervix that was cervical cancer. They removed everything during my surgery so I was in the clear and had to come in regularly for follow up testing to ensure nothing further developed.
My biggest issue after that was severe iron deficiency. After taking supplements for over two years with no improvement, I was finally sent for iron infusions at the hospital. It’s been six and a half years since my sepsis story began. I’m far from healthy but I’m also okay. Finding a sepsis support group on Facebook was incredibly eye opening and finally allowed me to find closure and understanding. I had no information about sepsis or the recovery time involved. I kept trying to pick up the pieces of my life but was always unable to do so. It was like running towards a brick wall and smashing into it over and over and over yet somehow expecting a different result. The support group allowed me to accept where I am at today and manage my expectations. The old me isn’t coming back and that’s ok. I often feel sepsis has aged me 20 years. Managing a young family in this state has proven challenging. I struggle to work. I struggle to keep up with my kids. Our family has struggled financially as a result. At the end of it all, I’m thrilled to be alive for my kids and my husband. We may not have it all, but we have each other. I’m here.
Recently I released a cover version of the song "The Warrior". It felt like an appropriate song considering everything I have been through.