I was a 100% healthy, 43-year-old woman. I am also a registered nurse. I became ill in December of 2012 as I was getting ready for that year's Christmas festivities. My 4 daughters, aged 14 and under, husband and I were all busy with work, school, friends, Christmas prep and parties. I felt tired which was not surprising for the time of year. I might have had a cold that December, but I kept pushing through. I did go to the doctor that month and was given antibiotics. That December is a blur for me. There was nothing dramatic leading up to my illness. I was just feeling tired and busy.
Our family always opens gifts a few days before Christmas, so we can have some special time together before we spend time with our extended family. On the morning before I was hospitalized, we opened gifts as a family, had breakfast and started watching movies. At the end of the first movie, I felt awful and left the room. I remember sinking down to the floor in the hallway, not able to stand and feeling slightly short of breath.
My husband called 911, and the 3 ambulance attendants were exceptional, asking all the right questions – Had I been drinking? Had I taken drugs? Was I having an allergic reaction? I had no pain, but they had trouble measuring my blood pressure. I firmly answered no to all their questions, and they brought me to the hospital since I knew something was seriously wrong with me.
I was hospitalized from December 22, 2012, to April 3, 2013. First, I was in a local ICU and then transferred downtown to another ICU. I was put on an ECMO machine (to keep my blood circulating), ventilated (to keep me breathing), on dialysis, given a temporary pacemaker, had chest tubes and so, so much more. I had many treatments and drugs while hospitalized. I woke up 25 lbs lighter and unable to lift my head. Rehab started in ICU and continued at my local hospital with inpatient rehabilitation. Once released from hospital, I continued with outpatient rehab and costly private rehab. Then, I had some surgeries since my left arm and foot were quite damaged as a complication of the life-saving care that I received. I have struggled with depression and PTSD. For this, I found amazing support, learning how to deal with the challenges of the memories of ICU, the health crisis, and my newly acquired health issues. I now work as a nurse, taking positions that fit with my current health and hand condition.
Why did this happen? I explain it this way. The doctors told me I had viral myocarditis, which was a complication of an influenza A infection, which they confirmed that I had recently had that year. The viral myocarditis and another complication of the flu called sepsis caused my heart to stop and my other organs to be at risk.
What could I have done differently? I likely picked up the flu in December 2012, but I just ignored my symptoms and kept pushing through life. Maybe I should have slowed down. I was not vaccinated yet that year for influenza, though I usually vaccinate each year. Being vaccinated would have protected me from getting so sick from the flu. Also, maybe I could have washed my hands more and avoided touching my face. I touch my face a lot.
What helped? The health care workers were exceptional and did everything right. I was in a coma and the treatments, especially the ECMO and all the amazing health care workers, saved me. My incredible family and friends supported my husband, kids, and I, non-stop, by spending hours at my bedside, taking care of my kids, praying, and thinking good thoughts, and so many other kindnesses. It took a village to get my family and I through my illness! I was lucky and very determined to get out of the hospital and to be with my family again. Since 2012, I have done tons of physical and psychological rehabilitation and I am very lucky to have had so much support and that we could afford to pay for ongoing private rehabilitation. It is for all these reasons that I am here today and very grateful for it.
It has been 9 years since the sepsis and my post-sepsis journey began. In the last 2 years, I have connected with many other sepsis survivors and groups. I needed to talk to others who understood the chronic issues that can result post sepsis and ICU. I now know that I am not alone, and that long-term problems related to post sepsis illnesses are common. I am still working on recovery. I get tired easily which is a common post-sepsis syndrome problem. I have learned to be kind to myself and pace myself.
Currently, I work as a public health nurse, helping people affected by COVID-19. As a registered nurse and a sepsis survivor, my message to others is:
· Get vaccinated for influenza and COVID. People with severe COVID or influenza can get quite sick and have the same sepsis experience that I had. Vaccination helps prevent severe illness and sepsis.
· Know the signs of sepsis and get help quickly if you have sepsis symptoms. Click here to learn more about the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
· Listen to your body and slow down when you are sick.
· Stay positive and be kind to yourself and others, in difficult times. Focusing on gratitude and positivity helps.
For more information about sepsis, see https://canadiansepsisfoundation.ca/Causes-and-Symptoms