I started the summer of 2017 as a healthy 45-year old health care professional with well-controlled diabetes. Over the summer, a new diabetic medication was added to my treatment plan – one of the new “wonder drugs” for diabetes. One of the possible side effects was risk of infection, and despite all the precautions, I had the bad luck of contracting a bladder infection. This progressed to a kidney infection and didn’t get better despite two rounds of antibiotic treatment. I developed a chest infection which I put down to a bad cold that was going around, and over the course of a few days I continued to get worse and worse. I ended up feeling so incredibly ill – I thought I was dying – that late one night we went to our local Emergency Department.
I felt breathless, had a fever, was dizzy and my heart was pounding. At triage, a nurse took my vital signs and immediately whisked me into the trauma room, where I was quickly surrounded by nurses and doctors and attached to intravenous lines and monitors. I was quickly diagnosed with septic shock and emergency treatment started. Within half an hour of arriving I had deteriorated so quickly that I was intubated and being readied for transfer to the first available ICU bed, which was at another hospital.
On arrival in ICU I had a tracheotomy performed and was so sick I was packed in ice from armpits to ankles for days as my fever was so high and they could not control it. My sepsis was caused by the new diabetic medication making me susceptible to infection and I was diagnosed with urosepsis and bilateral septic pneumonia. This led to multiple organ failure and acute respiratory failure, and I was critically ill for three weeks – ventilated, on circulatory support, I had a tracheostomy and a serious kidney infection plus severe bilateral pneumonia and multiple organ failure. Because of the long period of sedation and ventilation, I developed ICU delirium, so my initial memories were very dream-like, odd and frightening. As I gradually re-entered the living world, I felt incredibly weak and unwell but quickly started to recover. It was a frightening experience at times, but the expert care I received from the team in ICU helped me enormously. They were so caring, compassionate and reassuring that I felt safe and very well looked after.
I was so ill, that I developed tracheal stenosis and tracheomalacia, a narrowing and collapse of my airway, which will always be with me. Because of that, exertion leaves me quickly breathless. I had some difficulty adjusting to this critical illness and had post-traumatic stress disorder due my delirium. I also have ongoing pain and weakness on my left side due to lack of oxygen when I was at my sickest…
BUT! I survived! I’ve overcome so much and am back to my full time work, my craft and hobbies, and enjoying my friends and family and traveling again. I feel lucky to be alive and to have survived septic shock when so many people don’t. Lucky to have come out of the experience relatively unscathed. Lucky to have been transferred to a great ICU and received the amazing care that I had. I feel grateful for everyone at Burnaby ICU for saving my life, quite literally. I am also very grateful that they welcomed me going back and visiting to get closure on the experience. After a critical illness, you also get this amazing opportunity to put things in perspective. Things that used to stress or bother me, don’t anymore. I have more time for people and a deeper understanding of what trauma feels like. And it makes me better as a person and in my profession.
Please note that the stories and opinions posted are those solely of the authors and contributors of the stories. They do not reflect the opinions of the BC Sepsis Network, its employees, contractors, or volunteers.