Behind the Smile: A Year In The Life After Septic Shock
July 27, 2019 was the day I almost died. I wish it had been a case of, I laughed so hard, I almost died, but it wasn't. In fact, there was nothing funny about what I went through. I very literally came close to not being here anymore. Now one year later, I want to share my story and reveal what recovery was like from septic shock.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I woke up feeling cold. Teeth chattering ice cold. After about fifteen minutes of shivering under a blanket and a duvet, I mustered the strength to walk to the kitchen to heat up two Magic sacs in the microwave. On the way back to my bedroom carrying both sacs and a big bowl to throw up in (just in case), I cranked up the thermostat. I crawled back into bed, placed one sac on my feet and the other on my chest. I was still freezing, and I could not stop my teeth from chattering. Then the extreme pain began. I groaned from the pain and shivered from the cold as I watched my alarm clock change its numbers for the next half an hour. Up until that point, my husband had been sleeping, but when he heard me vomiting, he became my caretaker and put a wet cloth on my forehead, emptied my vomit bowl, then repeated this process each time I threw up, which was every five to ten minutes over the next few hours. When daylight arrived, and I wasn't stopping, he took me to the nearest hospital, Tofield Health Centre.
At the hospital I was immediately given heavy amounts of intravenous fluids. My temperature was extremely high, as was my heart rate, and my blood pressure went down, down, down. It finally settled at 69 over 36 for over 24 hours. I was sent by ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital in Camrose for a CT scan of my vital organs. During that ride, I could barely hear the paramedic talking to me, and I was unable to respond. I heard her voice raise, but I still couldn't respond. I felt so cold. I recall waking at St. Mary's, and seeing her worried expression looking down at me. She said that she almost lost me, and not to scare her like that again. After my test, they returned me to Tofield where they took more tests and kept pumping me with intravenous fluids. By morning my blood results had come back showing that I had Strep A running through my blood (it still remains a puzzle to this day as to how I got it without any entry wounds). I was immediately sent by ambulance to the Royal Alex hospital in Edmonton and placed in isolation for the next 24 hours.
After quarantine, I was moved to a room where I stayed for the next five days and saw 19 specialists. I had blood drawn twice daily and numerous tests done (MRI's, CT scans, and x-rays), to ensure that my organs had not suffered from the septic shock. On top of everything, my neck hurt something awful, and my shoulder was in excruciating pain. As it turned out, from convulsing so much, I had sprained both my neck and shoulder, in addition to a slipping a disc in my neck. The sprained shoulder aggravated a bursa and glenohumeral joint issue I previously had, leaving me with pain for months and months to come.
When I was well enough, a nurse cleaned me up and brought me a mirror. I was shocked to see that I was extremely puffy. I looked like the Michelin man. The doctors had explained that the extra weight was from the 20 plus pounds of fluid they had given me via intravenous, and that it was the fluid that saved me by preventing my blood pressure from going down even further. And, I was still getting more!
Once I was no longer in critical condition, which was several days later, I was released back to Tofield hospital where I remained for the next couple of weeks until the antibiotic treatment was finished. Then I was finally released to go home.
At home, I was still not able to wash or dress myself, and needed assistance walking. I had massive brain fog, and with being unable to think straight, I had a hard time finding the words to have a proper conversation. It felt like I had to retrain myself on the basics of life. I lost a ton of hair. It had become like straw, and several inches broke off to a little past my chin. I also developed a heart issue, and was diagnosed with mild tachycardia. This eventually went away, as my body started to get stronger bit by bit, but it took several months. I never saw day over day progress, it was more like week over week (if that), then it would plateau for a couple of months, then progress again. It was quite frustrating to say the least, as I had always been a very physical person.
For the most part August and September, are still a bit of a blur. In October, I was able start to sitting for ten or fifteen minute stretches. So, I would work on jigsaw puzzles to help exercise my brain. When my concentration improved, I started reading again, and also returned to a manuscript that I had previously been writing prior to getting sick. This helped my mind grow even stronger, and, it helped pass the time. In addition, I watched a ton of movies. Of course, all of this took place in between my numerous naps.
In the month of November, my children's book that I had worked on for two years was published. Most of the work had been done previous to the summer, so that was a huge plus. But when it came out, it couldn't have come at a worse time for me. I was too sick to enjoy it, and I wasn't able to properly launch it or promote it, aside from on social media. Nor did I really feel like it. Then shortly after that, my good friend and editor died. I felt lost.
By the time December came, I didn't want Christmas. I didn't even want a tree. But my husband being the amazing guy that he is, made the house feel festive and put the tree up anyway. Then he took me to the mountains for a little holiday. It was definitely the therapy I needed!
In January and February, I felt like I should be feeling better physically, but I wasn't there just yet. The recovery still seemed so very slow. I was in a great deal of pain with my shoulder, and I often wore a sling to help take the weight off of it. You wouldn't think that your arm weighs as much as it does. But just wait until you have something wrong with your shoulder, then it will feel like a hundred pounds. I started physio therapy, massage therapy, and got a few steroid injections. But nothing really helped. In addition, I had this overwhelming dread that I would get sick again like I had been in the summer, and then die. And, I dreamt of it often. I should also mention, that I'm not new to being ill. I have four auto-immune diseases, and in all honesty, have dealt with each of them head on and courageously. But this was different, and I began to wonder if I had hit my last straw. Then the answer came when I was diagnosed with PSS (Post Sepsis Syndrome). Knowing what it was made it easier to deal with. It all started to make sense, and at least I knew what I was fighting.
Through all of this, when anyone asked how I was doing, I would tell them that I was doing great, and that I expected a full recovery. I have always been a look for the silver lining type of person, and believe that tomorrow will be a better day, even when I felt my worst. And for several months, I had been posting daily inspirational messages on social media for friends and followers. I found that by doing that, I was able to encourage myself. Helping others, helps me.
In the early part of March I found the strength to finally have a launch for my little book. It was a very difficult day for me, as I wasn't feeling well at all, but I've always been able to mask how I'm feeling with a little makeup and a big smile. I spent the following three days in bed. Now though, when I look back, I am glad I had the launch. The event was well supported by true friends that care very deeply about me. And my book along with its two main characters were properly introduced to the world as they deserve to be.
By the middle of March my worst fears were coming true. My PSS came into full swing when Covid-19 began circling the world. To make matters worse, my doctor and specialists told me that I have to stay in isolation until either Covid is nearly eradicated, or there is a vaccine, because with my health history, I absolutely can not take the risk of getting it.
Yeah, I'd say that my worst fear was definitely coming true. Sorry, but...what the bleep, bleep, bleep??? Hadn't I been through enough? I know, I know. It's indiscriminate. It's not like it's gearing towards just me. But that didn't stop me from feeling like I had a bullseye on my back. Then, for thinking like that, I felt guilty and selfish, because I know that there are so many others in this world that have it way worse than I do. Fear and guilt, a very bad combination.
The PSS was swallowing me up. I decided to take some much needed time off from social media to gain some perspective. I began meditating to calm my mind. This became part of my daily routine, and has benefited me greatly. During this time I finally found some exercises that have actually helped my shoulder. I still have some pain, but it is tolerable and I have gained much more mobility with my arm. I have been able to return to social media with my inspirational postings, and I have also returned to writing. I joined a writers group and meet with them weekly via Zoom, and they help me stay on track, something I haven't been able to do since my editor passed away.
The months have come and gone, and now it is the end of July; a year since I went into septic shock. I still have bad days, and I deal often with flares from my autoimmune diseases. But, I am able to go for the occasional walk, do a bit of light yard and house work, and help my husband with the farm animals. All-in-all, I consider these to be great feats for me, considering where I was a year ago.
It was initially thought that I would gain a full recovery, but I have come to grips with the fact that I will never return to where I was before the septic shock. But I am alive, and I am happy. My life is good. And if I have to be sequestered because of this terrible pandemic, I am content to be in my own little piece of paradise for the temporary duration. At 51 years of age, I have a lot more to do, to see, and to accomplish, so nothing is going to hold my spirit down. I will keep trying to be inspirational. I will keep writing. And, I will keep living.
I am ever so grateful to all the medical staff that took care of me while I was so ill, especially the doctor that was on call in Tofield that day for saving my life, and the paramedic that saved me again in the ambulance. I should also mention that the numerous doctors that I saw during my time at the hospitals told me that if my husband hadn't taken me to emergency when he did, I would have been dead within a few hours. So to my amazing husband, Glenn, I am eternally grateful for having saved my life. And last but not least, I am grateful for my dog, Ranger, who laid beside me every day, keeping me company while I was on the road to recovery.