How I Beat the Odds and Survived Septic Shock


For all of my life, when I explain my condition, people refer to me as “a miracle,” “an act of god” or “an act of science” – whichever you choose to believe. I believed it too, because for 21 years I lived a fairly normal life without complications from my chronic condition short bowel syndrome. Then November 9th, 2015 arrived, and I found myself between a rock and a hard place with my health. What could go wrong that day, did go wrong. Survival was grim. My life was about to end without swift medical intervention. One more day and I would have died had I not gone to the ER.

So imagine you’re at the bottom of a hill. One more step and you
fall off a cliff. Now imagine a boulder from the top of the hill breaks
loose and starts rolling down the steep hill you were just on, and it
just gains more speed and momentum. Once the boulder starts rolling, it
cannot be stopped, more often than not. Finally, imagine this boulder
racing towards you. You know you cannot stop it as it gains speed with
every roll, yet you are determined to try anyway, and as you draw what
could be your final breath of life, with a millimeter left before the
boulder falls and takes you with it, you stop it! You take a deep breath
of relief, reliving the experience, knowing it could have been your
definite demise, knowing things could have turned out much different.

Another way to look at this analogy is birth. Once the expecting mom’s water breaks, there is no stopping the baby from coming. No matter how hard you try.

 

Now the same concept can be applied to a blood-borne illness called
sepsis. You usually never win. I got a miracle in my favor once again because I did not realize I was going septic, and got to one of its final stages by the time I found myself in the emergency room, and eventually a nice, long vacation on the intensive care unit.

I had just gotten off an airplane the day before from a business trip. I was not feeling well, had a fever and was throwing up. The next day was my regular lab draw. When my vitals were taken I had a 104.5 temperature and very low blood pressure. Though told to go to the ER, I was stubborn and walked across the hall to my dad’s office in the hospital and asked him to take me home – I didn’t feel well. After further questioning, we ended up in the emergency room.

I work in the field of short bowel syndrome, and many of my patients
deal with TPN or IV nutrition to help keep them alive. This always requires central venous access through a line such as a central line, portacath or PICC line. All three give the patient a very high risk of infection if not cared for properly. A break in sterility in a setup can run a high risk of infection and sepsis. Upon further investigation, labs and imaging, we discovered my port was infected from using TPN therapy to help me gain and maintain my weight. That night I went to the ICU. I never imagined I might die from my own illness and its deadly side effect. I came close to that happening.

The very next day, I was bombarded by the Rapid Response Team. My
lungs were failing me on both sides and I was unable to breath. I was sedated and intubated on a ventilator for 10 days. My prognosis was very grim. I was determined to live, even though I was caught in a consistent dream that was very real, like I was living life as normal.

Then I was awake, not knowing what had happened or even where I was. It was like waking up from surgery, but I knew I was in a hospital. People kept telling me I almost died. I kept denying that. I noticed I could barely move my body because of how weak I became just lying in bed for 10 days. I was in the hospital a total of 17 days, which is relatively short for the condition I was in. I was resilient, just like when I was a child going up against unspeakable odds with my health.

Recovering was a process. I still have struggles today from my sepsis. I am slower and have less energy than I did before that fateful November
in 2015. I became more agitated and irritable. I didn’t feel like myself
until almost eight months post leaving the hospital. I finally feel
like my old self again.

The “talk” had been given to family members and friends, preparing them to say goodbye. Friends came to sit by my side, family came every day – every one of them, immediate and extended. The kids in my life were told what to possibly expect – that Andy may very well die soon. It was heartbreaking to hear all of this after the fact.

I did not realize the severity of what happened until I asked for my phone when I woke up. I had hundreds of Facebook notifications, emails and text messages. It took some retraining on how to type on my phone’s keyboard, but I finally got around to getting back to almost everyone within a day or two of me waking up.

I was ready to get out of there. I was agitated and angry at the healthcare teams and quickly retook charge of my healthcare, as I typically need to help the healthcare staff understand my rare disease and how it affects my daily life and health. I was traumatized when I woke up because I thought I had lost my health insurance and home, cost my parents their home, my dogs were both dead and my roommate was forced to move out – but none of it was true. It took my parents bringing my dogs to me in the ICU to prove they were alive, and I forgave my roommate for freaking out on him (I thought he put down the one dog due to an accident (broken leg for Axle) and one died of old age).

I now live my life to the fullest. I have lost some of the things I once had. My stamina is not what is was. I wear out and fatigue more easily. Some days my legs tell me, “No, we are not gonna do much work today unless you make us.” Though for the most part, a year later I am back to my old self with those minor limitations. I do think about it, because of what could have been, and I think I found myself more traumatized once I woke up and realized what really went on when I was asleep. More nights than not I have trouble sleeping and staying asleep. I survived, once again, unspeakable and unbeatable odds. Most patients my age or even younger often die when they become septic so late in the game like I did.

I should not be alive, but somehow, someway, my small-framed body stopped the boulder from flying off the cliff and taking me with it. I am lucky to be alive and now I don’t take that for granted, as even the expert can succumb to his own illness.

Today, one year and five months later, I am feeling like I can once again do what I was able to do before my event. I now feel confident enough to care for a child, fulfilling my desire to become a foster parent and to help out children in need of a home. I thought about that decision for an entire year before deciding to enroll in the class and submit the paperwork to the state for licensing. It is very exciting for me to open this chapter in my life.

I was not able to complete my master’s degree, as it became too much for me to handle after the sepsis event, as I went back to school no more than a month later, which I later regretted. I eventually decided to stop before I made myself more sick because of the stress of graduate school. Though when one door closes, another one opens. I also have more time to dedicate to my foundation for short bowel syndrome patients, which I have run myself with limited help for the past six years.

I am fortunate and blessed to be alive, and I’m no longer on TPN or have line access. I have had no issues since November of 2015. Not even the common cold. I am lucky to be alive and glad I am, because I knew my mission in life was not yet complete, and now I get to continue my journey called life.

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Thinkstock photo via Thomas Northcut.

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