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A Family’s Perspective – “The Brutality of Sepsis will Haunt Us for the Rest of Our Lives”

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Franchot Karl
Franchot Karl

Guest Author: Franchot Karl

Sepsis. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s one of the leading causes of death, particularly in hospitals, but most people have never heard of it. My sister and I had barely heard of it, until we lost our beloved mother because of it two years ago. The brutality of sepsis will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

When our grandmother died of sepsis at 84 years old, back in 1990, I assumed it was an old people’s disease. I thought you get old, go into a hospital or nursing home, get the inevitable hospital infection (sepsis) and die. After all, hospitals and nursing homes are crawling with germs, right?

Well fast forward to now, millions of deaths and many medical negligence cases later, the real truth is coming to light. I debate sepsis is an actual disease. Unlike heart disease, diabetes or cancer, sepsis is usually the result of something else, like a cut or scrape, surgeries or invasive devices. We are all at risk. Sepsis is a dire emergency that can kill the young or the old. It does not discriminate.

In early 2012, mama had a blood clot surgically removed from the femoral artery. She seemed to recover well, but the wound incision leaked nonstop. Soon she complained of extreme weakness, had sporadic fevers and could not urinate. It wasn’t long before she was fighting for her life in a city hospital. After one week of hospitalization, a large, grotesque abscess was found at the surgical site on her left groin. Incision and drainage was done; it was all that was done. At mama’s death on May 9, 2012, her left groin, lower left torso and thigh were eaten away. Her underlying flesh and muscle were exposed. It was a brutal death for such a beautiful person.

With all the touted advances in medicine, sepsis still seems to be shrouded in ignorance and neglect; yes, neglect. If there’s anything that my sister and I have taken from this devastating experience, it’s knowledge. If we knew then what we know now, I wouldn’t be writing this. Always identify someone who can accompany yourself or your loved one to act as an advocate. Ask questions, demand answers. If you don’t get them, seek other opinions. Learn the symptoms of sepsis. Flu-like symptoms, low grade or sporadic fevers, low body temperature, extreme lethargy, inability to urinate. Learn what tests can better indicate sepsis. CBC (complete blood count) with differential. It gives readings of white blood cell counts and red blood cell counts, platelets and hemoglobin. Learn the names of certain germs and terms that are linked to sepsis – VRE (Vancomycin- resistant Enterococcus), E. coli, pseudomonas aeruginosa, klebsiella, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and necrotizing fasciitis. Look to great resources, such as the Sepsis Alliance, read their stories of hope and survival, and when the internet becomes overwhelming, turn to a great book by Dr. Harlan R. Weinberg called Dr. Weinberg’s Best Health Resources on the Web. We don’t have to die of sepsis.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

105 comments on “A Family’s Perspective – “The Brutality of Sepsis will Haunt Us for the Rest of Our Lives””

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    May every mother be safe from sepsis, pain management and other diseases. It honestly sinks my heart knowing about your loss. May God gift her with the best place in heaven.

    I have had 4 hospitalizations for sepsis in the last seven months. I don’t have kidney or liver disease, any clotting disorders or cancer, so basically none of the big risk factors. Today I (finally) learned that sepsis causes immune suppression for years after infection, that the clock for recovering from the immune suppression resets every time sepsis recurs, and that the ED and ICU staff are expecting to continue to admit and treat me until sepsis wins, which statistically probably isn’t far off. It’s a very odd future to be looking at for myself.

    I just lost the greatest man a son could ever ask for. Even though we didn’t share the same blood. He raised me and was my father. I took him in to the ER one night for a swollen abdomen. the doctors found a mass causing a complete bowel obstruction. He needed emergency surgery to relive the pressure while they figured out what to do with the mass. The emergency surgery had to be held back hours because he was having a diabetic crisis. When he was ready for the surgery he was taken in but due to the electrolyte imbalance they had to be quick. The next day when he was more stable he was intervened for a second time to examine his bowel and asses the damage done by the stretching. Apparently his bowel had already torn and 80 percent of his colon had to be removed. And his entire abdominal cavity thoroughly cleaned. He was started on antibiotics and a few days later was on the route to recovery. A few days passed and the efforts to wean him off the ventilator started but kept failing. Suddenly his hands and Feet started to swell. Even though I made sure the nurse at the time knew she simply said “it’s probably cause he’s laying down”. But she couldn’t have been more wrong. Soon after things took a steep dive. His pressure required vasopressors, his kidneys started to shut down and he was getting constant blood work ups and cultures in an effort to find out what was going on. Never did any doctor come to us and say he has sepsis or his organs are shutting down due to infection. If it weren’t because I kept bothering nurses and asking. Was when one of them told me that he was septic and that they still had no idea where the infection was. My godfather was started on dialysis for kidney failure. According to doctors his liver had end-stage cirrhosis even though a month prior an er doctor told me his liver looked fine. But now his inability to maintain blood pressure without excessive amounts of vasopressors, CRRT, and a Ventilator after all the my godfather had gone through the doctors gave us absolutely no hope from the start. One doctor had the nerve to tell us”you either let him suffer or you let him die”. I stayed every single night at the hospital after that day the last day I saw him awake was a Saturday night. I came to his ICU room and was sent off because the doctors were doing an ultrasound of his heart. The next morning I went to see him and he was doing seizure like movements with his arms , head and and face. The doctors had no idea what was going on. After weeks of continuing treatment and the doctors constantly reminding us that our efforts and theirs were in vane. The doctors finally told us that the vasopressors he was on was cutting circulation to his extremities and that with the high doses he was getting that it wouldn’t be long before his hands and feet became necrotic and they suspected that the circulation to his Brain was very low and that was the cause for his “seizure” and no responsiveness. After doing some research and his continued non-response and constant jerking. We decided to let him rest before those vasopressors destroyed his body further. He left this world and left a huge empty space in all our hearts and people of his church. I’m never going to forget the day the man that raised me and took care of me stopped living. in the end sepsis knocked my godfather unconscious but the deadly vasopressors destroyed any hope of survival.

    Angie,
    We are experiencing this now. my dad is alive but apidly deckining…dame story. Can yiu suggest anthing to save him if you did it over?

    My mother died Oct 19th 2019. Sepsis leading quickly to septic shock we arrived at the er at 843 pm the 18th she was put immediately on a vent. Blood pressure would not come up when i walked in that night she looked me in the eyes. Trying to say some thing but could not she was restrained. She coded around 334 am brought her back. Dr told me as i sat alone with my last parent i had a decision to make either prolong her suffering or mine. Or let it end. I decided to take the vent out. She blew out never tried to breath. She is gone and i had no warning. Sepsis awareness needs to become a new movement across america. I sure do miss her PTSD is bad for the ones left behind. Turning that vent off ruined me forever.

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