If the title of this post intrigued you because you have no idea what “sepsis” means, don’t be alarmed. Over half of the population here in the United States has no clue what sepsis is yet they probably know someone who has died from it.
From the Mayo Clinic, here is the definition of sepsis:
“Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems, causing them to fail.”
I contracted sepsis when I was just sixteen years old. While all of my friends were taking their midterms, I was fighting for my life in the hospital. A surgeon in Northern Nevada (whom is not practicing there anymore, thankfully) performed a botched appendectomy on me. What turned into a couple of days ordeal turned into a life changing event.
A few days after I was discharged from the hospital the first time, I woke up with a fever and speaking gibberish. I was rushed back to the hospital where a CT scan revealed I had multiple abscesses in my body. I had to go back in for an emergency laparotomy, but not before I had 24-hours of hardcore antibiotics to try to get the infection under control.
I will spare the gorey details of recovery. Just know that sepsis took everything from me. I was an athlete, a sprinter, and I went into the hospital weighing nearly 140 pounds of solid muscle. I left the hospital weighing about 95 pounds of just skin and bones.
Obviously an event like this impacted my life in many ways. It was awful to spend so long in the hospital and at home recovering. I wanted to go back to school. I would literally cry to my mom and ask to go back to school. I thought that when I went back, things would go back to normal. I was definitely in for a shock and a bit of an adjustment period.
When I got back, many of my friends had no clue what I had been through. I couldn’t bend down to get my books out of my locker and I couldn’t carry more than five pounds. Many of my friends tried to help me out, but they just didn’t know what to do. It was awkward. I ended up leaving all of my school supplies in my uncle’s classroom and thankfully my counselor had emailed my teachers to tell them to give me extra time getting to class because I was very slow moving and weak.
Many of my friendships suffered because I was a new kid at school anyways and I had disappeared without any notice. People seemed to have forgotten about me and didn’t really care about where I had gone. People were shocked to see me return and one person even said, “Kayla! Where have you been?! A bunch of us thought you died!” which truthfully made me want to throw up.
I think the most difficult thing about my ordeal is that I struggled to find people who related to me. None of my friends could. They had no clue what I had just gone through. Most people who contract sepsis are elderly, not healthy teenage athletes like myself. I felt alone because of this.
As I had mentioned before, I was an athlete. I went back to school around the time that track preseason was starting. I begged my doctor to clear me to do it and he did, but he warned me to listen to my body and be careful. I was so excited to get back out there and I honestly expected to just jump right in. In hindsight, that was not very smart of me, but I honestly don’t think my young mind comprehended what my body had just gone through.
I was devastated when I couldn’t keep up with my teammates at our first track practice. I cried to my mom the entire way home about how much I “sucked” and how embarrassing it was to be left in everyone’s dust.
It didn’t stop there. I spent the rest of the season fatiguing easily, passing out when I pushed myself too hard. I had told my coaches what happened to me and they knew that I would not be up to the same standard as other athletes but I don’t think they truly understood what I had gone through and what my body was recovering from.
I think the thing that took the biggest hit was my self-esteem. After I got out of the hospital, I was very frail, skinny, and none of my clothes fit. When I went into the school office on my first day back, people were shocked by the sight of me and though they did not say anything, I could tell that they were scared for me. Some people had the nerve to tell me that I looked good. I definitely did not feel good!
I was scared to walk at first because my legs literally felt like toothpicks. I thought that they were going to snap in half if I walked too fast.
Sepsis took away a lot of my independence. It was temporary, of course, but there were many things I could not do for myself. I couldn’t carry anything, I couldn’t kneel down or bend over, I couldn’t run at first, I couldn’t even walk without assistance or sit up when I first began my recovery. This is TMI, but I couldn’t even wipe my own butt at first.
I ended up with a huge scar running right down the middle of my stomach. Everyone around me kept a positive attitude about it and were encouraging, but it took some getting used to for me. There were times I would stare at it and tell myself, “I will be looking at this for the rest of my life”. At first, my scar was an angry pink color and it stayed that way for about a year. During the summertime, people would stare at it whenever I was in a bathing suit because it was incredibly eye-catching. It made me uncomfortable. Whenever my mom would catch people staring, she would tell them to stop.
After awhile, my scar started to blend in with my stomach because it changed colors to the color of my skin. It isn’t as noticeable and most people think it is ab separation, which makes me giggle. Now I embrace my scars and even come up with funny stories to tell people when they ask me about it.
With perseverance, I gained back my athletic abilities and appearance. It took a very long time. I’m talking years.
I share my story openly. Doing so has allowed me to connect with other people who have a laparotomy scar or who have had sepsis at a young age. Other people have contacted me because they never knew sepsis existed until they found me and then sometime later, a family member got it.
I will continue to share my story about sepsis and septic shock because it helps to raise awareness. There is not enough sepsis awareness out there even though sepsis kills tons of people every year!
If you don’t believe me, I will leave you with this: my grandmother, who had plenty of health issues that should have taken her life, ended up dying of sepsis… less than two months before I contracted it and almost died from it myself. Sepsis is much more common than people think.