I hate that word. Hated it when it applied to my patients, hated it even more when applied directly to me.
From merriam-webster.com: Sepsis is “a toxic condition resulting from the spread of bacteria or their toxins from a focus of infection.”
I was not in a position to argue her diagnosis, flat on my back as I was. But the word felt like a stinging slap across the face. Back at the urgent care, I had accepted that I had pneumonia. Had accepted that it was an eventual result from the flu and the fact that I am immunosuppressed.
But septic? That brought up visions of septicemia, of septic shock, of life-support, of death. And I was not quite ready to check out of this world.
Out in the ER waiting room as the bacteria made steady progress against my puny little white army, my husband had touched on where else we might get antibiotics. He was suffering the expected affliction of seeing your loved one sick and being unable to do anything but wait. To him, scooping me up and leaving to find the answer elsewhere seemed a reasonable alternative.
I couldn’t wait either, at least not sitting up. My energy was waning. I staggered to an empty small loveseat and curled into a ball. I wasn’t just out of gas; I was running on the whiff of fumes. Showering and dressing had been nearly insurmountable obstacles back home. Now even the floor seemed a welcoming place to collapse on.
“Maybe they’ll see you and let you go home,” my husband said.
“I’m afraid to go home,” I gurgled. And I was, terrified of both going home and staying.
When the physician called me septic, I knew my fate was sealed. I was locked, in combat.
They say you can deal with anything if you know what it is you’re dealing with. That it is fear of the unknown that is most disconcerting.
But what about the fear of the known?
My five days as a hospital patient progressed pretty much as I expected. I received excellent care. I had attentive physicians, Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. Both were concerned with my comfort and listened to what I said. And remembered what I said.
The nurses were caring and supportive. Half of them were male, which to me is a sign of the profession improving as a whole.
The nursing techs not only gave comforting comfort care, but they wielded a mean needle. (They did the blood draws.)
There was only one wrinkle. The phone.
Each staff member is issued a cell phone. And I mean every single employee. Those five days in the hospital were a cacophony of ringing phones. At first it didn’t matter to me. I was too busy trying to breathe and cough, and make it to the bathroom in time.
But as the days progressed and so did I, I remembered something that had happened in the ER. The first thing done after my EKG was the placement of an IV catheter. Blood was drawn from it and then its tubing curled up and secured to my inner left elbow.
Once in the ER bed, fluids were started. A short while later more blood was needed but the fluids were interrupted and it was taken from the IV site.
Not long after that came another blood request. This one for blood cultures to ascertain what bacterium was running around in my system. I knew those samples could not be taken from the IV site. That venipuncture had to be uncontaminated, as pure as it could be.
Which is why at the edge of my awareness, I noted the tech answering his phone in the middle of a sterile procedure.
I couldn’t react at the moment, but I filed it away. As the days went by, I noted that everyone stopped what they were doing to answer that phone on the first ring. Everyone. No matter what they were doing.
Both the nurse and the tech made sure I noted their numbers posted on a board in my room. The first thing they did upon starting their shift was to update the board with their particular phone numbers. I preferred to push the call button when I needed something. It somehow felt wrong to interrupt their work because I needed more water or something minor.
I called my nurse on the phone only once. While receiving the very last IV antibiotic dose, I noticed the site leaking. My vein had finally given way. I stopped the infusion and called my nurse directly.
The answering of the phone during a blood draw happened once more. At 4:00 a.m. when I was dizzy with sleep and disoriented by the bright lights overhead. My eyes were closed when I heard the tech say “hello” as he waited for my blood to flow into the collection tube. Though this blood draw wasn’t as crucial as the blood cultures, it still made me angry. They should not have had to be answering a contaminated phone while they were poking a new hole into me.
But it’s not the staff I’m angry with. I have just received the hospital survey to fill out. I decided not to go into this when they phoned to check up on me the day after discharge. I prefer to put it in writing.
Client satisfaction is important in any business. But it strikes me that hospital administration has the wrong priority. It should be keeping the patients free of infection, not free of complaints. Especially those already compromised.
***I want to thank you for all your kind words. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to answer yet or keep up with my reading. I’m feeling better every day and this week I have both my precious granddaughters with me. There is no better medicine.
I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!