One afternoon while shopping in 2008 I began to feel as though I was coming down with something, maybe the flu. My last memory of that day was walking through the front door of our house.
I have no memory whatever of what happened for the next seven weeks. According to my husband, he drove me to the ER at a nearby hospital after my condition worsened and I’d became delusional and hostile. We waited over six hours before doctors realized I had contracted a serious blood infection and was going into toxic shock. I was rushed by ambulance to a larger hospital that night.
I spent the next several weeks in the ICU in a chemically induced coma. A doctor was standing at my bedside when I was awakened. She informed me that both my arms below the elbows and my feet below the knees were amputated due to the effects of sepsis. Until then, I had been a physically active 62-year-old woman who played tennis almost daily. I survived sepsis but I was now a quadrilateral amputee.
Somehow I instinctively knew that I had to lock my negative emotions away in a tight box. Otherwise, the shock would be too much to bear. I couldn’t allow my grief, frustration, anger, or feeling sorry for myself get the better of me. I could not allow myself to cry. I knew that if I did the depression would get in the way of my recovery. At the very least, I was lucky to be alive and I had a husband and two children who loved me.
By the time doctors declared me to be well enough to be discharged from the ICU I had lost nearly all the strength in my body. I couldn’t lift my residual arms or legs. I couldn’t speak. I was totally helpless. I was fed with tubes through my nose. I had a pick line for the drugs I was on and a hole my throat with a Passy-Muir Valve in it to help me breathe.
At the rehabilitation hospital it took two physical therapists at first to lift me up and balance me on the edge of the bed. I remember feeling proud of myself for doing that but terrified I might fall off. I imagined myself lying flat on that cold, green linoleum floor, unable to crawl. I had a lot to worry about in those days.
But gradually, life as I knew it began to take shape. Physical therapists and others helped me to regain my core strength, keep my balance, and put me on the road to recovery. I remember how great I felt the moment I stood upright in the hospital swimming pool. I learned to walk. Many more small triumphs followed.
Now, years later, after a lot of exercise and learning to perform daily tasks with prosthetic hands and feet I look back on what I’ve been through with a sense of accomplishment. For me, sepsis was a sudden and vicious bolt out of the blue. But with luck and the kind help of many people, I’m still around to talk about it.
By Cheryl Douglass