Most people know the story about post-operative infections, and assume that this sort of infection is confined purely to hospitals. They don’t usually know that sepsis is a working possibility for any kind of wound, anywhere. Sepsis is one of the most hideous of all the possible infection scenarios, and treatment has to happen immediately because of the stunning speed of the infection process and in many cases the immune response as well.
The New York Times
Two days earlier, diving for a basketball at his school gym, Rory had cut his arm. He arrived at his pediatrician’s office the next day, Thursday, March 29, vomiting, feverish and with pain in his leg. He was sent to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center. The doctors agreed: He was suffering from an upset stomach and dehydration. He was given fluids, told to take Tylenol, and sent home.
Partially camouflaged by ordinary childhood woes, Rory’s condition was, in fact, already dire. Bacteria had gotten into his blood, probably through the cut on his arm. He was sliding into a septic crisis, an avalanche of immune responses to infection from which he would not escape. On April 1, three nights after he was sent home from the emergency room, he died in the intensive care unit. The cause was severe septic shock brought on by the infection, hospital records say
Sadly, Rory’s case is all too likely. The diagnosis of sepsis is not instant in most cases of death and severe injury. Sepsis is a killer. It’s more common among the very young and the very old, and is a post-surgery risk which has had hospitals worried for a long time. Recently, however, a range of incidents have got professionals very worried.
What most people don’t know is that sepsis and septic shock can happen at blinding speeds. The early signs are quite innocuous, and could reasonably relate to any other sort of condition.
When I was writing for a nursing site in the US in 2010, a case came to my attention of a nurse who was quite literally maimed by sepsis from Streptococcus in 48 hours. Strep is a deadly organism which lives on and in humans, harmless to healthy tissue, but absolutely vicious when it infects. It’s also a prime suspect in any case of sepsis.
The case of this poor nurse
is important, because if Rory’s death was a horrible event, her experience was truly hideous, and she lived through it. This particular nurse lost her legs and fingers as a result of a routine diagnosis in her own hospital, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis.
Young Rory Staunton also suffered for a couple of days before death. That’s how fast, lethal and destructive septic shock and its related infections can be.
Things are being done about sepsis, and a major effort by US hospitals is underway to improve responses and testing practices as universal practice
, but the increasing incidence is a major issue. From experience on this subject, readers are strongly advised:
These symptoms from The New York Times definition of septic shock
Septic shock can affect any part of the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, and intestines. Symptoms may include:
• Cool, pale extremities
• High or very low temperature, chills
• Low blood pressure, especially when standing
• Low or absent urine output
• Rapid heart rate
• Restlessness, agitation, lethargy, or confusion
• Shortness of breath
• Skin rash or discoloration
Do not, ever, take any wound lightly.
If you’re feeling abnormal or experiencing any weird symptoms after receiving a cut or other penetrant wound, it’s better to be a live hypochondriac than a dead stoic. See a doctor, ASAP, and mention the word “sepsis”. You won’t need to tell any medical professional what you’re worrying about when you do.