(Editor’s note: I haven’t been able to go to the gym since last October. This post is a cautionary tale that explains why.)
October 10, 2013
As I lay scared witless on the hospital trolley about half-a-dozen medics were milling around me in the emergency room, trying to figure out what was making my body go into a virtual meltdown.
My stomach was jolting every minute or so as if there was an alien body inside that would do anything to get out. Turns out, that’s exactly what was happening.
Only 10 minutes earlier, around 1pm, I was on the hospital’s ground floor and refusing to get on the trolley despite encouragement from my brother – while a senior staff member insisted upon it. I feared I could throw up at any time. Being prostrate didn’t seem like the greatest idea.
The senior staffer had only just received a fax from my specialist, presumably outlining how I was likely to be bumped up on the priority list for surgeries that day. And she knew I had to get on that trolley and upstairs to A&E as fast as possible.
I was also starting to hyperventilate a little as they tried to get me to calm down. I later found out that inflamed lungs and a racing heartbeat were symptoms of my illness. At some stage my body told me I had to move because time was running out and the room I was in had nothing with which to treat my symptoms.
So I got on the trolley, albeit with at least one false start where I got off again. I was then ferried to A&E and, sure enough, within minutes of getting there I threw up three times in quick succession.
While I was still petrified, I knew the medics were doing all they could. It turns out that a deadly infection was being delivered all over my body as it coursed through my bloodstream. My bowel had been perforated. I had septicaemia – and I was literally full of s**t.
This is what the organisation behind World Sepsis Day has to say about the illness: “Sepsis arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognized early and treated promptly.
“Between one-third and one-half of all sepsis patients die.
“In developing countries, sepsis accounts for 60-80% of all deaths. It kills more than 6 million infants and young children, and 100,000 new mothers every year. Every few seconds, someone in the world dies of sepsis.”
As the infection progresses, major organs being to fail due to a falling blood supply. Once septicaemia has set in, you have anything from a couple of hours to a matter of days to live, depending on your age and health. Luckily for me I was in the best shape of my life, which may have bought me time.
My surgeon had performed a ‘routine’ keyhole operation on me two days earlier to patch up a double hernia which I had as an infant under five months old. The surgery was a fix-it job after decades of the wear and tear of everyday living.
It’s common to have hernias restitched and it’s a wonder the work performed during that baby surgery lasted so long, to be honest.
I started to feel lethargic and a little off-balance almost as soon as I got up earlier the day of my life-saving surgery.
Being a clean freak, I showered although I wasn’t sure it was the best idea given how dizzy I felt. While I was feeling vulnerable, I felt I should eat something as I have a big appetite and I can often feel drained from lack of food.
But nausea and stomach pains soon followed. So I immediately called the surgeon’s office. While I was hoping the solution to my ills would be found in a pill, I could see my health was getting worse at a faster clip.
I hadn’t been taking all the post-op medication so that may have been a factor, the specialist’s secretary thought. But I told her it seemed like there was something much bigger going on.
She got back to me to say the specialist wanted me to go to a nearby hospital immediately as he was coincidentally in surgery there all afternoon.
I called my brother Ciaran and he picked me up as soon as he could. I was wearing just a T-shirt, track bottoms and flip-flops. I didn’t have the energy or the inclination to change. My body was already telling me that this was the least of my concerns.
When the surgeon arrived at the A&E, he said he believed there was a tear in my large intestine, aka the colon. He added he was going to have to put me under general anaesthetic again but this time he insisted on opening me up properly, meaning a straight-line incision from the belly button all the way down.
“I don’t care what you have to do,” I replied. “Just make it stop.” Source: Metro UK (Click on graphic to enlarge) Full article here. (And I highly recommend you read it.)
Two days earlier, the keyhole surgery seemed to go with barely a hitch. I was in and out the same day, although I had to take a pill for queasiness when I woke up after surgery.
But I had slept well that night and I don’t remember experiencing any nausea or discomfort the next day. The surgeon later told me that when he performed the keyhole procedure he must have weakened the scar tissue from my baby surgery to the point where the next time I had a bowel movement my colon would tear open.
So when I woke up that morning two days later, I must have had a bowel movement as the symptoms are felt almost immediately once the colon is perforated. I don’t remember going to the toilet, but then again it wasn’t something I had been warned to take note of.
So it’s possible, although unlikely, that I could have had a bowel movement the night before with the poison very slowly seeping through my body as I slept.
But back to my second operation in three days. I woke up from my life-saving procedure around 5pm and the surgeon told me what had happened.
He said he had correctly diagnosed what the problem was and he was going to send me to a different hospital for my recovery. My brother was with me so I got him to phone our mother. (Dad had passed away less than two months earlier and my other brothers live in Australia.)
After that, we phoned work to tell them I wouldn’t be back the following Monday as originally planned. It would be three months before I’d set foot in work again. (P.S. Please feel free to share this post to raise awareness of this illness.)