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For Your Health: Missing the signs of sepsis
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You know, you always hear people saying “life is funny sometimes.” Things happen to us that are so ironic they are hard to comprehend sometimes.

And I have been a victim of “life.”

As the disease manager for sepsis at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, I spend my time teaching hospital staff, physicians and the community about how dangerous sepsis is. For more than two years, I’ve preached the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of the serious infection and getting rapid treatment to prevent death or debility.

However, my own proactive attitude about sepsis failed me earlier this year.

As a diabetic, I wear an insulin pump. The insulin is infused through a small catheter in my skin and is changed every three days.

On Mother’s Day, I was outside doing what I love to do in the spring, digging in my flower gardens and setting out plants. I got very dirty and sweaty.

The next morning, I noticed my pump site was red and hot. I changed the pump site and called my practitioner for an antibiotic.

As time passed, the site got redder and larger. By the next Tuesday, it was the size of a baseball and very painful.

I came to work and began having severe dizziness, nausea, cold sweat and confusion. My colleagues immediately took me the Emergency Department where the doctor told me something I did not think I would hear: I had severe sepsis.

What a shock! I, of all people, did not even comprehend I had sepsis. How ironic; I should know better.

I was admitted to the hospital and stayed for 11 days. I received several intravenous antibiotics and fluids.

While in the hospital, I suffered from heart failure, anemia and several other health-related problems. But I do not remember most of the time I was in the hospital.

It took me nearly two months to recover. I now know, as a sepsis survivor, how easy it is to not recognize the symptons.

In 2011, a Harris Poll found more than half of Americans had never heard of sepsis. It is actually one of the top leading causes of death in the United States today. In 2009, more than 258,000 deaths were attributed to sepsis in the United States. That is more than heart attacks and many types of cancer. Plus, more than 1.7 million people were hospitalized in 2009 with the infection.

Sepsis occurs when a person’s body is fighting off viruses, bacteria and fungi. The body’s natural defense system goes haywire and actually starts attacking the body itself instead of fight the organism.

If the symptoms of sepsis are not detected and treated as soon as possible, it can lead to organ damage, disability and even death. Time is the major factor for survival, but treatment is as simple. Patients are given antibiotics and intravenous fluids as soon as sepsis is identified.

Symptoms include a heartbeat greater than 90 beats per minute; a temperature of greater than 100.4 or less than 96.8 orally; low blood pressure; and breathing more than 20 breaths per minute. You may also have a change in your mental status and mottled or cool skin.

If you are on an antibiotic and your condition does not improve within 24 to 48 hours, seek further treatment. By not ignoring the symptoms, you increase the chance of becoming a sepsis survivor ... like me!

 Susan Irick is the sepsis disease manager at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.