The fever and diarrhea were relentless. For almost one week straight, it just would not stop. That was despite good antibiotic therapy. This was supposed to be the easiest round of chemotherapy – the maintenance round – and we were supposed to be home free for the summer. Supposed to be. Everything, however, did not go as it was supposed to go.
The blood counts never came back to normal, even though they were supposed to. The toxic effects of the chemotherapy never went away, even though they were supposed to. The hospital stay was not short, even though it was supposed to be. Everything that could go wrong went so terribly wrong.
Then, on Saturday morning, something changed. Her breathing got worse. She was less responsive. She was immediately transferred to the ICU to get closer monitoring. All throughout the day and night, her organ systems began to fail – one by one. By the end of the night, she was on a ventilator and had to be transferred to another hospital to get dialysis.
Everything continued to deteriorate, and by the following morning, my daughter was dead. She succumbed to gram negative septic shock that caused multiorgan failure. All I could do was watch in horror and grieve over the death of my firstborn, a death I could do nothing to prevent.
This is the ruthless monster that is sepsis. This is the horror that I witnessed firsthand as a father and witness countless times as a physician in the ICU caring for sepsis patients.
Sepsis is defined as organ failure as a result of an abnormal response of the body to an infection. It can be devastating. In a matter of hours, it can take someone from awake, alert, and talking to fighting for his or her very life in shock on a ventilator and dialysis machine. It is the number one diagnosis we see in the ICU, and it has exacted a terrible toll on so many people and their family and loved ones.
We try to always be vigilant against this disease, because it can sneak up on our patients with very little warning. Decades of research have been conducted to try and fight this disease, and there have been many drugs and therapies that have been tried and tried without success. I “grew up” in the era of those drugs and therapies, and I have seen one after the other fail to prevent death and destruction from this disease.
At the same time, it is not hopeless: I have been blessed to help heal countless patients from certain death from sepsis, and seeing them survive this terrible illness brings a feeling of joy that is beyond words to describe. Sepsis can be treated successfully, as long as one is always thinking about it, is aggressive with resuscitation early on, and administers appropriate antibiotic therapy as soon as it is suspected.
September is Sepsis Awareness Month. It is of the utmost importance that we, as ICU clinicians, are ever vigilant against this ruthless monster that ravaged my poor daughter and sent her back to our Precious Beloved. And we should also take some time to remember and pray for all those who have lost their battles with sepsis, as well as their families and loved ones having to move on with the grief of horrible loss. May our Lord ever comfort them in this life and the next. Amen.