As with nearly every description for the flu, the aching started in my knees, elbows and shoulders and soon moved into my major muscles. The sight and smell of food left me nauseous and by the end of the workday, I was running a fever.
When I awoke the next morning, my fever was in full swing, and every fiber of my being protested the slightest movement. Even my hair seemed to hurt. But this wasn’t supposed to be happening since I’d gotten my flu shot well over two weeks before, and it should have provided me some protection.
After playing ‘Flu Bingo’ at the Doctors office, I was given a flu test to determine if I was a candidate for Tamiflu, which is said to shorten the severity and duration of the illness. When the test came back as negative, I was sent home with the diagnosis of ‘a virus similar to the flu but not the flu’ and told to drink lots of fluids and get rest.
Over the weekend, the fevers ranged from 103 to 106 and I lost nearly 10 pounds from sweating thru all the linens in the house. Monday, after calling the doctor again, I was advised to visit the ER as the sustained temperatures that I’d experienced were life threatening. After vials and vials of blood was taken, x-rays run and tests performed, I was pumped full of fluids and sent home to recover from the same virus I’d been diagnosed with the Friday before.
Eighteen hours later, the ER called instructing me to return as soon as possible with the message that I was near death could they call me a cab? Upon arrival, my temperature was 105, and Charles had to act as my Power of Attorney due to my exceptional delirium.
Following further blood draws, a series of CTs, another IV loaded with heavy concentrations of a broad spectrum antibiotic, I was given a bed on the cardiac ward of the nearby hospital. In sweating so profusely, my potassium levels had dropped to ‘levels incompatible with life’ and thusly I was at an extreme risk for a heart attack. The Doctor in charge told us that none of the doctors on staff nor the hospital records had ever seen the low levels I registered in a live patient.
During this exchange of information, the nurses were administering a potassium drip. The painful sensation of fire invading my blood vessels was so severe that in my delirium, I tried desperately to pull the IV out before they stopped the drip and diluted it out. The one saving grace was that I was so sick, so incapacitated from illness and fever that I mercifully fell into a semi-conscious state of sleep and I don’t remember the remainder of the day.
It took two days and endless collections of blood to determine why I was so ill and two more days to determine if the medication I was receiving was effective. At that time all they knew was that I had a severe case of sepsis, and that massive antibiotics were being administered in the hopes that the infection could be controlled before any organs began to fail. Finally, the culprit was identified as an antibiotic resistant form of E. coli.
In becoming so distracted by work and life, I’d developed a kidney infection that eventually went septic and was unaware of until it became so virile that it nearly killed me. As I experienced no pain from the inflamed kidney, it was missed when I went to the doctor and the first time I visited the ER. It was only by having a CT that they were able to find the source of the sepsis, and by that point, it was so far along that the lab had to run a triple titration to achieve a measurable level of CRP indicators for the infection.
After 5 days in the hospital, I was allowed to go home, with gobfulls of medications and strict instructions that if my fever returned by even a single degree that I was to return to the hospital immediately, and instructions to not do any work, to not lift any weight until my strength had returned.
After two weeks of light bed rest I returned to work and it took a full year for my body as a whole to recover. I know this because I had bi-monthly blood draws to monitor my organ health. My kidneys were the first to recover, my liver, skin and hair the last.
Several months later I ran across the Doctor who treated me, and we conversed about how I was fairing. She admitted to me that I was a ‘dead man walking’ when I’d been admitted, and the staff had prepared themselves for my untimely passing. Even then, with the information she shared with me, I didn’t fully appreciate how sick I’d been. Neither had Charles.
Ironically, it was that night while watching one of the sciencey medical mystery shows was on that Charles dreads that we both came to realize just how close I’d come to death. Featured on it was a story of a man who was attending a business seminar and turned in early saying that he felt ill from either too much booze or the flu and missed the second day of presentations due to raging fevers. It was on the third day that he was found to have passed away sometime during the night. The cause of his death was determined to be sepsis resulting from a kidney infection.
It was then that I realized that were it not for having had the flu shot, I would have dismissed the illness I suffered from as the flu, and I could have quiet possibly passed away as a result of an asymptomatic kidney infection.
I shudder to think of the life my little ones and Charles would lead without me. When the occasion presents itself to talk about this frightening period in our lives we can’t help but grow emotional. As we nearly lost all that we had.
Ironically, I nearly didn’t get a flu shot that year. It was inconvenient, and due to vaccine shortages the clinic was really late that year.
Looking back though, I’m very glad that I did. I don’t like to think of what might have been if I hadn’t.