The article “Frailty: Evaluation and Management” by Assistant Professor Robert Allison II and two co-authors in the February 15, 2021 issue of the American Family Physician caught my eye. The article states: “Frailty is a syndrome of growing importance among the geriatric population, occurring in 5% to 17% of older adults. It is a syndrome recognized primarily in older adults that affects health, energy, and physical abilities by increasing a patient’s vulnerability to stressors (e.g., falls, infections) and risk of further decline.”
I fell into the frail category two years ago when I was hospitalized with uro-sepsis. Sepsis from any cause is life-threatening, and indeed, my life hung in the balance. The first two days are a blur for me, but after that, my hospitalist told Carol that my septic infection was clearing with high-powered IV antibiotic treatment. She said that I should recover enough to be treated at home in a few more days.
Why is sepsis so devastating? Bacteria invade the bloodstream and attack major vital organs destructively. Any kind of micro-organism can do this, regardless of where the original infection is located. When the body’s defense and immune systems are breached, there is nothing to stop them. Patient mortality ranges from 20-40% for severe sepsis, even with the best treatment. Many survivors remain frail. I was fortunate to be sent home with home health care after five days in the hospital, but was still so weak that I was essentially bed-bound.
Carol never trained to be a nurse because she wasn’t comfortable doing nursing tasks, but she became my lifeline. Home health nurses taught her how to prepare and inject the high-powered antibiotic into a venous port. The intravenous line carried it to my heart to be circulated throughout my body. The line had to be flushed to keep clots from forming. It was a complex process, requiring Carol to be up every four hours. She took care of all my nursing needs, and prepared good nutritious meals for me. She was (and is) magnificent!
The impact of this illness on me physically was profound, aging me nearly twenty years in those few days. Before, I was active in senior tennis at the Thousand Oaks YMCA. My partner and I won 2nd place in our 80-85 age bracket in city-wide championships. That’s like a distant dream now. Two years after sepsis, a mile walk with my cane takes an hour for what was an easy 20-minute walk before. That’s one example of how damaging the sepsis was to my body.
Serious setbacks complicated my recovery. That first year, I had many falls because of weakness and impaired balance. Most did not cause any major injury, but a year post-sepsis, I had a bad fall on my tailbone, causing a compression fracture of my seventh thoracic vertebra (T-7). There was no nerve injury, but it was painful, and I lost at least 3 inches in height permanently because of the compressed vertebra. It took several months to get back to my pre-fracture level of recovery.
In October 2020, I had surgery for a hernia in my right groin and enlarging lymph nodes in my left groin. No cancer was found in the lymph nodes, but that whole region was swollen for many days after surgery. Two weeks later I had fever and chills. Carol recognized what was happening and rushed me to the hospital. I had uro-sepsis again. Once again, I was very frail, requiring hospital care for 5 days followed by home health care.
After a few weeks of home therapy, my physical therapist allowed me to go outside with him, using my walker. When we got to our neighbor’s driveway, my therapist said that was enough. On his next visit, I began using my cane and we walked a little farther each day. I loved being outside, seeing the landscape, and feeling the passing breezes. After my therapist discharged me I continued to make slow progress on my own.
Silver linings: Carol’s support means the world to me. Support from our families is heart-warming. The care I received from staff at North Central Baptist Hospital was loving and life-saving. Work done with therapists at home was a big help. Despite setbacks, I am improving slowly. I enjoy puttering around in our yard. Kindness from many along the way is heartening.
Even in the depths of my sepsis, I knew at a gut level that I was OK no matter what happened to my body. My body is the vehicle in which I live and move. It’s important to take good care of it, but it is not me. Understanding this was a big help.
My life-threatening septic crises made me extremely vulnerable, but this vulnerability helped me discover silver linings. I am grateful for this. Don’t get me wrong. I would rather not be in such a vulnerable state, but since that is where I am, I’m thankful for the silver linings.
Love & Peace!