By April Chavez, as told to Stephanie Watson
After trying to have a baby for about three years, and visiting with a fertility specialist, my husband and I faced a harsh reality. We would have to consider IVF, or give up.
As we carefully weighed our options, our dreams came true. Shortly after the New Year’s holiday in 2017, I found out I was pregnant.
My pregnancy was perfectly normal and on September 2, 2017, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Everything was right in my world, but sepsis would quickly change that. It was an experience that still makes me emotional, almost three years later.
Why Didn’t I know About Sepsis?
We did everything we could to prepare, from taking every birthing class at our hospital, to reading a stack of baby books. I never once read anything about sepsis. It's the third leading cause of maternal deaths. Why did I never come across the word, in books or from my doctors?
On the third day after I delivered, I was supposed to go home, but I wasn't feeling right. I felt like my heart was racing. My fever spiked up and down. I was jackhammering with chills. One of my doctors turned the thermostat in my room up to 80 degrees. My nurse gave me a hot shower. The doctors told me, "It's just nerves from being a new mom." When I kept insisting it wasn't anxiety, that something was very wrong, a doctor said, "You're being crazy. You need to stop."
They prescribed an anti-anxiety medication and sent me home.
This Isn't Anxiety
My husband and mother, who were with me at the time, told me I was home for 36 hours. I don't know for sure, because I can't remember much of anything from that time.
My heart continued to race. I couldn't sleep, or care for my new baby.
My situation got so bad that my mother finally put me in the car and rushed me back to the hospital.
I ended up in Labor and Delivery again. Over the next 24 hours, my condition got progressively worse. I think my medical team knew something was wrong. They just didn't know what it was.
When they couldn't find my veins to place an IV, they called in a nurse from the Rapid Response team. His only job was to stick the IV in me, but as soon as he looked at the numbers on my chart, he knew something was really wrong. He said I needed to go to the ICU.
I spent nine days there.
In the ICU, I got lots of antibiotics. They gave me blood pressure medications and dialysis because my kidneys had failed.
I wasn't awake or aware, but my mother told me she spent days with me at the hospital, while my husband spent nights there so that I was never alone.
My situation got so serious that the ICU doctors told my mother to call my sister and anybody else she thought might want to say goodbye. The priest from my church even came to pray over me. Today, I try to imagine what my husband must have gone through, faced with the thought that the baby we'd wanted for so long would be his responsibility to raise alone.
He told me that his faith got him through that time, but he admitted it was one of the scariest things he'd ever experienced.
How Did This Happen?
By day eight in the ICU, I was getting strong enough for the doctors to begin discussing moving me to a regular floor. Some of the doctors who had first treated me after I delivered came to see me. The first thing I asked them was, "Why didn't you listen to me?" They said, "We don't know. Sometimes these things happen." I asked what did happen. It was then that they said sepsis, but they didn't explain how it happened.
After nearly a month of being in the hospital after my sepsis battle, I had to go back for a second hospital stay because I developed blood clots in my lungs. It was a lot to happen to a new mom, and something I could have never imagined in my scariest nightmares.
Even after being released following my blood clot issue, I still wasn’t strong enough to care for my now one-month-old on my own. I was very hard on myself. It seemed like my son bonded with his father, not me, because I wasn't there for basically the first month of his life. I felt incredibly guilty.
I realize now that while I may have missed the early days, I am extremely lucky. Many people who develop sepsis have lost limbs, had severe long-term problems, and even died. My memory is not what it once was, but my sepsis experience could have been so much worse.
Sepsis has changed me forever. Before, my husband and I wanted a bigger family. Now we're content with one child. I try to avoid hospitals as much as possible.
After everything that happened, I'm thankful that I can be a mom. My son is now 2 1/2. He's wild and fun, just like most toddlers. I love every moment that I get to spend with him.
After looking back on what happened to me and doing more research, I realized that sepsis isn't as rare as what my doctors told me. I would tell anyone who has symptoms -- a fever, shivering, fast heart rate, or shortness of breath -- don't let anyone brush you off. Just because you are told something is rare, doesn't mean that it can't happen. Sepsis can happen to anyone.
To learn more about the efforts to prevent deaths from sepsis, visit End Sepsis.