Sepsis is a truly devastating condition. As an ICU nurse, I have seen first-hand how it can ravage a body. I have cared for patients that, despite the best treatment and heroic measures, did not survive. It can appear, seemingly, from out of nowhere and can strike perfectly healthy individuals.
My first encounter with someone with sepsis was many years ago, as a medical assistant in family practice, before entering nursing school. I answered one of the hundreds of phone calls that came into the office daily. It was the father of a young woman; both were long-time patients that I knew them well. He didn’t sound particularly concerned and just went on to explain that his daughter had been having flu-like symptoms throughout the weekend.
At first, I accepted his “flu” assessment and began to give the usual instructions we tended to give patients with viral infections, but something in my gut told me this was something different. Instead, I told him to bring her in to the office so the doctor could see her in between his other scheduled patients.
When they arrived I could immediately see why I felt so uneasy earlier on the phone. She looked awful….very pale, extremely weak, not to mention confused. This was definitely more than just “the flu”. We escorted her into a room and while the nurse got her vital signs, I interrupted the physician who was seeing another patient. “We need you in room three,” I told him. He immediately went in to exam her and came out of the room a few minutes later and said, “Call an ambulance and get the ED physician on the phone for me.”
After being transported to the hospital via EMS she was admitted with the diagnosis of sepsis. She spent several days in the ICU and for a while they thought she might lose her limbs, if she didn’t lose her life.
The cause was never determined.
Luckily, due to the skill, training and dedication of an entire treatment team of physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and more, she survived and without any residual symptoms. Sadly, though, there are so many who don’t.
The numbers tell us that every year millions develop and die from sepsis. It represents someone with a family and friends who love and care about them. They are your neighbor, your pastor, your sister, or your son.
Evidence links early intervention and treatment to better outcomes. Hours, even minutes, really count and can make the difference between full recovery and death. Advancements in early detection are being made through predictive analytics with the support of regulatory actions and sepsis-awareness community efforts. Healthcare organizations, such as North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, are seeing success with notable results of a 16.4% reduction in sepsis related mortalities as a result of modifying complex guidelines and metrics in the emergency departments.
Even those who survive can have life-long, debilitating effects including amputation of limbs, permanent organ damage, difficulties with cognition, and memory loss. It is critical to provide tools to clinicians that will quickly and accurately identify sepsis in its earliest stages because it truly saves lives.