This time of the year is the hardest time to go onto Facebook.
You know how Facebook loves to prompt you to see what happened today in your personal history? Well, these few weeks, every time I log onto Facebook I get to see the memories of what happened exactly six years ago. When my husband almost died of septic shock.
It’s not exactly a time I love to remember.
I’ve seen a lot lately arguing against having an emergency fund – specifically there was recently a Choose FI podcast where Big ERN from Early Retirement Now was talking about how an emergency fund isn’t necessary. And it may not be, for those approaching FI. People talk about how real emergencies like job loss and medical emergencies are rare – and they are. But “rare” means they still happen to some people.
And we are those people.
Don’t worry ERN and Choose FI, I still like you both, even if I don’t agree with you on this topic.
As are my old high school friend, who suffered over a year of expensive treatment before dying of brain cancer at 33 six months after his only daughter was born. And my other friend from church, a single mom with two kids who went through expensive treatments for blood cancer before she passed away. Or my husbands former co-worker, going through cancer treatment and unable to work with a young son still at home.
So I’m still an advocate for having an emergency plan, because something being rare doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen to real people. And sometimes those real people are you.
Today I’m bringing a first to this site – an interview with my husband about what his experiences were like going through septic shock, the years long recovery, and his perspective on money. Responses are really his, and if you have a question for him, ask in the comments and he’ll respond.
First, What Is Septic Shock
Sepsis is basically your bodies runaway response to an infection. Septic shock happens when your organs begin to fail, and your blood pressure drops dangerously low, requiring medication called vassopressors to pull it back up. You can learn more here. It has a very high mortality rate.
How old were you when you got sick, and how old were the boys?
I believe I was 37 when I got sick, and I believe Nathan was four and Nick was eight.
How did you end up having surgery in the first place?
I had a condition called diverticulosis that turned into diverticulitis. It was a bad case of diverticulitis that required surgery. My intestines were so damaged from the diverticulitis that I would just keep going in and out of the hospital, if I didn’t get it taken care of. I talked to a surgeon and a gastroenterologist, and they both recommended I have this surgery.
What was the surgery?
It was a colon re-sectioning, where they would take out the damaged part of the colon and reconnect the healthy parts.
What do you remember after the first surgery, when you started going into septic shock-before the emergency surgery?
Well, I remember getting brought into the room, the doctor telling me to walk as much as I can. The standard after surgery is to make sure everything intestinally is working fine before you can get out of the hospital. I remember you were there…that whole time is very fuzzy. I remember our friend coming to visit, looking down, and looking away because he wasn’t comfortable with the way I was. I don’t think anyone was comfortable with the way I was.
What about when you found out you had to have an emergency surgery?
I remember the surgeon telling me a whole bunch of things, and getting a paper to sign. My sister was there, and you were there. Oh, and I remember the CAT scan that led to them deciding to put me back into surgery.
Since they kept telling me I had to get up and walk a lot, when I got back to my room, I said “I’m going to get up and walk now”. The physician assistant on duty told me “Nope, you’re not walking, you’re going to sit there and wait.”
I told my sister to get you food, and make sure you ate – which you didn’t do. And I believe you later told me that the whole time I was in the ICU you didn’t eat. CMO note – correct, I couldn’t eat. I was so worried.
The last thing I remember is looking up at the lights, as they put me under, and the part where they have you count backwards. And that’s the last thing I remember.
What do you remember about after you had the emergency surgery, and the ICU?
The next thing I remember is waking up and seeing you and my brother there. I was wondering why I couldn’t talk and why my arms were tied to the bed. I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I clearly remember trying to ask for a pen so I could write what I wanted to say. I couldn’t see, everything was way too blurry.
CMO note – this is on Thursday after the surgery, which occurred on a Sunday night. So this is five days later. He actually did wake up a few times while he was in the medically induced coma, but he doesn’t remember any of that. He couldn’t talk because he had a ventilator down his throat, and his arms were tied down because he would wake up confused and start thrashing around. Since he had an IV in his neck, another in his arm, and the ventilator, he could really have hurt himself by thrashing.
Before I woke up, I had vivid dreams while I was under. When I would open my eyes, I would see the nurses station (I assume that’s what it was), and all of a sudden, the nurses station would flip away from me like a garage door, and then my bed would move forward like I was on a carnival ride. When I got onto the ride, I would move sideways in the bed and there would be a different show on. There were five levels – one level was one show, then there would be another show, and so on. They were Cartoon Network shows.
CMO note – He loves cartoon network, so that’s actually what I had on in the ICU TV for him. His brain must have been processing his illness and the shows together somehow.
Tell me about your recovery in the year immediately after the surgery.
Recovery was very hard. I had to pretty much relearn how to walk – it took about a week until I could regain my balance and walk. There was a nice orderly who told me to stop looking down, which worked to help me regain my balance. I recall going to the rehabilitation center so I could live a normal life again. They had to make sure I was able to cook. There was a lot of exercise and one of my favorite parts was when an older gentleman asked “What the heck are you doing here?”, because I was so much younger than everyone else.
Lots of people couldn’t believe this had happened to me, and were amazed that I was able to overcome it.
I would take walks in the middle of the night around the rehabilitation center, to get my strength up, because I really wanted to get back home. I constantly got hot and cold flashes. I would keep opening up the windows in my room. CMO note – this was March in Connecticut, so that would be cold.
You came to visit me every day without fail. You were really awesome during that time. You’re still awesome. CMO note – this interview isn’t about me, darn it. You would bring the boys to visit whenever you could. All the people came to visit – my parents, friends, etc.
I got a fever in the rehab center and had to go back to the hospital I was not happy about that.
When I came home, we had to move the bedroom from upstairs to the downstairs dining room, because I wasn’t strong enough to use the stairs on a regular basis. I took a lot of walks around the house whenever I had a chance, because I was told the more you do it, the quicker you’ll get better. And it was true!
Eventually I got strong enough to be able to do things myself, and drive again, so I could take care of everything in the house. It took a while – months – many, many months but eventually I did it. I was happy I was able to do that.
Before the reversal surgery, I wanted to get you to Arizona, because you always wanted to go there. I was too confident in my strength and overdid it at the Grand Canyon, which I deeply apologize for. That could have been really, really bad.
CMO note – yes, we went to Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon right before his ileostomy reversal surgery. And he did overdo it. I was worried I was going to have to carry him.
I recall the recovery from that surgery was much better and quicker.
What longer-term effects has it had on your life?
A lot of joint pain – it doesn’t go away. A lot of fatigue – if I stop moving and just sit down, I want to take a nap. Concentration – big issues with concentration. Especially reading, it doesn’t hold my interest as much as it used to. If I start reading something, the fatigue sets in. I think I’ve read one book since this all happened. Even comics and things like that don’t hold my interest as much. Same thing when I watch a movie. I have trouble talking – you know that one – even though a lot of doctors say it hasn’t. CMO note – yes I have noticed this. It’s gotten better over the years, but he sometimes has trouble saying the right word for what he wants to say.
CMO question – what about the abdominial reconstruction?
Ha ha – I didn’t like that one. The recovery was long and hard. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, but I could eventually lift Alex after a month or so. I needed to be able to do that, because I was the stay at home parent.
It was painful. Super painful. I think it was worse than the original surgeries, but that’s only because I didn’t really want to use the pain killers. I didn’t like the way they made me feel the first time around, and I couldn’t drive because of them. That was pretty frustrating.
For a while, both with the original illness and the reconstruction, I felt really bad and kind of useless. I wanted to get better because I didn’t want to be a burden – get nice, healthy, and do my part for the family. I think that’s what drove me the most to get better.
What did you say to me about money while you were in the ICU – and what do you remember about my response?
Oh I remember your response clearly – I’ll never forget your response.
I was on unemployment at the time CMO Note – his factory had closed in the Great Recession, and at least once a week you have to call up, and answer a series of questions in order to stay on unemployment. If you missed a week they would take you off, because they assume you got a job. Seeing as I was in the coma for so long, I had missed filing for that week. I got nervous, and it was about two in the morning, I called you all panicked, saying that I missed filing, and what were we going to do about money? You said:
“Money? Don’t worry about money. Just get better! Rest! You don’t need to worry about money.”
This is the only time in my life I’ve heard you say that. I knew this was going to cost a lot, what I went through.
When we were first married, back in 2001, what was your perspective on emergency funds?
Phhhhh, we don’t need that! What do we need something like that for? It’s a waste of money!
Having been through this, what’s your perspective now?
EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE THEM. They would be dumb not to have them. Everyone should truly, truly have them. You really don’t appreciate it until you see it working for you.
Financially what have things been like for family, from your perspective, since this happened six years ago?
That event put you in overdrive. We wanted to get everything paid off so if anything like this happened again, it wouldn’t be so much of a burden to us. It was an eye opener to get financially secured.
Do you have a “new” perspective on what you consider important in life after surviving this? Did you change anything to be able to focus on what was more important? (from the Coffee Sippers)
I don’t think my perspective on what’s important has changed much. It did make me appreciate savings much more, since that happened. I knew it was important to have savings before, but it was a wake up call for how important it really is.
As for what I’ve changed , I would say small things – like you know the term “don’t sweat the small stuff”? I don’t sweat it anymore. I also became more patient with people because of what happened to me. That was probably the biggest thing. I’ve become more empathetic to peoples situations, especially the elderly, because I kind of had a glimpse into what they were going through.
What were the things, if any, you wished you had in place beforehand that would have made the transition after or shock of the sickness easier? (from Dr. S of Bull In Captivity)
Not having it happen in the first place, to be honest with you. That would have been nice!
How did you adjust from being a working professional to becoming dependent on someone else and a SAHD? (from Frugasaurus)
It’s fine. It wasn’t hard at all, you just go from working, not to working. You can get pretty bored from time to time, but it’s like any situation change. You have time to adapt to the situation, and eventually you adapt to it.
It went from having few choices to choose from, to having no choices to choose from. When I went to my UPS job that I enjoyed so much, it damaged me more, and I had to leave. CMO note – and have that total abdominal reconstruction surgery.
Other than survival, during your time in the hospital, what were you the most scared of? (from Erin from Reaching for FI)
Sliding back into the hospital. Having a complication that would bring me back. I was really afraid of that happening – backsliding from recovery. Because that could lead to even more complications, if they can’t fix what happened to you.
That was a huge fear, because it would mean longer recovery, and I wouldn’t be able to get back into a normal life. My main focus during that time was to get better for everyone else.
Thanks to my husband for being willing to remember this horrible and crazy time, and to the readers who left questions on Twitter. Remember, just because something is rare doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen to real people. And if something bad unexpectedly happens to you, someone you love, or someone you know, just take it one day at a time. Prepare best you can but don’t kick yourself for not preparing more.
As the intensivist (ICU doctor) said to me the first day my husband was in the ICU, “We all wish this hadn’t happened, but it did. So now we have to deal with it.” I still remember that phrase when things get tough.
So ask away, any other questions you might have for me or for my husband.
Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram, what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.