More knowledge about sepsis can help save lives
Most people think sepsis only happens in a hospital. Yet home care nurses statewide are tackling the 80 percent of life-threatening sepsis cases that occur outside the hospital — with promising results.
HCR Home Care recently implemented a pioneering at-home sepsis screening tool developed by the state’s home care association through its “Stop Sepsis at Home” initiative. This effort is saving lives. Since implementing the tool, HCR Home Care has identified 120 patients suspected of sepsis and 120 other patients who met the criteria for severe sepsis, which is a veritable death sentence without immediate treatment.
Sepsis is an inflammatory response to infection that can cause organ failure. While this sounds straightforward, I know from personal experience the stealth of this medical condition, as both an RN and as a sepsis survivor.
My sepsis experience began on a day like any other. I arrived at work feeling a bit chilled but with a normal temperature. Eventually I began shaking to the point where I could no longer sit at my desk. Like many people, I mistook my symptoms for the flu and headed home. As my temperature reached 104 degrees, my husband insisted that I go to the hospital where I soon experienced a rapid heart rate, severe shaking and difficulty breathing.
Over the course of six days in the hospital, I underwent flu tests, blood work, a chest x-ray, antibiotics, urinalysis, x-rays, ultrasounds, an echocardiogram and a battery of other treatments. On the second or third day, it was determined that I had sepsis.
I can’t express enough my gratitude for the hospital staff who saved my life, but my case is also a classic reminder of the potential hidden risks and costs of sepsis well before – and during – a hospital visit.
As in my case, severe sepsis can advance quickly: the chance of death increases 8 percent for each hour that sepsis goes untreated. Sepsis also mirrors so many other illnesses, like the flu. It can also affect anyone, including otherwise healthy and active individuals like me.
With my six days and countless interventions in the hospital, one can see why sepsis accounts for $27 billion of all hospital costs in the U.S. About one-third of people diagnosed with sepsis end up back in the hospital within three months.
My hope is that the public learns more about this condition and how to identify signs of potential sepsis risk: a heart rate above 90 beats per minute; temperature above 100.9 degrees or less than 96.8 degrees; respiratory rate of 20 breaths per minute or more; and an abnormal white blood cell count.
I tell my story about a personal experience with sepsis not only to educate the community about this public health crisis but also to highlight the way that home care and other providers can make an enormous difference in saving lives and reducing medical costs through evidence-based protocols and clinical focus.
Carla M. Wahls RN BSN is clinical educator at HCR Home Care based in Rochester.