My Experience: ‘Listen to your body. It could save your life’

My body had a meltdown two days after a ‘routine’ hernia operation. I had severe sepsis

Brian Mac Intyre: ‘I was one of 8,831 sepsis cases in Irish hospitals that year.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Brian Mac Intyre: ‘I was one of 8,831 sepsis cases in Irish hospitals that year.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

 

I was scared witless. About half-a-dozen medics were milling around me in the emergency department, trying to figure out why my body was in meltdown. My stomach was jolting every 30 seconds or so as if there was an alien body inside that would do anything to get out. As it turned out, that’s exactly what was happening.

Two days earlier I had a “routine” double hernia operation in a Dublin hospital. It was a keyhole repair of the same surgery I had had when I was only a few months old: half a lifetime of wear and tear had finally caught up on me. But I was in great shape otherwise. I was a gym rat, ate more healthily than ever and had single-digit body fat.

The keyhole surgery was in early October 2013. I remember feeling nauseous when I woke up that evening, but was sent home as it was a day procedure.

I don’t recall much about the next day. But two days after surgery, I felt weak and off-balance as soon as I got up.

Nausea and stomach pains soon followed, and they got worse by the hour. So I called my specialist. I was told to head immediately to another hospital where he was in surgery all afternoon.

On arrival at hospital I didn’t want to get on the trolley despite encouragement from my brother, Ciaran, who had driven me there, and a senior staff nurse.

I feared I could throw up at any time and I was afraid I would choke if I was lying down. But at some stage my body told me I had to move.

Within minutes of arriving at the emergency department, I threw up three times in quick succession. It turns out that a deadly infection was being delivered all over my body. My bowel had been perforated and the “matter” was coursing through my veins. It was slowing the blood flow to my organs and potentially leading to their failure, one by one. I had sepsis, aka septicaemia.

Organ failure

I was one of 8,831 sepsis cases in Irish hospitals that year. If you have severe sepsis, which is the stage I was at, there’s about a 30 per cent chance you’ll die. That rises to 50 per cent if you get septic shock.

Early intervention

When the surgeon arrived at the emergency department, he insisted on opening me up fully this time, which meant a six-inch incision from the bellybutton all the way down and cutting through all the muscle. “I don’t care what you have to do,” I replied. “Just make it stop.”

After my life-saving surgery I was transferred to an isolation unit where I was on a water-only diet for four days, but thankfully had morphine on tap.

I was then moved to a regular ward. Hospital was tough, as my dad had died seven weeks earlier. But his stoicism had rubbed off on me and helped me through this period. However, such was the trauma to my body that I lost 10kg in three weeks ending up weighing just under 55kg – I’m 5’8” – despite eating all that was put before me.

I had two more procedures in hospital to try to close the wound and it took another five weeks after discharge before it sealed.

Soon after I returned to work, in January 2014, we were all told we’d be losing our jobs as the company was closing down. But that was the least of my worries after what had gone before.

Then, just weeks later, I noticed a troubling bulge in my stomach and ended up having another hernia surgery in April of last year.

It had been caused by the septicaemia from six months earlier, which had been so virulent that it weakened the muscle wall over time to the point where it tore.

A year on from that surgery, if there’s one thing I could pass on, it’s this: listen to your body – it could save your life.

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