My name is Ray Schachter. I am a lawyer and a sepsis survivor. My sepsis story began in 1996 when I developed a group A strep infection. My sepsis was brought on by Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) in my bloodstream which compromised almost all my joints. I have read many stories about survivors and sadly stories about those who succumbed to sepsis.The events which resulted in my acute sepsis are not unusual and I have seen them repeated in my sepsis stories. My experience began in late April 1996 just following my 50th birthday. I was in prime physical condition and had participated in sports all my life. I was rarely sick, and then only with occasional cold or flu. Sepsis was not on my radar, nor had I even heard of it.
On Day 1, I had a very severe, but short-lived, bout of extremely high fever (40.5 degrees Celsius), followed by excruciating hip pain the following day. By Day 3, the pain was so severe that I went to the ER at a hospital nearby. The ER physician dismissed my symptoms very rudely – even in my weakened and vulnerable state, I knew something was very seriously wrong with me. I had never felt so sick or in so much pain and I have a high pain threshold. Even on this first visit, I was aware of symptoms in other parts of my body which were dismissed by the ER doctor.
The ER doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory which had no effect and during the seven days that followed I was seen by doctors both at home and during emergency room visits. After a few days when the pain did not subside – in fact it was increasing, On Day 5, my wife called an ambulance but the para-medics persuaded her that since I had already been to ER and was diagnosed, I should not be taken back to hospital. Over the next few days, I gradually became weaker.
On Day 7, my wife, frantic with worry, called her family doctor who ordered blood tests which had to be taken at my home the following day because I was not mobile. On the 8th day, two things happened which saved my life. First, my wife saw the results of the blood tests and recognized that I was “off the chart”. She took immediately contacted our good friend whose husband was a world-renowned internal medicine physician (then travelling in Europe) – and she called an ambulance again. Second, I had became totally confused and disoriented, hallucinating about spiritual advisors (definitely totally abnormal). There was no longer any doubt that I was very, very sick. Some of these symptoms were from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – that is my lungs were filled with fluid preventing oxygen intake. When my oxygen level was tested at the hospital that day, it was so low that it could not be measured.
The nearby hospital was not equipped to deal with complex acute disease. The specialist who was initially managing my care told my wife to call the family, giving virtually no hope for recovery. My friend, the internist, broke hospital protocol by demanding that I be moved to the best tertiary care hospital in the province, notwithstanding that moving me was very dangerous but he knew the local hospital had neither the expertise nor the resources to save my life. After 11 days in an induced coma, I slowly woke up and found to my confusion and astonishment that I was in an intensive care unit, ventilated and heavily drugged. I had no memory of anything following the last ambulance trip to the ER.
I remained in hospital on a general ward for almost 3 more weeks. I had lost about 15% of body weight and was in a wheelchair – and I was told that my right hip had been destroyed by the sepsis. My wife was a fierce advocate for post-hospital care and I was able to access multiple levels of rehabilitation, both before and after my two hip surgeries later that year and early 1997. Those surgeries (plus several others later) and 10 months on crutches took a great toll on all of us. Unfortunately, the health care system mostly ends on discharge from hospital for many patients who don’t have strong advocates.
I am very grateful for the excellent medical care I received in ICU once I arrived at Vancouver General Hospital, including nurses and other healthcare workers. Without their diligence and expertise, the story would have had quite a different ending.
I am now a person with multiple health problems, and chronic persistent pain and fatigue. I have had four hip operations (three replacements/revisions and one resurfacing). My right hip was destroyed by the Strep A infection and sepsis. The causes of the rest of my problems including back and knee surgery cannot be directly attributed to sepsis but are typical sequelae of sepsis. I was extremely fortunate that I did not lose limbs or have organ dysfunction which often is the result of sepsis.
For me, the personal costs of my sepsis included an 18-month recovery during which I needed special care from many doctors, nurses, aides and physiotherapists, absence from work, emotional turmoil and continuing symptoms of fatigue (common to recovering sepsis survivors). It is not possible to quantify the effects on my wife, my son (5 years old at the time) and my two daughters, plus the impact on our close extended family.
Because of my bout with sepsis, I wanted to contribute to the campaign against sepsis - from 2013-2019, I was on the executive of the Global Sepsis Alliance (GSA) the goal of which is to advocate and disseminate information on sepsis and its treatment. I have participated in the World Sepsis Day Conferences. I am now on the board of the Canadian Sepsis Foundation. I have shared my sepsis story at conferences and in various media and with the medical community through a piece in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (https://cmajblogs.com/journey-with-sepsis/#more-4075). I also support several medical charities including a program at VGH and the Genome Sciences Centre.