On the second day of my fathers hospital stay for hospital acquired MRSA pneumonia he slipped into shock. This was a quiet but quick decline in his condition. If I had not been in the hospital room with him that day, his nurse would have attributed his “drowsiness” to just being tired. He had gone through a lot of diagnostics that morning, including a lung scan.
My mother and I arrived to visit shortly after noontime. Dad was barely conscious. I spoke to him several times and he just was not coming around. I expressed my concern to his nurse, who was right there in the room. “Oh, he is just all worn out” was her response. She was a good nurse but she was missing a very serious event that was just starting to occur. I asked her nicely to check his vital signs. Dad’s blood pressure had dropped dangerously low. It was just a matter of seconds before she had a team in his room and they began their work. He was given a fluid challenge and drugs to get his blood pressure back up. My mother and I sat there the entire time shocked and puzzled about this frightening turn of events. I kept asking the doctor what was going on. He called this a heart attack. I repeatedly asked why he had the fever then. Blood cultures were drawn, but they were negative.
There is no way for me to know if he had a heart attack that day or if his body was reacting to the lethal serious bacteria in his system called MRSA. When I look back, I suspect that the doctor knew, without a doubt, that my father was suffering the syndrome of sepsis. This occurs commonly in patients who are suffering from a serious bacterial infection. Blood cultures will not necessarily show the bacteria. My father had never in his life had a heart attack. If he did have heart damage after this scary and unexplained event, I believe it was due to the sepsis and the stress that the infection caused his old body.
Sepsis is a very serious and often times deadly event that occurs when patients contract MRSA. It comes on quickly after the invasion of the microorganisms and treatment to reverse the sudden drop in blood pressure must be quick and effective. In Dad’s case, after the second worst event of his newly diagnosed illness(death being the absolute worst), he did recover in the short run, but the disease killed him in the long run.
Dad was transferred from his regular bed into an ICU bed that day. He was catheterized and MRSA infected his bladder. About 5 days later, and after I requested a sputum culture, he was finally diagnosed with MRSA pneumonia.
The day of this suspected sepsis shock, Dad’s doctors approached my mother and me about “comfort care”. This means that they wanted to take away all of his life sustaining medications and just give him what he needed for comfort. This was a blow to us considering this was the very same day he had this frightening event. I thought comfort care was offered to terminal cancer or other dying patients. At this point, we had no idea that MRSA was my father’s terminal diagnosis.
Although Dad was ill enough that my mother called the priest for last rights, he was still alert and conscious. I told the doctors they needed to ask Dad what he wanted for himself. They did. Dad was a tough Irishman. He was not about to give up the fight of his life at that point. And, that was his choice to do so.
He suffered for 19 more days in that hospital. Then he was deemed “well enough” to go to the nursing home. He suffered for 9 more weeks. He fought the good battle, but MRSA won. He never lost his desire to get better and go home and he never succumbed to the doctors wishes to put him in hospice or to put him on “comfort care”. I loved that about my father. He let people know what he wanted and didn’t want and after he told them there was no question left in their minds about his desires.
Dad will be gone a full year tomorrow. His suffering and death left me with this burning desire and ambition to stop MRSA infections. Nobody should go through what he went through because of something they caught in the hospital.
Maine Hospitals now screen all high risk patients for MRSA. This is just as it should be. We need to protect our loved ones and ourselves from this devastating infection.