These days, there’s a day or month for pretty much everything. Even something as deplorable as sepsis has its designated time in the spotlight—September is Sepsis Awareness Month.
From my perspective as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have no doubt that sepsis needs more awareness, both in hospitals and among the general public.
Sepsis awareness for patients, families, and friends
I’m a big fan of memory devices and jingles. I still remember some of them that I learned in high school and college!
This week, I came across a memory aid for the symptoms of sepsis. The abbreviation is TIME:
• T for Temperature that goes higher or lower.
• I for Infection. There may be signs or symptoms of an infection. Think about things like fever, cold chills, headache, and overall weakness.
• M for Mental Decline. This means things like confusion, a change in behavior, or unexplained sleepiness.
• E for Extremely Ill. When a person is very sick, things like severe pain or discomfort and being short of breath may be noticeable.
It’s not always possible to prevent sepsis, so it’s important to be aware of the common symptoms in case they show up and it’s time to go a hospital emergency room or see a doctor for help. In these situations, the Sepsis Alliance recommends telling a doctor or nurse, “I’m concerned about sepsis because I have . . .” This is a great idea that may help lead to prompt diagnosis and care.
Medical malpractice and sepsis
Sepsis is a system-wide inflammatory response to an infection. When sepsis progresses into severe sepsis or septic shock, that inflammatory response is out of control and can cause permanent damage to vital organs.
The key to sepsis treatment is to identify and treat it quickly. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients with early sepsis usually recover. When a patient goes into septic shock, though, the death rate is about 40%.
Timely diagnosis is such a significant issue there’s a focused awareness effort linked to it called the Surviving Sepsis Campaign. Many hospitals take part in this ongoing campaign.
In hospital settings, most people who develop sepsis have an infection or recently had a surgery. Doctors and nurses are required to closely monitor their patients to look for signs of common infections that cause sepsis, including
• Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
• Pneumonia, which is a type of lung infection
• Septicemia, which is an infection of the blood
• Infections in the stomach or intestines
Treating an infection requires identifying the particular organism causing the problem and figuring out what antibiotics treat it. To initiate this process, a doctor orders a culture and sensitivity test. This is done by taking a sample of fluid, drainage, or other substance and sending it to the lab for studying. The lab will return a report identifying the organism and what antibiotics will treat it.
When a doctor orders the wrong antibiotic to treat an infection, and doesn’t order culture and sensitivity lab work, it’s useless to the patient and violates the standard of care. It also places the patient behind the eight ball in terms of allowing the infection to progress and eventually cause sepsis.
As sepsis sets in, it can also cause a separate condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). ARDS often comes on suddenly and because of extensive lung inflammation make it difficult to breath.
To prevent sepsis and ARDS, physicians and nurses having to be attentive to their patients, establishing baselines and looking for changes. Sadly, we’ve handled many cases where patients had smoldering infections and sepsis for days before any response by the health care team. At best, this leads to miserable, prolonged hospitalizations. At worst, it causes death.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor care related to infections and sepsis in Texas, then contact an experienced, top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.