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Attack of the Killer Sepsis


Science is once more reminding us that there are predators stalking the land no larger than a speck of dust but with the killing power of a herd of hippos. They are so small you can't see them but you only have about a 50-50 chance of surviving their attack. They are called bacteria and the sepsis or blood poisoning they engender is killing 250,000 Americans a year. I was almost one of them.

I am alerted to the danger through an article in AARP The Magazine by Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman, who points out that the number of people hospitalized from sepsis has more than doubled in the past decade to 750,000 annually, mostly seniors and infants.

Not only was I almost killed by septicemia a few years ago, but my wife, Cinelli, was hospitalized for three days just recently when deadly bacteria invaded an open wound on her foot. She had no idea why the pinprick cut was there only that it was reddening and growing, and sending thin lines from the lymph systems to her arteries. Antibiotics halted the assault and she came home singing and dancing. What a woman.

My own experience occurred after a routine prostate examination in a doctor's office. That night at bedtime, I began sweating and trembling and my temperature shot up to 104, which could have been indications of a hangover or an elevated sexual desire. Not so.

Rushed to a hospital emergency room, I was diagnosed with blood poisoning caused by a fecal-based bacteria released into my blood stream by the biopsy. I lingered on the edge of death taking in antibiotics like they were beakers of 25-year-old Scotch, and when that didn't do much good they wheeled me into intensive care for six days, shaking and mumbling.

I recovered okay and the M.D. who had given me the prostate exam said, "Well, at least you don't have cancer," and went home; I'm thinking to call off his lawyer.

So I'm taking Dr. Snyderman's piece seriously, washing my hands with antiseptic soap several times a day, showering regularly and changing underwear even before it turns into rags and, well, doing whatever else I can think of to keep me healthy. You ought to be doing that too. At least change your jeans once in awhile.


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