The year 2001 marked the second time my life was “plagued” by a hospital acquired infection (HAI). My father, only 57 years of age, succumbed to a Streptococcus A, gram positive bacteria.
Two years before, he battled the infection and managed to overcome it. But now, he had stage four cardiomyopathy and survived 12 cardiac arrests. This time around, it proved to be too much for his body to fight.
As a former nurse, I can’t help but think that proper hand hygiene could have prevented this. I say this as someone who once treated patients with similar infections.
My turning point
Three years later, my infant daughters would be trapped alone with my dying mother.
At almost two and three years old, my daughters wanted to make her look pretty. They dressed her up with doll clothes, toys, and ornaments. This is what I was told by the police when I returned home.
You see, following the death of my father (and my own personal health challenges), my mother had urged me to get away and spend time with friends and family. She was so excited to be a grandmother. The cause of her death: Hemolytic Streptococcus A, flesh-eating bacteria.
My two daughters were carriers of the same type of Streptococcus A, so they received antibiotics immediately.
As you can imagine, I lived in a cocoon for at least five years after that. Grief and guilt will do that to you. But as a daughter, a mother, and a nurse, I felt a huge responsibility to make a difference.
There is a saying. There are two sides to every story. Well, my healthcare story has three. Let’s start with my personal experience with the health system. In all honesty, it deeply challenged me.
First, my father’s fatal heart condition was originally misdiagnosed as hyperventilation. A few years later, I had life-saving emergency surgery to remove a 13-week old foetus from my fallopian tube. I had an external uterus pregnancy. The cause: an intrauterine contraceptive device that was incorrectly inserted by my physician perforated my uterus.
And then, there was my mother.
She had contracted pneumonia. The physician dismissed her symptoms of chest pains and shortness of breath as merely “stress and fatigue from a widow.” The autopsy confirmed the pneumonia and entering of the Strep A bacteria in the blood vain, with port-entre lungs. Due to the low state of her immune system and pneumonia - it was deadly.
Yet, despite all of that, the other side of the story is that professionally, I still really believed in healthcare.
Now, my daily responsibility is to educate, inspire and ensure that hospitals and clinics have the solutions and information they need to fight against HAIs and multi-drug resistance microorganisms (MDRMs).
You know, I wish everybody the lesson, but nobody my experiences. All of those moments had a deep and enormous impact for me personally and professionally. As strange as it may sound, it gave me the added direction I needed as well. That is the third side of my story - the passion I have for my work.
It’s a passion I carry with me as a patient’s daughter, a mother, and as a patient myself. Each experience has contributed to the joy I have for my life’s work. It’s the right mix of pain and purpose that gives shape to my life. I mean, what is life without a little blood, sweat, and tears anyway?