'My Tooth Put Me in a Coma for Nine Days and Nearly Killed Me'
The 23-year-old had no idea that the recurring rash on her face and neck was a deadly warning sign of sepsis.
It was a regular Saturday night on the Gold Coast, and I had just gotten home from dinner with a friend.
The evening had been lovely, but as I got home, something strange had started to happen – my tongue felt like it was beginning to swell.
It wasn’t the first time in the past few months that something odd happened – for a few months actually, I’d had this strange red rash coming and going on my face, and some flu-like symptoms. But I was 23 years old – young and healthy – and so after seeing a few doctors who told me I had nothing to worry about, I simply covered the rash with makeup and went on with my daily business.
But now, as I sat at home, I realised that something was definitely wrong. My tongue was now swollen up on one side, and I was starting to dribble a bit.
Oh god, I thought – have I been bitten by something? Am I having a stroke? Surely not. It was then that I began to realise it was getting harder to breathe.
“You look like someone’s punched you”
In hindsight, the smart thing to do would have been to head straight to the hospital. But I had a huge fear of them ever since my grandma had passed away, so instead, I drove to my auntie’s house, hoping she could help me somehow.
When my cousin saw me, he was shocked.
“You look like someone’s punched you in the face,” he said, looking at how swollen I was.
Given my symptoms, my auntie thought it was anaphylaxis. She tried to give me an antihistamine that I couldn’t swallow because of my tongue, and so we decided to head to the hospital. In the emergency room, they agreed that it appeared to be anaphylaxis, and gave me two shots of adrenaline and a steroid. That’s when things really started to go downhill.
Dozens of doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong
Breathing became even more difficult, my blood pressure dropped rapidly, and a massive red rash began to spread from my face down my body. The doctors decided to do an emergency ambulance transfer to Gold Coast University Hospital, where 18 doctors were waiting for me in the resus unit.
Everything I know about what happened next is what others have recounted to me, because I lost consciousness, was intubated, and put into a coma.
When I woke up nine days later with open wounds and burns dotted over my neck, I felt like a little kid – completely lost and scared. I could barely talk or eat, and I was so confused. My mum, sitting at my bedside, explained to me what had happened.
I had a life threatening infection
In my comatose state, my condition hadn’t improved. In fact, things only got worse. The rash on my face and neck continued to spread, and my skin was like a microwave – burning me from the inside. My swollen tongue turned black.
Between 60 and 100 doctors were working around the clock to try to figure out what was happening to me, why my body seemed to be shutting down. It wasn’t until they did a CT scan that they discovered that I had Ludwig’s angina – a rare condition caused by tooth infection. The scan revealed impacted and infected wisdom teeth hidden in my jaw that I’d been completely oblivious to, because they hadn’t caused any pain.
It was then that they realised the infection from my tooth had caused sepsis, a blood complication that led to my rash and was getting dangerously close to my jugular vein – which could be fatal. Drains were inserted to relieve the pressure of the infection – four on each side of my neck, and eight under my jaw, which had created the wounds I woke up with.
They removed two impacted wisdom teeth from my jaw, operated on my tongue enough to save it without amputating, and pumped me with lifesaving antibiotics via IV – and finally, I began to recover.
I wear my scars with pride
September is sepsis awareness month, and two years on from my terrifying experience I’m so grateful to be able to share my story of survival – I even celebrated the two year anniversary of my survival by skydiving to raise awareness! The condition affects more people each year globally than the total population of Australia, and yet 60 percent of Australians know nothing about it – which is what I’m trying to change.
I urge people to look for the signs of S.E.P.S.I.S: Slurred speech or confusion, Extreme shivering or muscle pain, Passing no urine all day, Severe breathlessness, It feels like you’re going to die, and Skin mottled or discolored.
What happened to me was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone – but I share my scars and my story with the world in the hope that I can raise awareness, and inspire hope for other sepsis survivors.
This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.