Many people my age grew up watching a lot of black and white television sitcoms. And for many puberty stricken boys, some of our first hints at hormonal activity came courtesy of “Patty”, or “Cathy” depending on which twin she was playing on “The Patty Duke Show.” Of course my preference was the more fun, “Patty.” Later on in life, she would marry another television icon, “Gomez Addams”, actor John Astin.
Most of today’s youth know Patty’s son, Sean who has had many movie roles, including “Mommy’s Night Out”.
While Patty Duke always remained involved in acting her whole career, and at one point became Screen Actor Guild president, her most important role came as an advocate for mental health. In 1982 she was diagnosed with being bipolar. It was ironic because of her role as twins, she played both parts, and quite differently. In hindsight, people involved with the show were always curious how the two “sisters” seemed to be so different.
Patty Duke passed away this week from a complication of a medical emergency. The complication is relatively unknown to the majority of the public, yet it is probably more common than even a heart attack. It was reported that she had died from a ruptured intestine, but it was the fatal condition, called sepsis that took her life.
What is sepsis? Taken from the website Sepsis.org, “Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.” It is a chemical reaction within the body. Your body basically poisons itself. And it is so quick, that without immediate treatment of antibiotics, death can occur within hours of diagnosis. Sepsis is taken from the Greek word “decay”. This is no joke. And unfortunately for so many patients, we are unaware when we develop this condition. Worse yet, all too often, the condition is not looked for, until the situation is too late. It is believed that many deaths, while attributed to other causes, may actually have been caused by sepsis.
Once sepsis occurs, the pathogens simply attack the body, the blood, organs until it is too late.
I know that up until the late 1990’s, I had never heard of sepsis until one of my fellow long term cancer survivors had informed me that she had recently had a bout, having gone as far as septic shock. But even at that point, it was not a regular occurrence for me to hear, until my first case of pneumonia in 2012, a doozy of a case, that left me fighting for my life with sepsis levels indicating I was in danger of losing my life. Initial blood tests revealed that my lactic acid levels were so high, I was dealing with sepsis as much as 24-48 hours earlier than when my body finally had enough.
Seriously, I had no cold or bronchitis issue. No allergies or anything pulmonary. Yet when I went to bed that evening at 11am, I felt completely fine, in spite of sepsis raging inside of my body. Five hours later, I woke up violently vomiting, my body in extreme pain. The only thing I remember about that moment, was being wheeled on an ambulance gurney in front of my then 5 and 3 year old daughters. Still at that point, the paramedics, nor the emergency staff waiting at the ER had any idea what was coming.
I was heading into septic shock.
Of course, clearly I survived. But this is a fear that I have and live with every day. I never saw my case coming. And the fact that my immune system is compromised from being asplenic, and having had my body challenged by chemo and radiation therapies, the odds are solid that I will face it again.
But there was no reason, as is many the case, of someone being treated for one obvious issue, that sepsis could be a contributing factor, and until recently as one of my survivor friends, who is a nurse pointed out, is finally getting the attention of medical personnel when patients come into the ER.
Yes, I had barely heard of sepsis. And on my Facebook page, when I posted Duke’s death, attributed to sepsis, more than a dozen had related personal life stories affected by sepsis.
Patty Duke was an advocate for those with mental illness such as bi-polar conditions. In her death, she now can be an advocate, much like Jim Henson of The Muppets fame when he passed away from pneumonia due to immunity issues, in bringing awareness to the frequency and dangers of dealing with sepsis.
As a friend of mine who is a paramedic once told me back in 2012, more people die of sepsis than what is actually realized. It is up to us to be our own advocate. Recognize at least these possible symptoms as pictured below, provided by Sepsis.org.