It was around 3 a.m. when Dale Maples awoke to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He had three missed calls — one from his brother, Rodney, and two from his father, Wayne, 89, who founded the family plumbing business in 1960.
“I thought, ‘Oh man, this can’t be good’,” said Dale, who soon learned that his mother, Maxine, 89, had been taken to St. Joseph Hospital, Eureka by ambulance after becoming incoherent and non-responsive.
Dale and Rodney arrived at the emergency room soon after, where they learned that their mother had urosepsis, a life-threatening complication from an untreated urinary tract infection that can lead to organ failure and death.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, anyone with an underlying infection can develop sepsis, although those over the age of 65, infants and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible. In many cases, the initial infection goes unrecognized and symptoms of organ failure — confusion, shortness of breath, fever and clamminess — are the first things family members notice.
For Maxine, the infection had progressed rapidly, and by the time she was admitted to the ER, the condition had spread. “They told us they were going to hit mom with a lot of antibiotics to see what her body was responsive to,” said Dale. But the prognosis was not good. “They wanted to put her on life-support because they didn’t think she was going to make it. They started discussing end-of-life options.”
One of the ER nurses on call that night was Deborah Tompkins, and Dale believes her professionalism and expertise played a large role in his mother’s swift improvement. “I’ve been to the ER a couple of times when Deborah has been on, and she’s all business,” said Dale. “She told us ‘Your mom is not going to die when I’m here’, and she meant it.”
Deborah and the ER care team administered intravenous antibiotics to attack the infection, and fluids to treat fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Dr. William Parks, chief medical officer for St. Joseph Health – Humboldt County, said that when it comes to sepsis, early and aggressive treatment can mean the difference between life and death. “At St. Joseph Health, we provide extensive training and also have a number of protocols in place to ensure that our health care providers not only recognize the signs of sepsis, but can treat it right away,” he said.
Six hours after being admitted, Maxine’s condition had improved so greatly that she was transferred to the Progressive Care Unit for continued treatment and monitoring. Dale credits Deborah, and the ER team’s “quick and accurate” diagnosis for saving his mother’s life. “She was on death’s door and they were able to diagnose her and act immediately. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be alive today.”
Dale Maples is thankful that his mother had the option of staying in Humboldt County when it mattered most. “I don’t think they would have gotten any better care in the city,” he said.
The St. Joseph Hospital, Eureka emergency department consists of a team of highly-skilled nurses, clinicians and physicians who are on call 24 hours a day to treat patients with critical, severe and minor injuries. For more on the emergency department, visit stjoehumboldt.org.
Photography by Brandi Easter.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.