No matter what I was given, the infection wasn't going down without a fight.
My name is Diana and I love life. I live in Ohio and have 3 children and 2 grandkids. I am self-employed, an early riser, and one of those rare people you’ll meet who will tell you “I love my job!” A good driving record and a heartfelt appreciation for the ways of children led me to driving for kids with special needs, which I’ve done for the last 30 years. I’m involved with my church and volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House & Children’s Hospital. Having type 2 diabetes, I was in good health for a woman my age. I tried to eat healthy because that’s what you’re “supposed to do.”
In early June of 2011, after stopping to see my daughter who was in the hospital, I ran to the grocery store for some ground turkey and other fixings to make a burger. Though I typically preferred my meat juicy, I got busy with other things and cooked my burger a little more than intended.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I’m not sure when, I woke up. It came on so quickly. Once the diarrhea started and got consistently worse, I was sure I had the flu. The next morning, my son popped in to see if there was anything he could do, but I insisted that I needed to rest, drink fluids and let it take its course. Then I got sicker. I felt absolutely parched, weaker by the minute and I just couldn’t get comfortable. I told my other children not to come by because I didn’t want to infect them. Though I had severe abdominal cramping, constant diarrhea and was becoming well acquainted with the pattern on my bathroom floor, I wasn’t planning on going to the hospital. When my son came by to check on me again he said, “Mom, you look like you’ve aged ten years since I saw you a day ago! You have to let me take you to the Health & Wellness Center.” I may have died if he hadn’t forced me to go. The staff member who saw me said I couldn’t afford to wait any longer, and called for an ambulance, transferring me to the hospital.
Considering the amount of potassium I was lacking (.5) when I arrived, the doctors said there was no reason my heart should have lived through it. They thought it might be E. coli, but until they had proof they were treating me as though I had a severe flu. However, this didn’t stop them from flying into action. They were on their game throughout my entire stay—outstanding from start to finish, providing constant & consistent care. Additionally, I had a doctor who turned every stone and made sure that every possible thing was being done. I actually saw her face every day and knew she was there for me.
For seven days, I was completely out of control. In an effort to protect my family I asked to have no visitors. The severity of my illness and amount of pain I experienced required someone close at hand for all five days in the hospital. No matter what I was given, the infection wasn’t going down without a fight. Though I was conscious, I was not functioning. I couldn’t even pick my head up off the pillow. I was so sick that I really didn’t think about the future or the past. I was fighting to live and didn’t have time or energy to think about dying. All that was in my mind was, “I have to get through this.” Typically self-sufficient, I was determined to do what I could to get better, but the nurses kept saying “Don’t expend energy. Let us take care of you; we’re here to take care of you.” Their kindness was medicine to my soul.
Now that I’m functioning again, I can honestly say that were it not for God, my family and friends I probably wouldn’t be here. I was alone and had nothing to depend on except them. Being a woman of faith, I believe that God has a purpose for me yet to fulfill. I don’t know why some people survive and others don’t, but I do know that God has a hand in my life so I better speak up when I have the opportunity.
It may seem impolite, but I have to talk to you about diarrhea. The mental anguish is excruciating whether at home lying in the midst of it, too sick to move, or in the hospital where the staff couldn’t keep up with me expelling liquids faster than they could put them into my body. I didn’t have the power to stop it or hold it back. It ruins everything it touches– linens, clothes and even carpet, when you don’t get to the bathroom quickly enough. It left a terrible taste in my mouth for a long, long time. There is absolutely no privacy, and the bottom line is someone is taking care of something we’d much rather deal with privately on our own. It makes me wonder about the people who lack the medical coverage or resources that were available to me. How many cases of foodborne illness go unreported because of the humiliation involved?
When I finally left the hospital I was taking an antibiotic and only drinking liquids, my nutrition coming through an IV. A couple more weeks passed before I was eating solid foods again. My gastrointestinal and immune systems are still struggling. Recovery is a slow process, and in the mean time I seem to catch every illness that comes along. I never considered the severity of a foodborne illness. Everything that keeps you going is lost and has to be put back into you.
My driving career came to halt as I was unable to work for 3 months. The kids I assist already deal with a myriad of issues without having a driver that may or may not need the bathroom at a moment’s notice. Driving back and forth to school, camp and other activities left me too vulnerable for too long.
My appetite came to a halt as well. I never eat any poultry that isn’t well done. I doubt I’ll ever eat ground turkey or ground beef again. I can’t stand the smell of raw meat and if an egg doesn’t look perfect I won’t touch it. My desire for food has dwindled. If I go out I never know if I’ll be okay or if I’ll get ill. I have no control over when it happens or how long it hangs around.
I applaud young people who get involved with their world through education and action. I encourage them to know what’s happening in regards to their food and to realize that the government is not their grandmother baking cookies and telling them to zip up their coats. We have to think about what it means to have a safe food supply. If you eat turkey make sure it’s 165° and thoroughly cooked. There are many precautions we can take on our own behalf, though there comes a time when one needs to speak up and let those in authority hear our voice. Wouldn’t they do the same for their families?
The Health Department called the day after I came home from the hospital and confirmed my illness was caused by Salmonella heidelberg that was part of a national outbreak. They picked up the remaining turkey that was in my freezer and sent it to the CDC who determined that in addition to the Salmonella heidelberg, there were two other strains in that meat as well.
I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC during the fall of 2011 and speak on Capitol Hill at a briefing on antibiotic resistance sponsored by Representative Slaughter and Senator Feinstein. Because my infection was antibiotic resistant, I shared my story and advocated for safer food. I was treated well and thoroughly enjoyed myself, but was puzzled by the number of people who seemed surprised when I spoke of being so incapacitated by foodborne illness. I’d much rather not have to tell those in government that we need safe food. But until they realize what’s really for dinner, I’m going to tell my story. Unknowingly, this issue came to my home and my table. Unfortunately, I’d never given it a thought.
I’m concerned about the companies who supply of our food. Will they take responsibility for making sure food is safe? I believe human life is more important than big business. My life is more important than increasing animal weight using antibiotics so they can get to market quicker. We have to depend on government to protect us. Aren’t we more important than a quick sale for profit?