Sepsis (septicemia) is a life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection in the bloodstream that frequently enters the body through open wounds or pressure sores. Doctors characterize sepsis as a severe infection that is spread throughout the body. The condition can trigger an inflammation response that might damage most body systems or shut them down completely. Sepsis typically affects elderly individuals, especially those receiving care in a nursing home.
When a Chicago nursing home patient develops sepsis as a result of a bed sore or other medical complication, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to holding the facility accountable for their negligence. Our law firm has prosecuted cases where Illinois nursing home patients have developed sepsis during their admission. If you have any questions concerning nursing home neglect, mistreatment or abuse, contact our office today for a free case review of your nursing home sepsis case today.
Variations in Terminology, Same Deadly Consequences
Sometimes referred to as severe sepsis, sepsis infection, septic shock, severe sepsis or septicemia – the deadly condition must be diagnosed and treated as early on as possible to improve the chance of survival and possibility for recovery.
Sepsis is diagnosed through a comprehensive physical examination and tests that include:
- Heart rate above 90 beats per minute
- Hyperventilation (more than 20 breaths per minute)
- White blood cell count below 4000 cells/mm
The Stages of Sepsis
Nearly every case of sepsis is avoidable, meaning an aggressive form of the condition is often the result of Nursing Home negligence that leaves the resident experiencing excruciating pain. Saving a nursing home resident from the damaging effects of sepsis requires diagnosing the condition during its initial stage before it can progress to a life-threatening illness. The five most common infections suffered by the elderly and nursing facilities that could progress to sepsis include:
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) – This common infection often develops from limited mobility, a diabetic condition, or the use of catheters.
- Skin Infections and Open Wounds – Cellulitis, shingles, and fungal or bacterial infections can cause common skin infections. Some nursing home residents developed MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that is usually highly resistant to antibiotic medications.
- Bedsores – These wounds are often referred to as pressure ulcers, pressure sores, pressure wounds, and decubitus ulcers that begin as a reddened area on the resident's skin within 90 minutes of immobility. The sore can quickly degrade to a stage IV life-threatening bedsore that creates an open wound exposing bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and tissue. Without appropriate, immediate medical attention, the patient can die within weeks due to a life-threatening septic (blood infection) or osteomyelitis (bone infection) condition.
- Influenza – Nursing home residents live in a closed environment that increases the susceptibility of acquiring a highly contagious and often fatal influenza disease. Without proper treatment, influenza can develop into pneumonia which remains the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One out of every nine deaths caused by influenza involve the elderly.
- Gastrointestinal (G.I.) Infection – The close proximity of residents in a nursing facility and the susceptibility of infection caused by a weakened immune system creates the ideal environment to spread contagious infections. Many residents will develop highly infectious Helicobacter pylori or Clostridium difficile bacterial condition that is easily transmittable to other residents, or even the nursing staff.
A Compromised Immune System
The complications of the simple, manageable infection can easily develop into sepsis when the resident has a compromised immune system. The body's reaction to fight an infection often causes the release of chemicals which creates an inflammatory response at one or more points in the body. Many residents in nursing facilities who acquire an infection will experience septic shock when their blood pressure drops quickly. There are other risk factors associated with the elderly developing sepsis that include:
- Advanced Age – The elderly make up most sepsis cases in the United States.
- Injuries or Wounds – The healing process in the elderly is often significantly longer than and younger, healthier patients, which makes it challenging for a wound or injury to heal completely.
- Compromised Immune System – Many nursing home residents developed a compromised immune system while battling multiple diseases at once, including an infection.
- The Use of Breathing Tubes and Intravenous (IV) Catheters – The use of these devices can create an ideal environment for bacterial growth that could, over time, degrade to a blood infection (sepsis) due to the resident's compromised immune system.
- Existing Conditions or Advancing Illness – Battling more than one illness at a time could stress the body to the point where it is unable to fight off a sepsis infection.
The Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
A quick diagnosis and immediate treatment of sepsis is crucial to the patient's survival. Because of that, it is important to understand how the infection presents itself in a nursing home resident. Immediate medical care is required if the patient is experiencing:
- Fast heart rate
- Intense chills
- Abdominal pain
- Hyperventilation (quick breathing)
- Difficulty urinating
- Drop in blood pressure
- Unexpected high fever
- Hypothermia (lower than normal body temperature)
- Cognitive impairment including memory loss
- Intense fatigue especially when waking up
- Difficulty breathing
- Kidney failure
- Unexplained joint pain
- Skin rash
- Pale skin
Gangrene and Amputation
Nearly any case of undiagnosed sepsis can quickly lead to life-threatening gangrene, which is the death of tissue caused by a lack of blood supply to the area. Many individuals with sepsis will develop gangrene in their extremities including the toes, feet, ankles, legs, fingers, hands, and arms. However, the condition can also affect the internal organs and muscles.
Gangrene requires immediate medical attention especially in its later stages when the condition creates a foul discharge, intense pain, numbness and discolored skin. Doctors treat gangrene using the strongest antibiotics and surgical procedures including debridement that removes necrotic (dead) tissue.
Common Causes of Sepsis
Typically, nursing home residents that have developed sepsis through the negligent or abusive care of the staff members who are responsible for resident care. Many residents have limited mobility and are unable to reposition their body without assistance. Because of that, the nursing staff is required to perform routine body turns to alleviate constant pressure to the bony areas of the body like the back of the head, shoulder blades, shoulders, elbows, hands, sacrum (tailbone), heels, and toes.
A lack of movement in a bed, chair or wheelchair for 90 minutes or more can restrict blood flow to certain areas of the body and cause a bedsore to develop. Without treatment, a Stage I bedsore can quickly degrade to a stage IV decubitus ulcer that could claim the life of the resident. The nursing staff is taught how to detect a pressure sore and identify the stage, which are defined as:
- Stage I – A developing bedsore will affect the skin's upper layer and cause the resident itching, pain, or a burning sensation. Typically, the nurse or nurses' aide can identify the wound as feeling different because the surrounding area might be cooler or warmer, softer or firmer. With proper treatment, the wound can heal completely within a day or two.
- Stage II – Without treatment, a Stage I pressure ulcer can progress to Stage II and begin to open the wound deep below the surface of the skin or may develop a pus-filled blister. The nursing staff can identify a Stage II pressure ulcer by its reddened, warm, and swollen appearance. At this stage, the wound tends to ooze pus or a clear fluid. The recovery time with treatment takes between three days to two weeks or more.
- Stage III – In an advanced stage, the degraded wound has become significantly deeper and affects the fat tissue under the skin. The nursing staff can diagnose this wound that appears as a crater and may emit a foul odor. Typically, the first indicators of infection appear as drainage, heat, odor, pus, and reddened edges. Providing immediate care to a Stage III sore is crucial to the patient's survival. Typically, the doctor will prescribe strong antibiotics and perform debridement (dead tissue removal) to manage the infection. Healing from a Stage III pressure sore usually takes four months or longer.
- Stage IV – The most advanced stage of bedsores is often presented as necrotic (blackened dead) skin surrounding a deep crater that reveals bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments, and other tissue. Without immediate medical attention, the patient can die within hours from sepsis (blood infection), osteomyelitis (bone infection), or both.
- Unstageable – Some pressure ulcers are unstageable, meaning the size, shape, and depth or condition of the wound cannot be determined by some factor, including debris or other tissue is in the diagnostician's view.
Exposure to infection is the leading cause of sepsis, especially to those who are predisposed to the condition. The most common causes include:
- An untreated cut or bedsore,
- Unwashed clothing or bed linen,
- An unclean environment including in the facility's activity rooms and bathrooms,
- Inattentive staff members
- Negligent nurses and nurses' aides
How Do I Know If My Loved One Was Mistreated?
Sometimes, the friends and family members of a nursing home resident must serve as an immediate advocate to ensure their safety while they receive care and hygiene assistance at the facility. Usually, there are telltale signs of neglect, abuse, or mistreatment by the nursing staff, other residents, or employees in the nursing home. Simple ways to identify mistreatment include:
- Are your loved one's linens being changed or cleaned routinely?
- Has the facility's wound nurse failed to treat your loved one's bedsores or open wounds?
- Does the nursing home appear to be understaffed or provide inattentive (substandard) care?
- Are the open areas and bathrooms clean and disinfected routinely to ensure the environment is free from infectious disease?
- Does your loved one or other residents complain of being treated inappropriately or neglected?
- Does your loved one appear clean when you show up at the nursing home unexpectedly?
- Did the resident begin behaving oddly or no longer wants anyone's attention but wishes to be left alone even by you?
- Has the resident lost a lot of weight unexpectedly?
- Is your loved one readily accessible at any time of the day or night when you show up unannounced or does the staff block you from visiting?
The questions listed above are just a few of the reasons that might indicate your loved one is being abused, mistreated, or neglected in the home. If you suspect mistreatment, hiring an attorney can help. Your lawyer can ensure that your loved one receives immediate medical attention and possibly relocate them to a better facility quickly. As your loved one's legal advocate, your attorney can alleviate a stressful situation and ensure they receive the best care now.
Illinois Lawyers Working on Sepsis Cases for Patients with Decubitus Ulcers
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC understands the devastation to the individual when a patient develops sepsis following a serious pressure ulcer. Drawing upon our network of experts in the field of nursing care and sepsis care, we are prepared to fully evaluate sepsis cases regardless of where the pressure sore originated. Our law firm works aggressively on behalf of our clients to ensure the victims receive monetary recovery for their medical expenses, hospitalization costs, and compensation for pain and suffering.
As Illinois nursing home attorneys who regularly prosecute these cases, we pride ourselves on the detail-oriented nature of our case evaluation where we anticipate many of the defenses raised in these cases from the inception of our involvement. This preemptive mindset allows our consulting physicians to review the case and provide evidence in prosecuting your pressure sore lawsuits to a successful resolution.
If your family member developed sepsis following the development of a bed sore, contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC for a free case evaluation today. We accept all nursing home abuse, mistreatment, and neglect cases through contingency fee agreements. This arrangement will postpone payment of all our legal services until we have successfully resolved your case through a jury trial or negotiated settlement. All information you share with our law office remains confidential.