Nicole De Glopper straightened after lifting yet another box. She put her hand on the small of her back—a shooting pain on the left side.

The 26-year-old new mother didn’t worry much about the back pain. After all, she had been lifting boxes all day as she moved into her new home in Borculo, Michigan.

A new home for her new family, now with tiny Silas, her newborn son, beside her. De Glopper looked around and took in the blessing. It was 70 degrees, a beautiful April Friday, perfect for moving.

The pain didn’t go away so she curled up on the just-moved bed to take a short nap.

“The pain stopped after about an hour-and-a-half, but I just wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “I started thinking maybe it was the flu.”

‘Maybe I should go’

De Glopper’s back ache turned into a headache. She started shaking with chills.

“I talked to my mom, and she thought maybe I should go to the hospital, but I figured that was an exaggeration,” De Glopper said. “On Saturday night, though, when I woke to nurse the baby, I started vomiting.”

De Glopper asked her boyfriend to take the baby as she sped to the bathroom, vomiting over and over again. Her body shook with chills.

She called her obstetrician.

“She said it sounded like an infection and that I should get to urgent care right away,” De Glopper said.

At the urgent care clinic in nearby Zeeland, nurses and physician assistants worked over her, taking her vitals.

Mark Altman, PA-C, cared for De Glopper in urgent care, and recognized the symptoms. De Glopper’s low blood pressure of 74 over 35 gave him immediate concern. Chills and shakes? A sign of infection.

“Once those begin, you should definitely come in to check things out,” he said. “Her young age was in her favor, because an infection like this can turn serious, even fatal.”

When blood pressure drops and heart rates soar, and the body is racked with fever or shaking, sepsis becomes a real possibility, Altman said. He quickly sent De Glopper on to emergency care.

When De Glopper arrived at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, Jared Litty, PA-C, seamlessly took over her care.

“I was given a full bag of IV fluids, but my blood pressure still wouldn’t come up,” De Glopper said. “My doctor told me I wasn’t going home, so I asked my boyfriend to go home and pack a bag for me.”

Litty diagnosed De Glopper with sepsis and a kidney infection. She started taking antibiotics and continued on fluids.

Sepsis, Altman and Litty explained, can be a life-threatening condition when infection causes the body’s own immune system to fight itself.

“The body can go into shock,” Altman said. “Bacteria gets into the blood and tissues, and organs can start to shut down as lactic acid levels rise in the blood. Symptoms can include low blood pressure, either low or high fever, shaking, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, and sometimes also a decrease in urine output. The quicker we can get a patient on fluids and antibiotics, the better.”

Sepsis, Litty said, can be especially dangerous to older patients or the very young.

“People usually know their own bodies,” Litty said. “If it feels like something more than a cold or the flu, check with your primary physician or go to urgent care.”

‘Miracle worker’ offers comfort

“I was in the hospital until Wednesday morning, and my mom brought in the baby so that I could try and nurse him,” she said.

On De Glopper’s first night in the hospital, she felt restless. Her mother, Jo De Glopper, had Silas in the room, but the baby was crying too hard to nurse, and his loud cries had everyone’s nerves on edge.

Anna Tanis, RN, BSN, hospital supervisor, entered the room and quickly assessed the situation.

“I’ve been a nurse for 14 years, and many of those years in the neonatal intensive care unit,” she said. “I love babies, and I know how awful it can feel to not be able to console your child.”

Tanis could see that mother and grandmother were exhausted and frustrated. Grandmother was bouncing little Silas on her knee, but the baby only cried harder.

“I wanted to support Nicole with breastfeeding and bonding with her baby, so we consider all the options to maintain her milk production,” Tanis said. “I wanted Nicole to feel more relaxed. I asked her about her room setup at home so that I could make the hospital room feel a little more like home.”

With expert hands, Tanis took the baby and lay him tummy down across her knees, explaining to the worried mother and grandmother what she was doing and why.

“When babies cry so hard and long, they swallow a lot of air and get a tummy ache,” Tanis said.

Bouncing the baby gently on his tummy, he settled down a bit and soon nursed.

“She was a miracle worker,” De Glopper said. “She had Silas calmed down within 20 minutes. And brought me a breast pump so we could keep up with feeding, and a bassinet for the baby to sleep in.”

Tanis demonstrated how to swaddle baby Silas to keep him feeling snug and secure, the same way she had swaddled hundreds of babies in the NICU.

Fed and snug in the bassinet, baby slept, grandmother breathed a sigh of relief, and mother could get some rest so her body could fight its infection.

Now moved into her new home and settled into her life with baby Silas, De Glopper looked back onto her experience.

“I’m so grateful for the care I received,” she said. “Now I know—never wait that long to go in for help. I tried to act tougher than I really was. I realize now I could have died if I hadn’t gone before the end of that weekend.”

De Glopper watched her son playing in his crib. He raised his hands, curled into pink fists, as if to wave at her.