Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Chilling Reminder From the Past

Everywhere I turned on Wednesday--ABC, NPR, Yahoo--I heard reports of an opportunistic infection that had killed a teenage student in Virginia.

The infection--Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA--is a staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

The first time I heard the report this morning, I felt a cold chill across the back of my neck. You see, I had a MRSA three years ago this month.

I was hurt in an accident that broke open the skin on my left thumb. I didn't realize it at the time, but the accident also broke the bones in my thumb. I was distracted because my two dogs were also hurt. I was more concerned with getting them medical attention than I was with a wound to my hand. I wrapped some paper towels around my thumb and headed for the vet. Lucy, the border collie, spent a week at the vet while Molly, my red Heeler, was treated and returned home with me.

I cleaned my hand and bandaged it. For a couple of days, I soaked it every night in Epsom salts. The thumb was so swollen that I had no idea I'd suffered a compound fracture.

On the third day, it looked very bad and I decided to go to a local outpatient clinic. The doctor reamed me out for not coming in sooner, telling me the bone was broken and I had an infection. He gave me an antibiotic shot and oral meds and told me to come back the next morning.

The following day, we repeated the process. I was actually feeling better because I was now under a doctor's care. I took a nap that afternoon. When I woke up, there were red streaks going from my wrist to my elbow. I jumped in the car and headed for the hospital.

The ER physicians admitted me immediately (in quarantine) and started IV antibiotics. They watched my arm like hawks, fearful the infection would continue up my arm. They also wanted to call a hand surgeon for a consult. I insisted they call the general surgeon who had operated on my broken leg two years earlier. I'd slipped on ice and broke my left leg in four places (both bones in two places each). The surgeon had been so skilled, my leg had healed beautifully. Even though the ER doc tried to convince me to bring in a hand specialist, I told them to call Dr. T. Late that night, one of the nurses told me I'd made the right decision. She said Dr. T was the best surgeon in Dallas. She said he was the surgeon the nurses used.

The next morning, Dr. T came to see me. He was very upset and explained I had a MRSA. His concern was that the infection might have metastasized into my bones. If so, I was in deep, deep trouble. Frankly, I didn't hear anything past his opening statement, "If you had waited another twelve hours to come to the hospital, you'd be dead."

I was rolled down to the MRI room where I spent an hour inside that metal tube. I was frightened to my core.

The infection WAS in my bones. An infectious diseases doc was brought in.

I'm not going to go through everything that happened over the next eight weeks. I spent more than a week in the hospital where they put an open IV port into my left arm and taught me to give intravenous antibiotics to myself. For seven weeks after my discharge, I had to hang two bags of antibiotics on a pole every morning AND night and give myself two different drugs and saline. The meds were delivered by messenger every week, a nurse came to redo my IV line every week, I had to see the infectious diseases doc twice a month and see a general doc on alternate weeks. It's not a time I like to remember.

Six months after my ordeal was over, a handyman who had done some work for me hurt himself on a job up in Dallas. Although it was a small wound, he was dead four days later from a MRSA. I only learned of his death when I called to schedule him to do some work for me.

I thank God every day for the additional time in this world He's given to me.

Postscript: I forgot to say: The day Dr. T showed up, he operated on my hand to clean out as much of the infection as he could. The anesthesiologist came to talk to me beforehand. One of the things HE told me was that there was a 50/50 chance I'd lose the thumb. When I saw Dr. T before surgery, I asked him. He nodded grimly, but said, "You know I'll do everything I can to save it."

The second I woke up after surgery, I asked, "Do I still have the thumb?"

The OR nurse (whom I'd never seen before) said, "Of course, you do. You had Dr. T."


Sherrill Quinn said...

Maya, I had no idea you'd gone through that. Life is amazing--the people who's paths cross ours that but for the grace of God we would never have met.

I'm so glad you beat it, hon. *My* life would be poorer without you in it. Sappy, but true. :)

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, Sherrill. You're a dear, and I appreciate you lots.

It really was creepy listening to all those news reports today.