My story of Flesh Eating Bacteria

Telling this story sometimes feels like a dream or a really bad nightmare. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like it ever happened. But it did. In October of 2006 my nightmare began. I had a small pimple like bump on my stomach. At first I thought nothing of this bump and even wasn’t very alarmed when it continued to grow, as a lot of my family members, including myself get boils (big pimples under the skin). So I had thought that in a week or two this bump would just go away. But instead it grew to the size of a banana laying on top of my stomach. The pain was so bad that I developed a limp from trying not to put too much pressure on it when I walked. As I was walking to the store one day with a friend, she mentioned that I was walking weird and wondered what was wrong. I broke down and told her I had this huge lump on my stomach and didn’t know what to do. So she forced me to go to the hospital. At first the doctors thought it was a hernia because of where it was on my body. But then once they lifted my shirt they knew it was an infection. I was given IV fluids and antibiotics to take for 14 days and was told to go to my family doctor the next day to get it drained. 

The next day I went to the doctor and because it was an infection there’s not much freezing will do for it. Without freezing, I was cut open, she scrapped everything out and put a large piece of gauze overtop with some tape. The pain was unbearable and after the whole ordeal went back to a friend’s residence room and collapsed on her bed. She held me for what seemed like forever. I can’t imagine going through all this without her. She was my rock. 

I changed my dressing every day and made sure to keep everything clean. I took the antibiotics, which didn’t completely get rid of the lump on my stomach. About a week after I had finished them, three more lumps appeared on my knee. By the next day these pimple sized lumps had grown to the size of golf balls. I went to my doctor and was prescribed more of the same antibiotics. This time they seemed to have done the trick and the lump on my stomach and the ones on my knee had disappeared. Then, once again, about a week after finishing this round of antibiotics, another small pimple appeared on my hip. I went to the doctor the next day and this time he decided he should probably take a swab and figure out what this was. He also decided to change the antibiotics I was on to see if this would get rid of it. Two days had gone by and no one had heard from me. Luckily my girlfriend had a key to my room and came to find me in a pool of sweat, completely delirious. So she and two of my guy friends took me to the doctor’s office, which was in the same building as our residence. The doctor called for the results from my swab. I heard her say, “Resistant, resistant, resistant,” and checking things on a list. She then wrote me a note and told me to get to the hospital immediately. 

I hopped in a cab with a friend and headed to the hospital. When we got there I handed the nurse in triage my note. He immediately backed away from me and told the other nurses something and they all began to put on masks, gowns and gloves. They quickly took my blood pressure, which bad blood pressure is a side effect of the infection. Then I was plopped on a bed and rolled away. As they took me away I saw a crew of people come in and scrub down the triage area. I began to worry. Then I was rolled into a room that had a sign on the outside saying, “DO NOT ENTER, QUARANTINE.” Okay so now I’m getting really worried! What the Fuck do I have?! 

Now to side step for a second. I had told my parents a little bit of what was going on, but because I was away from home for school, I didn’t want them to worry, so I didn’t tell the whole truth. Funny enough, from what I had told my mom she had come to her own conclusion of what was going on with me…and she happened to be right. 

Now back to the emergency room. A doctor came into my room and told me that I had MRSA and needed surgery immediately to remove the infection. MRSA stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It is a mutated flesh eating bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. The infection spreads rapidly and is usually accompanied by a high fever.  The doctor said they needed to x-ray my hip to determine if the infection was in the bone. Unfortunately, it was too painful for me to the lay the way they needed me to in order to get a good enough image. So because of that, she told me that I needed to be prepared to possibly have my leg amputated. I was in so much pain at the time that I wanted them to cut my leg off. I know that sounds crazy, but I really did feel that way. I had been dealing with this since beginning of October and it was now December 1st. I couldn’t bare the pain any longer and just wanted to be done with it. 

Then the dreaded call to my parents….Let me set the scene at my parents’ house. It was my mom’s 50th birthday and my dad had planned a huge party for her at the house. Thirty family and friends were there and he had the whole thing catered. So they call my house and my mom answers the phone. They say good evening Mrs. Gleason, we have your daughter here in emergency. We have to take her into emergency surgery to potentially remove her leg. She has MRSA. I think they let me talk to my mom, but I’m not 100% sure as I was on a lot of drugs by this point. She immediately hung up the phone and came down stairs to her party and told everybody to leave. Didn’t explain what was going on, just told everyone to leave. People where so confused and I’m sure they thought she was having some sort of midlife crisis and just couldn’t handle the party. After everyone left, my mom sat my dad and sister down and explained what was happening to me back in Halifax. So of course to make things worse all of this was happening during a horrible snow storm and most flights were cancelled or delayed. There was only one seat available on the next flight, which was the next morning. Since my mom is horrible when her kids get sick and usually just panics, my dad was the one to fly out first. He was supposed to be the rational parent…instead he packed 14 dress shirts, no pants, no socks, and no toiletries. 

Back in Halifax, I was rushed into surgery. As I was getting rolled in the nurse had made a comment that I should be fine because I had a big butt. I still didn’t fully understand the severity of it all and asked the surgeon if I could go to a party the next day. He laughed and said sure! I clearly didn’t pick up on his sarcasm. After surgery, I came to and really didn’t know if my leg was gone or not. I felt around and it was still there! That night I was so fevered that the nurse had to come in multiple times to change my sheets because they were soaked. The next morning my dad arrived and he looked like he had been hit by a bus. I think I aged my parents that year. A little while after my dad arrived, a nurse came in and said, “It’s time to change your dressing.” She came over and shot me up with something for the pain and said she would be back in a few minutes once the drugs took effect. I thought to myself, that’s weird, why does she have to give me pain meds to just take a dressing off and put a new one on. I can’t see how that would be really painful. Then about 15 minutes later she came back and told my dad he might want to leave for this part. I was thinking what the fuck? What is she going to do to me? Well little did I know, but the doctors had cut a huge hole in my hip and left it open. They stuffed this large hole, that you could fit a softball in, with packing. So I think my dad left, because she strongly urge him to…She then proceeded to lift the bandage off to reveal the packed hole. She told me to brace myself for the next part, where she pulled the packing out. It felt like someone was pulling a string out of my stomach and kind of made me feel nauseous. Then the painful part was when she scrubbed down the sides, which was basically raw nerves, to clean off any infected cells. She then pressed new packing up against the inside of the hole until it was completely full. It was so painful that I passed out after she was done. Every day a nurse would come in and change the packing and take my blood to test it for infection. I think I was in the hospital for about five days and then flew home to Ottawa with my parents. Once home, we had a nurse that would come to the house every day to change my packing and evaluate how I was doing.  At this point I was still fighting infection and on strong antibiotics. I had an amazing home care nurse who suggested to use a type of packing that actually had silver in it. Silver is antimicrobial and kills bacteria. So we tried it and within days the infection started to go down and the hole started to heal. I truly believe that she was the one to save me, because the drugs were just keeping it from getting worse, but wasn’t getting rid of it. It took a long time to heal and many rounds of antibiotics but, weirdly enough, on my birthday (February 9th) I had my last dressing changed. By the end I was so used to getting it changed that I could show friends how to do it. I’m so grateful for all the doctors and nurses and family and friends who helped me get through it all. I know that I am very lucky and that many people have lost limbs and even died from this. I’ve included a picture of my scar, which is not very impressive at all. But it’s small because of the way it healed. I’m sure I’m forgetting parts of the story, but that’s my story. Maybe someone out there is dealing with this right now and if you are you should mention silvercel to your doctor. It saved my leg. 

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