From Bad to Better

So a stressful job led to a cracked tooth, the solution of which led to my heart problem. My heart problem led to my rib problem, still on-going and moderately painful. And now the medications for my ribs has led to a serious infection called MRSA – an antibiotic resistant staph infection. It’s a bacterial infection which is curable by antibiotics, but resistant to most antibiotics. It is a very powerful bacteria that spreads easily from person to person, colonizes people symptom free for years at a time, and is presently rampaging through the long-term hospital population and is found spread throughout the community. Most people who come into contact with it have immune systems healthy enough to keep them from getting sick. Healthcare workers are exposed to such massive doses of the bacteria that sometimes we get sick even if we’re otherwise healthy. Once infected, the risk of having it crop up again is pretty significant – so much so that doctors typically recommend that any scar tissue left over from the infection be surgically removed.

When I first got MRSA in 2007, 5 other nurses in my unit at work, and several patients, also became ill with the bacteria. Unlike several of my co-workers, I didn’t require hospitalization. Within 48 hours of the appearance of a small ingrown hair, I saw a doctor. Sunday morning just past, I woke up with what appeared to be a small bruise a few inches from the site of my original MRSA infection. Throughout the day, I noticed it becoming more painful, and by evening, a patch of my skin that was ~2 inches x 3 inches was burnt-red looking. Monday morning, I called my doctor and got antibiotics started ~24 hours after the infection began. It’s clearing up nicely, despite having grown to a size of ~4 inches in diameter.

MRSA is becoming a wide-spread community illness in our modern world. Theories say it was originally caused by the inappropriate use of antibiotic medications, but however they got here, these bugs are here to stay. There are a number of other serious “super bugs” in the community as well these days, including very virulent, drug-resistant forms of HIV and tuberculosis.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because unlike most of the posts on Muse Medicine, this one is meant as health care advice.

As with most pests, getting on top of the problem before it grows too big is the key. Delaying treatment on these types of infections could leave you with an infection so bad that it requires weeks in the hospital on IV antibiotics, or worse, dead.

If you have a wound, a bruise, even a pimple that appears to be infected and rapidly becoming worse, DO NOT WAIT. See a doctor, even if it means going to the local ER. Signs of a severe infection include: bright red discoloration of the skin around the wound (more than a finger-width), pus or foul odor, noticeably warmer skin over the reddened area, pain that is more severe than the wound should produce, or a wound that is eroding and growing larger. If you notice any wound becoming rapidly worse, get help as soon as possible. When in doubt, see a doctor.

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