MRSA and Me

Trying to age in place is great as long as there is no crisis, health or otherwise.

Two years ago, I fell in the shower. I banged my lower leg against the ledge that keeps the water in the shower as I was exiting. A couple of days later my leg seemed quite inflamed and since it was a weekend and I didn’t feel particularly ill, Dh and I went to a walk-in private clinic to probably get an antibiotic and be done with it. The doctor there diagnosed cellulitis and gave me a prescription for an oral antibiotic. I had never heard of cellulitis and was surprised to learn that it was a skin infection, because there did not seem to be any broken skin.

I think this is a depiction of St. Francis, who loved all animals. The statue sits among azalea and holly and welcomes our butterflies…I spent a lot of time recuperating and meditating near this garden fixture last year and the year before.

A subsequent visit to my internist, because the inflammation seemed to be growing and getting worse, confirmed the cellulitis diagnosis a few days later, which resulted in his prescribing a stronger antibiotic. Later that same week, DH drove me to a hospital emergency room where I never saw a doctor, only a physician’s assistant, who also agreed with the cellulitis diagnosis and a change of antibiotic. Swelling and inflammation continued to grow, so we went to a different hospital’s emergency room because I seemed to be getting worse, and our internist suggested I check in to hospital.

This hospital staff confirmed cellulitis and deep vein thrombosis. They decided I needed to get on a blood thinner immediately, and admitted me into the hospital. An infectious disease specialist visited me there, who guessed I might have MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in my leg. Much of the information below is from WebMD on MRSA.) MRSA is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. IT is harder to treat than most strains of staph because it is resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

The symptoms of MRSA depend on where you’re infected. Most often, it causes mild infections on the skin, like sores or boils. But it can also cause more serious skin infections or infect surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. Though most MRSA infections aren’t serious, some can be life-threatening. Many public health experts are alarmed by the spread of MRSA. Because it is hard to treat, MRSA is sometimes called a “super bug.”

“Garden-variety” (ha, ha) staph are common bacteria that can live in our bodies. Plenty of healthy people carry staph without being infected by it. In fact, 25%-30% of us have staph bacteria in our noses. (The hospital took a nose culture but found no staph in my nose.)

But staph can be a problem if it manages to get into the body. Once there, it can cause an infection. Staph is one of the most common causes of skin infections in the U.S. Usually, these are minor and don’t need special treatment. Less often, staph can cause serious problems like infected wounds or pneumonia. So even though I had no obvious signs of an open cut, the nasty beasty appeared to be in me.

Our garden is such a beautiful place to rest and recuperate!

Staph can usually be treated with antibiotics. But over the decades, some strains of staph — like MRSA — have become resistant to antibiotics that once destroyed it. MRSA was first discovered in 1961. It’s now resistant to methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, and many other antibiotics. While some antibiotics still work, MRSA is constantly adapting. Researchers developing new antibiotics are having a tough time keeping up. I eventually had to have a intravenous (PICC) line installed in me to administer “super” antibiotics, vancomycin and cefapime so that I could go home from the hospital. I was eventually declared free of the infection and had the line removed one month after its insertion. The infectious disease specialist said that he knew that I was cured only by observation. There was no test that he could perform to substantiate that I was cured (!)

One of the side benefits of MRSA is that you become more likely to get it again, having gotten it once. So last year, I was digging in the garden and hit an ant hill. The ants started to sting me and I reflexively rubbed my leg to get them off with a dirt-coated glove. A day or 2 later, sure enough I saw the same leg swelling up and becoming quite inflamed again. This time I did not hesitate and went straight to the infectious disease specialist. He confirmed cellulitis and immediately put me on cefapime again. Several weeks later, we declared victory again. He suggested I cover up more when I am working in the garden, but otherwise, there was nothing I could do.

Where I was working when I struck an ant hill

So stuff happens! One of the reasons the physical therapy centers wipe down their treatment tables and other equipment is because of the prevalence of “community-acquired” MRSA. Much younger people are now being diagnosed with MRSA.

Immune compromised individuals are much more susceptible to these infections, and that is why there has been a lot of press recently about the several month fight of a super bug at NIH, which treats only those who have no chance making it anywhere else. So be careful out there, whether in or out of the garden, with infections that don’t seem to go away. I had never suffered cellulitis or heard of MRSA before a couple of years ago and happily have the scars to prove I weathered through it.

This is just a rambling set of recollections because of the recent news about super bugs and their resistance to antibiotics. Has anyone out there had a run-in with these new beasts?

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About Shenandoah Kepler

Hi! I’m Shenandoah and I love to garden. I am becoming an ancient gardener, and am finding new ways to stay digging and enjoying the land.
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