Tuesday, September 13, 2022

"It's just a scratch. Why the big deal about cleaning it?"

Because not cleaning it might lead to a real problem, up to and including death.

This is a tale about cellulitis infection. It's caused by common bacteria that are harmless unless they can get into your body, and all it takes for that to happen is a little scratch or scrape. It's a personal tale.

Last summer, the evening after a day trying to get some mowing and cleanup done between rain, my left foot was a bit sore. No big deal, I thought, I probably banged it on something earlier. That was a Tuesday. The next day it was a bit swollen and a tiny bit more sore.
By Thursday, it was a bit more of each, but no big deal. Come Friday evening, it was noticeably more swollen and definitely had more soreness. I promised myself that if it wasn't better by Monday, to the doctor I would go.

Saturday morning, I knew I had a real problem when I woke up in the driveway, wondering why I was face-down and bleeding. I'm not sure how long it took to get my mind to the proper line of thought, which was "I need help, and that means a phone." I finally made my way back into the house, where I kind of collapsed on the desk. Eventually I remembered why I was there, and called my daughter.

How serious was it? When she first got there she thought for a moment that I might be dead. I passed out again while she was calling 911, and again while the ambulance guys were working on me. 

This was my first ambulance ride, and I'd rather not repeat it. There were no red lights or sirens, but I'll tell you this: if you have a bloody head injury and they've called ahead that you've gone unconscious twice since they arrived, you practically fly into a treatment room.

Happily, various antibiotics will kill this infection. They had me on an IV full of them for two days, then sent me home with a prescription for the oral versions. 

Which brings me to this year. Last month I had pruned some holly and everything seemed fine, but when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom a few weeks ago, my hand was sore. Yes, I'd gotten a few scratches on that hand, but right after I finished pruning I'd washed and put some New Skin on them. As it turns out, I probably should have done that when the scratches happened.

That morning my hand was more sore, and it had a swollen patch on the back. I went to work about 9 am; by 10 am, it was more swollen and painful, so I called the doctor's office to see if could get in. No joy; it was the Friday before Labor Day, and most people were already gone. By 11 am I told my coworker "I need to head to the emergency room." He wondered why I waited this long, so off I went. 

When the doctor came into the exam room I told him about last year,. He took one look at the hand and said "I think that's what this is," so once again I wound up in a treatment room with an IV of serious antibiotics running. I think part of their motivation involved me suddenly getting woozy and having trouble speaking properly -- again, like what happened last year. This time it was caught early enough, or maybe the hand/arm is easier to treat; in any case, after about an hour of the antibiotics I felt much better, and shortly after that they sent me home. 

In a survival situation, this same illness would have been bad at best, and at worst could easily turn fatal. Take care of those scratches and dings as soon as possible with soap and antiseptics. 

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