Nobody Asked Me But: One man’s harrowing battle with a MRSA superbug

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Look up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superbug!

Superbug? Is this another of the Marvel Comics superheroes turned into a blockbuster box office smash?

No, actually, the superbug I refer to here is none other than MRSA, an acronym for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. To put it briefly, this potentially fatal menace is a bacterium that has grown resistant to many of our “go to” antibiotics. Although it is found almost everywhere, especially on skin and mucous membranes such as inside the nose and mouth, it can wreak havoc if it finds its way into your bloodstream and is allowed to multiply exponentially. If this happens, MRSA can cause serious infections and abscesses in the host body.

Why am I discussing such a morbid subject? It’s because I was struck down by this little MRSA vermin just before Christmas. 

I know, I know, everybody has problems, so why do I have to publish mine in the Driftwood newspaper? I’ve already written extensively about my experiences with prostate cancer and the rare Sezary Syndrome lymphoma I have been struggling with for a few years. Couldn’t I just suffer in silence like everybody else without letting the whole island in on it? Don’t I realize that my reading audience is sick and tired of hearing about my physical ailments?

No. Apparently not. So to continue with my story, one day in late December my wife came home to find me doubled over the kitchen counter in abject back pain. We waited through a sleepless night and decided the next morning to drive to Lady Minto Hospital. I was kept overnight and the next day whisked into an ambulance and transported via the Fulford ferry to the Saanich hospital for a CT scan. The pain in my back was unbearable so I had been given narcotics to make the trip easier. Later that same day I was returned to Lady Minto. The CT scan had not been completely conclusive, but suspicions were now rising that I had been infected with MRSA.

I would need an MRI at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

By this time, my back was hurting so badly that there was no way I could lie flat on the sliding table that would carry me into the vortex of the machine. I was supposed to keep still for the wicked 90 minutes that it would take to do a complete scan of my spine, but I knew that I, a natural fidgeter at the best of times plus being claustrophobic, would not last five seconds on that table.

I convinced the lab techies that I could not go through with the scan unless they gave me something that would knock me out. They kindly gave me a shot of ketamine, a fairly common sedation drug, and I was out like a light in no time, and the MRI was completed successfully.

What no one knew at the time is that I was allergic to ketamine. Once I was returned to 5 North of the Patient Care Centre and started to come around, I went psychotic. And I mean out-of-control crazy. I surmised that I had been abducted by aliens and they were preparing to do brain probes on me. I tried to make my escape by staggering out of bed, but in the wretched shape I was in, I only managed to bounce my body off the hallway walls. Eventually, the nursing staff summoned security and two burly uniformed guards roped me back to my room. I still struggled to escape, but they made that impossible by anchoring each of my limbs to the bed frame using thick webbed straps. I was stuck. I fought those restraints for hours, calling out for my wife to help me, at the same time thinking she was in on the plot. The entire scene resembled that notorious acid trip clip from the ‘60s movie classic Easy Rider.

When my psychosis finally dissipated I returned to my old addled self. Blood tests confirmed that I had a superbug infection and that the bacteria had settled into a sticky abscess in my spine.

The course of action was obvious to the doctors. Hit the little suckers with every type of antibiotic ever discovered until they found one or more to which they weren’t resistant.

Every day, at three different times of the day, I was infused intravenously with several antibiotics. Most of them did little or nothing. One of them, moxifloxcicin (sounds like a good name for a pet cat), made me develop an allergic reaction and break out in hives.

I was poked with syringes several times a day and had test tubes of blood drawn from my veins, which started to close down in protest. I was told that they would consider me healed and the infection under control if I could produce blood samples that were sterile and had zero bacteria for five straight days.

The problem was that I couldn’t produce sterile blood. Some days the bacteria decreased to almost nothing, but then shot back up the very next day. The doctors shook their heads. I was sent for more X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, echocardiograms and MRI’s. 

Days turned into weeks and slowly the tide turned. The specialists marvelled at how tough these specific bacteria were and they claimed they had never seen such specimens that were so hard to kill.

After five weeks confined to a single floor at the Royal Jube, I finally passed the blood sterility test. I was told that I would be set free in the near future if all remained as was. But just as I was about to be discharged the very next day, a new complication arose. The platelet level in my blood, which had been one element of my body chemistry that had been quite normal, took a precipitous dive towards the danger zone. Next, my B12 level took a dive to the danger zone. It seemed like the separate elements in my blood were taking turns jumping off the chart!

As I write these words, a whole week has now gone by since my platelet and B12 scares and I have had the levels return to normal by stopping one of my antibiotics and replacing it with another. I am buoyed with the assurance that I will be discharged on Feb. 1 (the day before Groundhog Day, uh-oh).

Nobody asked me, but six weeks bed-ridden in a hospital with an infectious disease is nothing I want to experience ever again. Three more weeks of antibiotics treatment at home and I should be totally clear of the MRSA. Then it’s back to the challenge of seeing how long I can continue life in my sweet home on the rock, Salt Spring, while I dance with my old enemy, Sezary Syndrome.          

And now that this superbug has stepped aside, I’ll be able to focus on the next arch villain. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it.

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