Friday, 15 March 2013

Beware Bacteria (partial repost)

via wikipedia
Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells 
This week Dame Sally Davies, the Government's Chief Medical Officer warned that we could slip back 200 years unless the "catastrophic threat" of antibiotic resistance is successfully tackled. She declared that in 20 years' time even minor surgery may lead to death through untreatable infections. Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world. 
About 18 months ago I wrote about a bacterium experience that H suffered from which I called "Beware Bacteria". It seems an opportune moment to repost some of it here following the warnings from Dame Sally Davies this past week.
To set the scene, H and I have taken hardly any antibiotics during our lifetime, less than the fingers on one hand each, we have been fortunate. We wrongly assumed that this gave us some safe guard, but of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with how much antibiotic you have taken during your lifetime but to do with the fact that the bacterium have mutated and become stronger against the antibiotics themselves.
It is exactly 5 years ago this week that H suddenly became ill. I had never known him to be ill before - he was a strong man, an oarsman who rowed in his youth for his university, climbed mountains and walked for miles.
E. Coli Bacteria via wikipedia
I used to smile at the yogurt adverts talking about good and bad bacteria!!! but it turns out to be true, some are good and some are bad.
Bacterium is generally regarded as one of the first forms of life on our planet, and it is likely that they will be the last.
Suddenly, one evening H said that he was off to bed, it was only 8 pm.  When I went upstairs to see him I discovered that he was roasting hot, and in the morning all of the bed linen was drenched from his fever. Now H does not do illness, so off he went to do his duty at our local Citizens Advice Bureau, where if the truth be known he should not have gone, and he became worse.  Instead of climbing up the long steep hill back to our home, as per normal, someone kindly bought him home in a car.
The following morning I made an appointment with our doctor.  She arranged for blood tests, could find nothing wrong with his heart, blood pressure etc, and said she wanted him to have an x-ray to check whether he had pneumonia.  The x-rays came back clear, but still the fever continued.  He had slight twinges in his back and in the end it seemed to be put down to back trouble. There was obviously something wrong, but what? He continued to get weaker and weaker, but the medics seemed to think that when the sunshine arrived, and if we were to take a holiday, things would improve.  To cut a long story short, the pain in his back became really bad, and losing so many essential minerals from his body every night, as a result of the fever, he became very weak, and started to look many years older than he was.  A different doctor came to the house, and gave him strong pain killers, and said he could send him into hospital, but followed it up by saying, hospitals are not nice places to be, advising that he would be much more comfortable in our home.  That night could stand it no longer. He was exhausted through lack of sleep for so many weeks, and weary.  He came downstairs with his bag packed, and said "take me to hospital".  Once there, the duty doctor could also find nothing wrong as per the other doctors. He said he would admit him, as he was obviously ill, but stated that there were 14 patients waiting ahead of him for a bed, indicating that we should probably go home.  H stood his ground (albeit from a wheel chair) and said he was not going anywhere, and was staying where he was until the cause was found.
The following day he was put in an MRI scan, and they discovered that he had an infection in his spine.  We were so relieved and thought good, some antibiotic and all will be well.  How wrong and innocent could we be.  After 10 days in hospital he did not seem to be making any progress, and my anxiety levels for him started to increase.  Days later his legs gave way and turned to jelly, he became doubly incontinent, and just lay flat on his back.  It took the hospital 4 days before taking any action, and finally he was sent to a hospital specialising in neurosurgery. He was taken in an ambulance with the blue light flashing to a hospital 30 miles away.  I felt so helpless, I had thought he just had an infection, and that it would clear up with the right treatment.  It was at this stage that I finally managed to get hold of someone and ask exactly what was going on.  I was totally shocked and horrified to learn that the E. Coli bacteria had somehow got into his blood stream, where it had travelled in his blood through his bones and had lodged in his vertebrae. It was rotting the bones, and turning them soggy!!!  The collapsing vertebrae were damaging his spinal cord hence he was unable function properly. I just could not believe it, and was so cross that we had been kept in the dark.
A wonderful surgeon operated on him.  Before doing so, he told us that there were 14 Neurosurgeons in the hospital, but they had all refused to operate on him.   He told us that he was the only person in the southwest region who was able to do the surgery.   He removed two soggy vertebrae and managed to scrape and save the third one, which had become infected, whilst he was in the previous hospital.  He put a titanium cage around his spinal cord by the following means. A jack, which is still in situ, was inserted to hold the vertebrae apart; the neighbouring vertebrae were then held in place with rods and spikes. He could offer no guarantee as to the outcome, but we were just so grateful that he was around – he went on holiday the following week.
H was in hospital for 6 weeks, and was ill for 6 weeks before that.  He came home from hospital extremely weak, unable to walk without using a walking frame.  Fortunately the nerve damage which caused his jelly legs and incontinence all repaired themselves, and because of all the hard work and determination H put into his recovery, he is now once again walking the hills and mountains and doing everything he did before. We do realise that he had a very narrow escape and is extremely lucky to still be an able person, and not wheel chair bound.

The technology in H's back showing the titanium cage and jack
This shows how the two rods and spikes held the cage firmly in place when the jack was operated.
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This apparently can happen to anyone, young or old.  We do, incidentally, have more bacteria in our bodies than we have cells. It is rare, but thank goodness for technology in the form of the MRI and CAT scanners and his wonderful Surgeon.

51 comments:

  1. That's an incredible story, Rosemary. Wow! I had no idea that this was possible. I'm so glad that H had a terrific surgeon and has made such a remarkable recovery.

    I hope the both of you have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. It was at that moment that I realised that there was such a thing a good bacteria and bad, in fact very bad bacteria.

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  2. That must have been a terrifying experience for both of you and so glad that H is now able to do the things he was enjoying before. Thank goodness the surgeon was willing to carry out the operation.

    Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - the surgeon was very young, very talented, and we are forever grateful to him.

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  3. I am just amazed that pictures of bacteria can by so impressive.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Yes Filip - under magnification they look rather harmless, but do not be deceived.

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  4. That's on very frightening and sobering story. I'm so pleased it ended well for you both. Teaches me all the more we can never take tomorrow (or our health) for granted and we need to appreciate today all the more.

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    1. The bacteria that somehow entered his blood stream, we know not how, had a devastating effect. We dread to think what would have happened if he had not insisted on staying in the hospital, and what would have happened before MRIs and CATs were available?

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  5. Thank you for sharing your shocking and amzing story Rosemary. H certainly had a lucky escape and I am sure he treasures every day of precious life. There seems little one can do to prevent such an event, other than living the most healthy life we can. This is what we try to do, and since we survived a head-on high speed motor vehicle accident two years ago we do the same. Very fancy metal-work in the spine - wonderful doctor and wonderful modern techniques. My hub had every bone in his foot broken or crushed and had 13 pieces of metal in there ..

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    1. Dear Patricia - I decided to repost the story in the light of the news this week re: the fact that antibiotics are not responding anymore, and bacterium are getting the upper hand more and more, as H knows full well. He seemed to be fit and well at the time, and we do not have any clues as to how the bacteria got in his blood stream. The surgeon said it was just bad luck.

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  6. I've never forgotten this story Rosemary, but feel pretty helpless in the face of what is going on. Only today a friend told me that her GP, who is retiring, told her that he is now very fearful of illness. He's lost his confidence in medical science.

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    1. Dear Nilly - I know that we are in a credit crunch but it is time for money to be spent so that the scientist can do more research into the problems of combating these bacterium. My feeling is that they were one of the first life forms and no doubt they will be the last.

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  7. You must be very thankful for that wonderful surgeon and that H recovered with his determination and help from you, I'm sure. A very worrying time for all.
    I have recently heard similar warnings about the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. Let's hope that much more funding is put into research.

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    1. These hospital infections that have been plaguing so many hospitals around the world are all bacteriums - MRSA is a strain of staphylococcus, Clostridium difficile is another bacterium caught in hospital - these superbugs used to be treatable by Vancomycin often called the drug of last resort, but now it is no longer working.

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  8. Dear Rosemary , you have passed a difficult situation and luckily the surgeon did an excellent job! I had no idea how bad do in the body , the bacteria. We avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily and without a doctor's prescription! Fortunately your husband enjoys good health now and you will remember as a passing experience!Take care !
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - he has always been a strong fit man but these bacteria are very clever and becoming more so. He is very very lucky.

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  9. Thank you for re-posting this as I had not read the first version. It is something we will all have to consider because the situation isn't likely to improve.

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    1. This is the reason that we keep hearing about the superbugs in hospitals - they are all mutating bacterium.

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  10. Dear Rosemary, I remember you telling us about your and H's difficult time during his very serious illness. Thank you for this reminder. If more people become aware, possibly and hopefully scientists will get busy and develop new antibiotics which will be effective in the war against new and deadly viruses. ox, Gina

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    1. Apparently the research into finding new antibiotics is a long and expensive process, not a good situation when we are in a credit crunch. I understand also that the profits that the drug companies can make from them are relatively low. This I find difficult to believe.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this incredible story. We are hearing more and more reports that formerly treatable bugs have become resistant to antibiotics. Quite scary, as you know from this personal experience. Luck, draw of the hand, whatever, we know that living in the world we have created is a precarious proposition. I am so happy for you and H that life returned to normal after this horrible experience.

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    1. We did wonder when he returned home unable to walk properly. He was very fortunate, physiotherapists came to our home every day including the weekend to do exercises with him for three months, and then called back once a week to check on him. The only consequence being that he is 8cms shorter!!!

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  12. this is the most unbelievable story of persistence courage and will to live ....what an incredible man...I am so amazed that he can pass this trial and enjoy things he loved to do..thank God for the surgeon..he is a life savior....thank you for sharing...

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    1. Before he was taken to the second hospital there was a stage when he seemed to be slipping down a big dark hole each day as the antibiotic was not working but we did not realise that at the time. Yes, we are extremely grateful to his wonderful surgeon. We send the surgeon a postcard most years from our mountain holidays to show him that H can still reach the top.

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  13. Rosemary, this is a horrific story. It is so wonderful that its outcome was so positive. The whole antibiotics issue is very frightening. We forget how magical they have seemed to be, and how, actually, it was only post 1945 that they became readily available. Our parents and grandparents' generations were much more used to what we call simple infections being deadly. H must be made of very strong stuff, and I am sure he worked incredibly hard at "rehab". Thanks for posting this, it has really made me think....and worry ! More money for research into drug development is so important. J.

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    1. Dear Janice - It is back in the late 1920s that Sir Alexander Fleming began his exciting journey to discover penicillin. During that time the bacterium have slowly been mutating and becoming deadly again.
      I think we have let the situation arise without taking any action to do more research. These superbugs, all of which are bacterium, have been known about for many years.

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  14. There has been no improvement since Alexander fleming. The pure anti biotics and the large spectrum anibiotics are not much good any more. Many of the sicknesses are immune to the antibiotics..I think this is common knowledge.
    You had mentioned before somewhere in one of your posts i think, that H was going to be operated on his back,but you didnt go into detail. Reading his horrible ordeal had me glued to your post.. how awful, what a terrible thing to have happened.
    I was operated on my 3rd discal hernia and fusion the same year I think.
    This story is unbelievable Rosemary. To wait so long for an MRI! He had it just in time... I remember reading about the first deaths of e coli. H is a very very lucky man.
    You must have been heartbroken to see him like that.
    Only the other week, we (my family and son's) were talking about when would some new 'fandangled' antibiotic or other kind of cure be found another fleming.
    Millions is spent on Bacterial investigation. Yet still it takes just only one small particle and that's it, it invades the body and one can hang between life or death.
    How wonderful that H is out and about. He looked good on one of your recent posts.
    Its really nice, that you shared this with us.
    Best wishes to you Rosemary and H for a happy healthy and sunlit weekend.
    val x

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    1. I wish we were having the sun Val, but it is simply pouring with rain at the moment - just like stair rods - straight down from the heavens.
      H was extremely lucky that he had a top notch surgeon. If it had carried on for a little longer I think the damage to his spinal cord would have been devastating.
      It is 5 years ago just now that it all began, and it took him finally about 18 months to be able to climb mountains again. Now you would never know that it had happened apart from the fact that he is 8 cms shorter - 3 inches which is quite a lot, luckily he was tall to begin with.

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  15. Dear Rosemary, I sent you a book a few days ago. Only it was the wrong book...and I have no idea which book I sent to you. If you like give it to a friend or donate it to your local library.
    Your new (and correct) book is in the mail. I was sending books to all my winners and somehow put the wrong book into your envelope. Have a wonderful weekend.
    ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - you should not have sent another book - I am worried now about the amount of postage you have had to pay - it is very kind and generous of you.

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    2. Not to worry, dear Rosemary, it was but a pittance. ox, Gina

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  16. Like you I've taken many antibiotics and usually avoid any sort of medicine unles it's absolutely necessary so I always thought I'd never have problems with antibiotic resistance but your post just shows how wrong this assumption is.

    I'm glad your husband has recovered, it must have an awful time for both of you especially when you didn't know exactly what was causing his illness.

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    1. Dear Paula - we were under the very same impression, we had assumed wrongly that we were protecting ourselves - it has been a salutatory lesson.
      It was our first experience of illness, and you are very much in the hands of those who are caring for you. Somehow you cope much better than you imagine you will.

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  17. Dear Rosemary -
    Thank you for re-posting. How scary and upsetting that whole experience must have been!! Thank goodness H has fully recovered. I am absolutely paranoid of germs and bacteria. Owning a retail shop where I am in constant contact with the public, I am very careful to keep my distance....not to shake hands as much, for example. I do believe prevention is the first line of defense. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Dear Loi - it is really impossible not to come into contact with germs, viruses and bacterium and as I mentioned we have more bacteria in our bodies than we have cells. One of the worst places, I think, for picking up germs is on plane journeys where the air is continually recycled passing through everyone on board all of the time.
      H is a regular blood donor and we have wondered whether his immune system may have been down having given a pint of blood in the weeks before the illness started, but we shall never actually know.

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  18. I rad the news item, so your experience is very timely, Rosemary. It's such a terrifying thought that something we've taken for granted all our lives may soon not work properly any more and situations like H's will become more common. We've overused antibiotics on trifling ailments and now we're reaping the results.

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    1. Dear Perpetua we assumed that we were safeguarding ourselves having hardly touched any antibiotics for most of our lives - it was quite an eye opener to us. The medical profession have known about the problems of the bacterium superbugs for a good few years, and should have been making sure that research was going on to replace the antibiotics that are no longer working properly. The longer they take the more the bacterium will mutate, such clever little beasties.

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  19. What a story Rosemary. It must have been such a horrible period for the two of you. I am so happy to read it had a happy ending and your husband is walking the hills once more!

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Madelief x

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    1. He was very fortunate Madelief, but I believe that he was only caught just in time before his spinal cord was seriously damaged forever, then is would have been a different scenario. We count our lucky stars.

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  20. An incredible and horrifying story, even as I reread it. One of the lessons I've learned from being with family and friends in the hospital, is that we each need to have health directives in place and strong champions/guardians in tow!

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    1. That is very sound and good advice Mark.

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  21. That must have been such a terrifying period for you and H. Such a relief everything turned out all right in the end and H can enjoy walking the beautiful coutryside you live in again.
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. It was 5 years ago now Marian, although I find it hard to believe where the time has gone to. He was very fortunate that a good surgeon was there for him, and no more damage was done to his spinal cord.

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  22. What a horrifying story! So glad H has made a good recovery.
    I used to work in a bacteriology lab. many years ago and I'm still horrified at the way people misuse antibiotics x

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    1. Yes, I believe we are very late in the day now re: antibiotic - it is a ticking time bomb. Is it the doctors who are to blame for over prescribing or the patients for over demanding?

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  23. Dear Rosemary - thank you for sharing this story - this morning I will be sure my husband reads it too. This is such a frightening thing - knowing that we may not have the medicines in the future to cure the bacteria lurking out there! I am so happy that your husband eventually was cured after going through weeks of suffering, the surgery, intense rehab and treatment - I know you must think about that wonderful surgeon every day!

    Blessings to your husband, may he continue to climb many mountains, stay as tall as he is now, and be with you for many, many years to come.

    Live each day full of wonder.
    Hugs to you both - Mary

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    1. Dear Mary - thank you for your kind comment. We dread to think what may have happened if it had not been first of all for the MRI scanner and then the surgeon. I actually wrote a letter to the inventor of the MRI scanner and he was really delighted to receive a thank you. We presume that his bones would have continued to turn soggy and the doctors would not have realised what was going on, and you can imagine the rest.

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  24. Crikey Rosemary, what a frightening post. H sounds like he is very lucky to have made such a miraculous recovery from such a traumatic experience.

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    1. I think that he had a very close shave Paul, and I am so pleased that he stood up for himself and refused to move from the hospital until they found out what the problem was. I more timorous person would have done as they were told and gone home.

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  25. I am so glad that I knew beforehand there was a happy ending while reading through this horrendous experience. Your husband definitely has a guardian angel watching over him and thank goodness for your persistence. What an incredible story! Thanks for sharing this with us so we are all more aware.

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  26. Dearest Rosemary,
    Wow, so happy that you found the best neurosurgeon and that your dear H got back to mobility again.
    One can never know what is around the bend... Like me in January of 2010 becoming almost completely paralyzed. I had a persistent high fever and in the hospital they could not find the cause. Severe back and hip pain and a swollen painful knee... Opiates didn't work for me. Scary times. A dear friend came to look over all the MRI's and other tests and concluded that I had a very rare auto immune disease. After a long time of taking Prednisone I bounced back and no longer needed to walk on crutches. So grateful for our mobility and health!
    Wishing both of you a good continuation of good health.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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