Terry Marotta: Getting the word out about MRSA
I thought my sister had suffered enough with her young husband dying on the tennis courts that sunny Sunday morning.
I remember during that first phase of grief she dreamed he stood at the door of their bedroom to say he wanted to come back. She told me then that losing a spouse felt exactly the way you’d picture it might feel to lose a limb.
It is this last image that haunts me now, because though Nan is now joyfully remarried, she’s in trouble today.
Nan is sick with MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, the newer strain of staph infection against which penicillin and the penicillin-related antibiotics seem to be ineffective.
Not long ago, MRSA appeared mostly in closed populations like hospitals and prisons. Now it has begun appearing in the larger community.
It is serious mostly for people who have already had it once, or the elderly, or those so new on the planet that their immune systems have not yet matured. But healthy people are getting it now, too: in locker rooms, pools and hot tubs, and from using another person’s towel, razor or drinking glass.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s Web site, MRSA’s fast-multiplying bacteria sometimes remain confined to the skin but can also cause potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, heart valves and lungs.
Nan’s best guess is that the bones in her foot grew infected when an insect bit her. And perhaps because she has had MRSA twice before, it hit her hard. She was in the hospital for more than a week with access denied to all personnel not properly gloved and gowned.
Now, almost two months later, she is still largely immobilized. She wears a special boot, and has a catheter delivering Vancomycin straight to her heart. For weeks she also remained attached to a “wound vac,” second cousin to the wet vac you use in your flooded basement.
The crater in her foot was the size of a man’s wallet. Luckily, it finally began closing a few weeks ago. Medical personnel still come daily to the house to change her bandages. And she also still spends two hours a day, five days a week, lying in a special oxygen-enriched environment believed to speed healing. By the time it is complete, this regimen will have lasted for eight, nine or even 10 weeks.
When she was first discharged from the hospital she wouldn’t let any of us fly to Florida to help her. “I need to get a handle on this myself,” she told us all. But finally, last week, she let me fly down.
“What can I do? “I asked the second I got there.
“T, you can write about this. You can warn people.”
And so in the last few days I have contacted the CDC and The Mayo Clinic; my vascular surgeon pal and his RN wife; my own primary care doc at Mass. General in Boston; and the special MRSA/ICU team at the VA in West Virginia; and all four groups had the same advice:
- Do NOT share personal items.
- Immediately treat any wound or sore, using Bacitracin and a bandage.
- Use hot water and beach to launder any fabrics that have come into contact with blood or pus from a cut or sore, the dry on “Hot.”
Finally, and most important:
- Wash your hands with soap and hot water repeatedly in the course of your day. Use friction and spend a good 20 seconds, because the health you keep may be your own.
Read more at Terry’s blog at www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o PO Box 270 Winchester, MA 01890