Suffering With Cellulitis

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Cellulitis : One Man's Struggle.

Cellulitis is often caught via a skin lesion - cut, scrape or even surgery. In my case I managed to catch it when I went to a fancy-dress Christmas party as Bruce Willis in Die Hard, which meant running around with no shoes on all night while getting remarkably drunk. Not the number one way to get the infection, but then again if you happen to have a blister on your foot...

So woke up the next day feeling remarkably unwell - even as I.T. parties go, the hangover I had appeared to be unnecessarily harsh. Don't usually suffer too much with hangovers, and the headache, fever, and initial vomiting were a bit of a surprise. By mid-afternoon instead of getting better the symptoms were getting a lot worse - especially the vomiting, which was becoming very painful. Of course got absolutely no sympathy from my girlfriend whatsoever ("well, if you will go out and get drunk, ...")

After about 36 hours even my girlfriend was starting to believe that this wasn't a simple hangover. Spent the night in the spare room (with a bucket), where I'd got no sleep whatsoever due to the fever and headache, and the Sunday found me in surprisingly low spirits. Fortunately vomiting was nearing its end, which was fortunate as I hadn't eaten since the Friday night and there wasn't a lot left to come up (though that hadn't stopped my stomach from trying). The fever was still going nicely, as were the baaaaad headaches, but now I started to notice what I thought was a minor bruise on my leg, which I'd thought was quite unimportant compared to everything else that was going on in my body, had suddenly turned into a rather large livid purple lump. I started to consider that it might not perhaps be as minor as I thought it was...

Monday morning : another bad night and now a huge purple lump covering half my lower leg - definitely time to start thinking about getting myself to a hospital. First problem - have they managed to close down the local Accident and Emergency yet? I kid you not, the local authority (here in West Sussex, UK) had been trying to do this for some time and I hadn't been keeping up with how things had progressed.

So pulled out the phonebook and search for the hospital. Fortunately they're still in the book, so I give them a ring. "I'm sorry," they tell me, "but the A and E section is no longer in operation and is now an accident centre only, on reduced opening times." This pleases me no end, but I decide if I turn up they're hardly likely to turn me out on the street. Walking no longer an option so girlfriend has to drop me off on the way to work.

To recap : by this point I've have had the infection over 48 hours. I don't know what it is I've got, but I know it's not pleasant. I've stopped vomitting, but can't walk, have a fever, headaches and a 'general malaise'.

So I entered the hospital, and found myself in the waiting room of a fully operational (though slightly under repair) A and E department, which surprised me somewhat after the earlier telephone conversation. I checked in. Waiting time is about an hour and a half. I sat down and attempted to read a book.

A couple of hours later I got called in, not to see a doctor (that would be way too soon), but to see a nurse, who gives my leg a quick look and admits me into A and E and leaves me on one of the cots.

Later that day I finally got to see a doctor (though I'd lost all sense of time so no idea when it was). My advise for anyone in this situation might seem obvious but is imperative - show him your leg! This is vitally important as otherwise they might start considering meningitis in which case you get a spinal tap, and we're not talking about the video here! Thankfully he seemed to know what was wrong with me, though didn't actually tell me at this point, which didn't overly matter as I wasn't exactly going anywhere. Next came the first needle of my stay, into the forearm. This wasn't too painful at this point, but it certainly got a lot worse...

If you've ever been on a hospital cot in a Casualty department you'll probably know that they're not the most comfortable pieces of furniture at the best of times, and this was exacerbated by feeling truly awful. I had a drip in my arm linked to the drip-stand where I now had two drips - one saline because I hadn't eaten for two days, and one anti-biotic.

Now the fun bit - could they find me a bed? They'd worked out that I was going to be in the hospital some time - they told me about 48 hours. That wasn't true, but I guess it made them feel better to tell me that rather than the truth. By then it was night time and pretty darn obvious that there were no beds on any wards, so I ended up on a bed in a side room of A and E for the night. I got to stay there for another 24 hours.

The highlight of those 24 hours - going to the toilet. Very quickly I worked out that if I wanted to go to the toilet then I shouldn't wait until the last minute. It took about 20 minutes every time. The first five were needed in order to try and stand up by myself, with the next fifteen for the slow painful walk itself in which I had to manoeuvre to the toilet one-legged while dragging a drip-stand, and trying not to get the drip-stand caught in any doors along the way. Difficulty level : 9.8.

Finally got transferred to a proper ward at about twelve O'clock Tuesday night. Didn't think why a bed would suddenly become free in the middle of the night at this point, though about half an hour later they pulled all the curtains in the ward and quietly wheeled away the suspiciously quiet, grey-looking old gentleman who was in the bed next to mine. Didn't sleep very well after that...

So I'd now been in the hospital about two days, I'd had the infection about four days, and I was feeling pants. First good news since I got there - they take the drip out of my arm. Bad news - from now on they get the syringe and pump the anti-biotics straight into my veins four times a day (and night), every six hours. Being a large syringe this isn't instantaneous like a normal injection, but will take several minutes. And you feel it - a cold surge of liquid going straight into your veins.

Second night of my stay in the ward, and what could be more annoying than the very old, very deaf lady in the side-ward who shouts for a nurse continuously every minute of every day and night (though can't remember why when one does turn up, though this doesn't stop her shouting again as soon as they leave). What could be more annoying than this? The fire alarm going off at 12:30 in the morning, that's what. No need to panic though, as it was in a different part of the building so we didn't need to be evacuated. Unfortunately it is quite loud, and one slightly annoyed patient in our section decided the best way to stop it is to find another fire alarm and hit it very hard, which of course meant the alarm going off in our section as well. Fortunately we're not evacuated, but it was 1:30 in the morning by this point and I'd just spent half an hour putting a pair of socks on.

After this I fell into a routine for several days, during which time the headaches and fever gradually subsided, and the leg started to look less livid, moving into a more ruddy phase. Now this is where it started to get really painful. What I didn't know is that your body starts to react to the anti-biotics. It might clear up your leg, but having it pumped into your veins start to effect the linings of the veins, and it starts to get painful. Quickly. The first needle stayed in my arm for about three days. The next one lasted two. The next lasted a day. After this I needed something to bite on because every time they started pumping that stuff into my arm it felt like they were injecting sandpaper and it was all I could do not to scream.

But don't forget about the leg. Not only was it still painful and inflamed, with the skin raised about half a centimetre above the rest of the leg, but it then started to go scaly and the hairs all fell out (and one year later haven't fully grown back). Had to have it raised (on a pillow) to stop it swelling up. One really fun afternoon they gave me a marker pen and let me draw round it so I could watch the rate that it spread...

The following Monday I left the hospital. Still wasn't what I'd call 'well' though. Hadn't done much more than stand up occasionally for about nine days, had hardly eaten and my body was full of drugs. Even walking up the stairs at home seemed like a half-marathon. One afternoon I sorted out my washing and it left me semi-comatose for about an hour. Fortunately no more needles - but anti-biotics come in pill form too - took home two bottles with 224 pills to take over the next two weeks. Meaning no alcohol for those two weeks. Did you remember that it was a Christmas Party we were talking about? So those two weeks included Christmas and New Year, and, because I'm extra-special lucky, my birthday as well...

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