Sunday 18 September 2011

Beware Bacteria

E. Coli Bacteria 
 via Wikipedia 
I used to smile at the yogurt adverts talking about good and bad bacteria!!!
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.
Over three years ago H became ill.  Suddenly, one evening he 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 H 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, 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 discover that the E. Coli bacteria had somehow got into his blood stream, where it had travelled in his blood and lodged in his vertebrae. It was rotting the bones, and turning them soggy!!!  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 about 6 weeks before that.  He came home from hospital extremely weak, and 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.
P.S 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.


  1. Hello Rosemary:
    What a very frightening and alarming experience. We are so pleased to know that after all of this, H has made a full recovery.

  2. Dear Jane and Lance - the alarming thing for us was the length of time before any judgement was made. If the diagnosis had been made at the beginning, it would have been a course of antibiotics and no damage.

  3. Rosemary, this is really shocking to read. I am so thankful - even learning about this in retrospect - that H recovered and is healthy today. I had no idea E Coli could be so virulent.

  4. A frightening story, Rosemary. Dreadful experience. I can't even begin to imagine what he must have gone through. But happy to learn that H is fine now. Thank goodness.

  5. Kate - we had no idea how deadly bacteria could be. Thank goodness my husband had enough guts to stand up to the medics and demand help.

  6. Dear Yvette- It was a frightening experience. We have both sailed through life with very little in the way of illness. It is a good job that we do not know what is lurking around the corner.

  7. What a terrible time you must all have had, but thank heavens for modern medical intervention and a doctor brave enough to take on such a difficult procedure. I did not know that E Coli could do this. I am so pleased H had a good outcome!

  8. Dear Alix - I think that it is a good thing for more people to be aware of what bacterium can do to our bodies. Before this happened we had no idea of its deadly deeds.

  9. What an amazing story! I'm so glad to hear that H has rebounded, thanks not only to modern scanners, but also to the diligence and skill of a true doctor. Continued good luck to your faily! ... Mark

  10. Hello Mark - It was a very frightening event not knowing or realising what was going on for so many weeks. I expect something like that was not detected years ago, and the patient would carry on deteriorating until they lost their fight.

  11. Rosemary, I am a RN (retired now) and I worked in a large teaching hospital for twenty five years. I have seen patients go into septic shock and die from this type of bloodstream infection despite treatment with antibiotics so he is quite fortunate to have made such a recovery. Thank God for that Surgeon. olive

  12. Dear Olive - your comment has made me feel even more grateful. I will relay your message on to my husband.

  13. Rosemary how brave you both must have been to get through it! You must have felt so completely helpless to have something taking hold that had the medical men baffled. That was a gripping read and I’m just glad it had a happy ending!

  14. Dear Bertie - it is surprising how you do actually cope when things go wrong. Support from our sons and their families was very important.

  15. This was frightening reading, a terrible experience for you both. I am so pleased that there was a happy outcome. We expect so much medical expertise these days and sometimes it simply isn't available.

  16. Dear Rosemary - as he deteriorated it was like slipping into a black hole. Thank goodness for Frenchay Hospital.


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