I’m just over a year into treatment now in Istanbul now. I thought this would be behind me in three months. How naïve I was. Treatment of stage 4 cancer is a lifelong commitment and one I continue to give the majority of my energy to. Most of the time I’m OK with that but when it gets in the way of plans… it can be annoying as fuck. This weekend gone by I had planned to go on a night out for the first time in about 6 months. If you’ve read any of my recent previous posts, you’ll know that I gave up alcohol in December for a full three months and since then, I could count the amount of drinks I’ve had on one hand. So going out to a gig with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time was a big deal for me. It was a trip back to my old life, a rare social occasion and an opportunity to have fun, something that is infrequent in my life the past two years. But it wasn’t to be. I’m writing this post from a hospital bed in Sligo. I was admitted to A&E Friday night with an infection. It’s something cancer patients deal with regularly due to having a compromised immune system. How I’ve managed to avoid it this far I have no idea. I’ve been lucky. But the timing is dreadful. I get three/four weeks between treatments now in Istanbul and spending that time at home in hospital is not ideal. Maybe the universe is trying to slow me down. I have been pretty busy lately….
So how did I get this infection? I’ve been injecting a blood thinner injection into my leg most days for the past year since I started chemo treatment in Istanbul. I used to get Paul to do it for me but I resented the pain and always gave out to him for it. So I started to do it myself and I found that easier. I had control over it, knew when it was going in, could put as much or as little pressure as I thought I needed… My thighs were black and blue most of the time but I didn’t mind, sure who’d see it? The nurses in the clinic used to inject into my arm but asked them to change site as I was beginning to look like a battered wife. So we stuck to the legs after that. I noticed on Tuesday last that there was some heat coming off my leg. I had a bump under the skin too but that wasn’t unusual as there is always a bit of a bump there from injecting. But the heat was concerning so I stood in front of my thermal imaging camera. I took a couple of pictures and got such a shock when I saw what was happening. In the images below, you can see a distinct red pattern on the right. Both legs should look like the one on the left. The red pattern radiates out into the veins, it’s clear to see it’s an infection.
The week before, some bacteria got into the site and an infection took hold. I hadn’t been particularly careful with using alcohol wipes on the area and I know it was my own fault. My white blood cell count was low from chemotherapy and my body wasn’t able to fight the infection off by itself. I called my GP straight away and went in to get antibiotics. He prescribed two strong antibiotics and rest. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to go out at the weekend. I was depressed. Sure it’s only a night out… why are you so annoyed? It’s not just the one night out, it’s a culmination of two years of not being able to go to things. It’s being deprived of an opportunity to have fun, to see one of my favourite bands, to meet my friends… I don’t see them often. My life has become so different and I’m OK with that 99% of the time. But sometimes it gets me down. I use the phrases like… this isn’t fair, fuck my life etc… This summer I had tickets to see Noel Gallagher, Gorillaz and the National. I didn’t make it to any of them. The universe seems to have other plans for me and they don’t involve gigs or large crowds. Message received. Loud and clear!
So how did I end up in hospital then? Well I drew a circle around the inflamed area on Wednesday night and hoped it would go down. By Friday evening, it had grown beyond the line and I knew it was a hospital job. Visualising my white blood cells replicating and pushing the infection out wasn’t working fast enough and I knew I needed more help. My mother brought me to now doc in Carrick-on-Shannon who gave me a referral for A&E. I arrived in Sligo at 10:30pm Friday night expecting to be waiting for hours on a trolley before I was even assessed by a nurse. That wasn’t the case. I was whisked up through the system, hooked up to IV antibiotics and in a bed on a ward asleep by 2am. Saturday I was given my own room. The nurses, registrar, consultant, care assistants, cleaners and kitchen ladies have been so friendly and efficient going above and beyond what is expected from them. From what I have seen in the media about Irish hospitals lately, I was expecting a much different experience. Maybe it’s because I’m a ‘special case’ as I keep hearing them say. I have felt listened to and looked after. It’s been a very positive experience. And my leg got sorted out. If you’re squeamish, avoid the next few lines and pictures, it’s pretty gruesome. Saturday afternoon after the consultant’s visit, a poultice of magnesium sulphate was applied to the site with the intention of drawing the infection to the surface. A few hours later, it was removed and the surgical registrar injected lidocaine to numb the area and slit the infection open with a scalpel. The injection was extremely painful as the area was so tender but I couldn’t feel the cutting so I had a good look at what she was doing. I took a video of it. The infection along with some blood was drained out. She then packed it with a wick and bandaged it up. There’s quite a large hole in my leg now, I reckon it’s about the size of a grape. It needs to heal from the inside out so it doesn’t get infected again so I’ll have to have the dressing and wick changed every day. Along with continued antibiotics.
I’m getting out today. Infection is gone. Thank fook! It was pretty scary I’ll be honest. I thought I’d lose the leg at one stage. Sure you always go to the worst case scenario. Thankfully I’ll be hanging onto it. Body intact. We live to see another day.