Posted by: petsweekly | February 21, 2011

MRSA (or “what my husband will do to get out of my birthday”)

For those of you who have been trying to communicate with me, you probably know that we’ve had a rather hellish month. This posting is mostly to update everyone who has an interest on how Sam (aka., “Alpha Male, Sambolina, Sam-Sam, Sammy and my husband”)  is doing and to enlighten my friends on how far he’ll go to avoid taking me to dinner and a movie on my birthday. Oh, and how much pain he’ll endure before buying me flowers and chocolate on Valentine’s Day! (Calm down, everyone. I’m JOKING!)

If you don’t want to read about my day, or if you’re here to read an animal post, head on over to PetsWeekly this time. We’ve got tons of great articles (hopefully one about all the presidential pets in honor of President’s Day) and some amazing reviews that are even more entertaining than normal (primarily due to my self-inflicted, sleep-deprivation experiment). However, if you’re interested in hearing more about where I’ve been, and how single-cell organisms may well take over the world, here’s the story.

Last month, my husband went into the doctor’s office for a simple cortisone shot. He left the doctor’s office with a complex case of MRSA (but we didn’t know that until 2 days – and two visits to the ER – later). For those of you who don’t know what MRSA is, allow me to enlighten you.

MRSA is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. I’m not going to pretend to understand it all, but it’s called MRSA for short and it is the “Super-Germ” of the 21st century. If I were ever going to write a zombie book (and I can pretty well guarantee that I won’t), MRSA would be at the root of the infection that creates zombies who overrun the cities, eventually resulting in the mass extinction of the human race.  (If it’s not a comet or a super volcano or hydrogen sulfide emissions from the sea, it’s gotta be a single-cell organism, right?)

I’ve learned more about MRSA than I ever care to know in the past month, but I’ll just share a few of the highlights with you here. MRSA is a staph infection that is highly resistant to antibiotics (they have to create new stuff to fight the individual virus) and it is rampant, my friends.  It is spread by direct contact with someone (or something) that has the bacteria. Then it gains entry into your body by invading through a scrape, scratch or needle.  Each time you put your hands on a grocery cart, or touch something in a doctors office (including magazines), or have a vaccination, or a cortisone shot, or get scratched while gardening, or get bit by an animal, or scrape your arm on a wall – you’re at risk. And yes, even  your pets can get this illness. It’s a non-speciest bacterium.

According to the CDC, “about 85% of all invasive MRSA infections were associated with healthcare, and of those, about two-thirds occurred outside of the hospital, while about one third occurred during hospitalization.”

And here’s another piece of scary information: In 2003-2004, approximately 29% (78.9 million persons) and 1.5% (4.1 million persons) of the U.S. population was colonized in the nose with S. aureus and MRSA respectively. (Gorwitz RJ et al. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2008;197:1226-34.)

Sam has MRSA in his shoulder. It’s taken four surgeries, ten days in the hospital, countless home nurse visits and a LOT of Vancomycin to get to a point where he is not threatened with losing his arm (or even his life).  This is how fast MRSA can take down a VERY healthy, young man in a matter of days. Hours, even.

Currently, Sam’s out of the hospital and on home care. Home Care is when a nurse comes out every two days to do a wound dressing change, and another nurse comes out twice a week to draw blood and check a PICC line, while the patient is freely allowed to terrorize his wife making silly demands for lunch and juice.

Then, each morning and each evening, I get to inject antibiotics, heparin and saline into his PICC line (more on that below). The rest of the day is spent with chores, freelancing, work and yes – PetsWeekly. On top of that, I get a quick lesson in how much Sam really spoils me, because I also get to take care of his chores, as well as the pack and the pride. We also happen to have 3 foster puppies that are now old enough to cause problems (and will be up for adoption very soon!)

But, we’re dealing well with all of this thanks largely in part to a great family and amazing friends, as well as some understanding clients. You know who you are (most of you are publicity-shy) and you have my gratitude.

The rest of this post is a little graphic (but not enough to send you screaming from the computer, I promise). It’s mostly for family and friends who have asked about the process. This is the best I can do to explain what we’re doing each day (since it’s easier to just post this and show you) and why we haven’t been too focused on returning calls. It’s also to let everyone know we’re alive and well (mostly) and to thank you all for the support you’ve offered.

It’s our hope that if we continue each of these steps twice a day for the next month, Sam will be well enough to have the original surgery and get his shoulder fixed. He will have to repair a torn labrum and some additional shoulder/rotator cuff damage that, thanks to MRSA, has gotten much worse. But, that’s down the road a few weeks.

And now, for those who asked, here is a typical day in the household right now. First, we gather all the supplies needed for ONE dose of his antibiotics. They are:

  • Alcohol swabs
  • Vancomycin Ball
  • 3 Saline vials
  • 2 Heparin vials

Next we prepare the PICC line. He has two lines in (a red and white one), both enter the top chamber of his heart, which is why he has to be really, really nice to me now.

After all the supplies are gathered and we are completely washed, sterilized and donning some handsome blue sterile gloves, I prepare a vial of saline. First I flush the line (alternating white to red each morning and evening), and then I hook up the ball of vancomycin (pictured while it’s full to our right). This drains over a period of 90 minutes or so.

Usually he sleeps and I watch anxiously to make sure I haven’t accidentally killed him. It’s very stressful to inject fluids into your hubby’s heart!

After all of the Vanco has drained, we get something that looks like this (pictured to right).

I then proceed to flush both lines with saline, then heparin. After all this is done, he usually goes to sleep and I go to write – because it’s the only thing that can really relax you after injecting five vials and a giant ball of drugs into your husband (who you adore!).

And that is how the PICC line works.

The Wound Vac is a lot easier. Every two days, a nurse comes over and changes the dressing, so I don’t have to do a thing with that. We have a really nice nurse and she tells us about her Great Dane puppies and her huge family of six kids. I can’t even imagine how she manages all of that and still works fulltime. It reminds me of my sisters who both do the same!

At any rate, all I have to do with the wound vac is help Sam unwind it because he’s forever tangling it up. The best thing about having to carry around the little machine 24/7 is that he doesn’t hog the whole bed anymore. The line keeps him tethered in one place, so – we may keep it if I have my say.

Here’s a picture of the wound vac machine he carries, and also one of the wound it’s attached too. This also helps explain why I call him Neo occasionally. (From the Matrix, remember?)

And that is why I’ve been so crazy busy lately. Neo’s going to need a lot of physical therapy to gain back the muscle he’s lost, and he’s going to be on the wound vac and antibiotics for at least 2 more weeks, but probably longer than that.

The Cog is happy though.  She gets someone to laze around with all day and best of all, the wound vac makes noise and is clear, so she can see little gobs of liquid get sucked through a hose all day.

And that is how we have spent our desert winter. We have a ways to go to complete treatment, but things are definitely looking up. Sam’s been a great patient, and as long as I pretend he’s an injured cat, I’ve been a fairly decent nurse. So bear with us as we get him better. I’ll be returning calls after I’ve spent a few days at the spa and my hubby is out of the danger zone. If you want to send food, may I recommend the chocolate-covered strawberries from Edible Creations?  (Thanks again, Mini!!)

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