Thursday, June 16, 2011

CORRECTION: I ALMOST survived the 2011 Roaming Rally !!!

My last post, called I survived the 2011 Roaming Rally !!! requires a little point of clarification. You see, I nearly didn't survive but I didn't know it at the time. The rally finished on Sunday, May 29th but within 2 days of arriving home I became very sick and found myself lying in a hospital bed for 13 nights.

At the time of the rally, I had been suffering from a nasty cough and difficulty breathing. It had been going on for weeks and I suspected a case of bronchitis and I also suffer from asthma (though it doesn't usually cause me much trouble). I didn't care, though, as nothing short of death was was going stop me from attending the rally. Something else that contributed to my getting sick was the fact that I take a heavy duty medication for my Rheumatoid Arthritis. This chemotherapy drug, called Methotrexate, is particularly hard on a person's immune system and I've been taking it for about 5 years now. While my RA symptoms have improved with it, the drug is definitely not without its' side effects: I get little cold and flu bugs all the time since I've been on it, and it's not good for your liver and bone marrow. RA is different from all the other types of arthritis in that it is an auto-immune disease which attacks your joints, whereas the other types are just your joints falling apart... the sypmtoms are much the same, but the cause is very different.

Anyway, back to the rally. With the wet weather we encountered all weekend, and wearing all of my offroad protective gear, and rainsuit over top of it all, it was a rather hot and sweaty weekend. My bronchitis didn't help matters. On the Sunday morning, as I was packing up my campsite and getting ready to leave for the ride home, I innocently picked a small scab from my elbow. All weekend long, my elbow pads had been irritating the scab that had been nearly healed from a scrape 2 weeks earlier. That turned out to be a huge mistake.

The next day at the office, I noticed that my elbow was quite sore and red. By the following morning, Tuesday, the pain level was off the chart, my elbow was hot to touch, very red, swollen, and a large abscess had formed. I went to a walk-in medical clinic  that morning, and the doctor directed me straight to the emergency room at the hospital.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the doctors were immediately concerned that it might be flesh-eating disease. They even mentioned the possibility of having to amputate my arm. They didn't even want to know about my bronchitis as that wasn't nearly as serious compared to the possibility of chopping off my arm. I spent the next few hours doing all sorts of blood tests, ultrasounds, MRI scans, x-rays, urine tests, and they pumped me full of antibiotics. By evening, they still had not ruled out flesh-eating disease but they weren't taking any chances. They were prepping me for surgery but were awaiting some test results before proceeding. Fortunately the test results were in my favour. As it happened, they identified the bacteria as Group A Streptococcus which is, in fact, the same bacteria that can cause flesh-eating disease but luckily did not in my case.

But all the while, the infection had been spreading through my bloodstream and I was becoming quite sick. By Wednesday morning, I could barely lift my head from the pillow.  Because they had rules out flesh eating disease, they cancelled the planned elbow surgery and opted to just slice open the abscess to drain the poison, and flush it out. They did this with a local anesthetic, and I somehow found enough energy to record the procedure with the video camera in my phone:

Once the abscessed elbow was dealt with, I thought I would be getting better soon. That was a wrong assumption because by that time, the bacteria had gone to work on my kidneys, bladder, and liver, causing a great deal of damage. My urine looked like cranberry juice because of the heavy concentration of bacteria, and my liver wasn't working at all. I spent the next seven nights in hospital recovering from acute renal failure and elevated liver funtion tests. I was hooked up to three types of I.V. antibiotics for the next week, plus oxygen and cardiac monitoring equipment.

They sent me home after a total of eight nights in hospital, giving me a bottle of antibiotic pills to take. I had to go back within 24 hours, and they put me back on two I.V. antibiotics, releasing me for the second time the next day -- this time with a portable I.V. pump and Clyndomycin (one of the antibiotics I had been receiving). This lasted a day and a half before I had to go back. They put me back on the same two I.V. antibiotics and kept me in for another 4 days. This time, they released me again with two portable I.V. pumps and both of the antibiotics pumping into my arm (Clyndomycin and Vancomycin). I am to wear these two pumps and I.V. bags in a backpack for the next two weeks and follow up with a doctor at the infectious disease clinic.

To make the intravenous medicines work more efficiently, they installed a PICC line I.V. in my arm. Basically, a normal I.V. needle is only good for about 3-4 days before they need to find a new vein in your arm. With a PICC line, a small tube/hose is inserted inside a vein in your arm, and fed through the vein, up your arm, past your shoulder, and into your chest, where it dumps the medicine into a very large, high volume flowing artery near your heart. So here's what the PICC line looks like:

The blue hose is about 14" long and feeds into a large artery next to my heart.
It has a splitter on it so they can connect two I.V. lines, or use one for I.V. meds 
and the other to draw blood samples. It can stay in place for up to 6 months.

Here is the PICC line with tape/dressing on it so it doesn't get pulled out.
You can see the I.V. line connected which is pumping antibiotics. I didn't have
my camera phone to record the procedure to install the PICC but it was pretty cool.


So, as it turned out, given the extremely weakened state of my immune system at the time of the Roaming Rally, picking a little scab from my elbow was all it took to cause a very serious case of cellulitis with bacteria infected bursitis, sepsis (blood overwhelmed with bacteria infection), which led to kidney failure and my liver that wasn't working at all. I just hope this round of antibiotics will put an end to the infection and let me get back to a normal life.

Two portable I.V. pumps and two bags of antibiotics connected to the
PICC line in my arm. Gotta wear this 24/7 for at least the next 
two weeks. Inconvenient, yes, but better than lying in a hospital bed.