My Vacation Souvenir

vacation staph infection
One "Staph" you don't want to be a part of...
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Many go on vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle. To come back refreshed and relaxed. For me? That wasn't really the case.

Sure, lying on the soft white sand and gazing into the deep blue waters of the Dominican Republic, there didn't seem to be a care in the world. But little did I know, there was something brewing inside of me—and it wasn't the cocktails.

It all started with my underarms. When we arrived home from our trip to paradise, I just couldn't stop scratching them. From what I could see in the mirror, there were a few white patches forming. So I chalked it up to dry skin from being in the sun all week, and brushed it off.

Now let's fast-forward to two weeks later. My friends and I made plans to go out for some dinner and dancing. While getting ready for my girl's night out, I noticed this small mark on the back of my leg. It was about the size of a mosquito bite. But the pain coming from this tiny bump was excruciating. It was almost like it had its own heartbeat—pulsating and throbbing, throbbing and pulsating. Since I didn’t have time to make an appointment with my primacy care doctor, I decided to run down the street to my local pharmacy to ask the pharmacist if he had any idea of what it could be.

"Oh that's an easy one," the druggist confidently proclaimed. "It's definitely a spider bite and should go away on it's own." A look of relief came over my face. I figured that I probably got bit by something while on vacation, and preceded to my dinner plans.

A few margaritas and laughs later, my girlfriends and I were ready to go home. As we got into the car, the pain coming from what I thought was a spider bite became severe—and my underarms were itchier than ever. I lifted up the leg of my pants to take a look and what I saw totally caught me by surprise. What was once the size of a tiny mosquito bite had grown into a gruesome pus pocket the size of a golf ball, that was literally hanging off the back of my leg.

Instead of going home, I asked my girlfriends to drop me off at my parent's house. I didn't even care that it was 2 in the morning; I needed a second opinion on what this thing could be.

As I leaned over my mother's bedside, I whispered, "I know I had a few margaritas tonight, so please tell me I'm seeing something worse than what this is."

When I lifted up my pant leg and heard her gasp, I knew this wasn't something the margaritas had made up. This was something worse. Something was happening in my body and I had to get to the bottom of it.

My mother immediately got dressed and rushed me to the hospital. After sitting in the emergency room for almost 4 hours, we finally were seen by the resident MD. He also said that it was a pretty awful spider bite and sent me home with antibiotics. After hearing two medical professionals give the same diagnosis, I had to have trust and believe that they were right. After all, there comes a point when we are simply at their mercy, right?

A few days later after being on the antibiotics, I was not getting any better. In fact, this so-called "spider bite" was actually getting worse. A trail of redness began spreading up the back of my leg and the pus pocket kept getting larger and larger. I decided it was time to take another trip back to the hospital.

This time, we saw a different MD and she was extremely perplexed. Not at what this thing was. But she was perplexed that two different doctors had misdiagnosed me. It wasn't a spider bite at all. It was a full-blown staph infection—that needed to be treated immediately with care, or else I could run the risk of this infection getting into my blood stream.

The MD moved me from the small E.R. corridor to a quarantined room. Nothing but four walls and a heavy medal door surrounded me with just a small porthole for a window. Every doctor that came in to examine me was dressed in yellow paper gowns and masks. I felt as if I was a hazmat patient with a terribly contagious disease. The truth is, I was. This was very spreadable and had to be contained.

Finally after hours of being seen by several different physicians and receiving a high dose of antibiotics intravenously, I was able to go home—with strict instructions on how to take a very strong antibiotic, and how to keep this away from my family.

The following days were a nightmare.  I had to have my whole family wash their bodies with this sterilized soap. I had to sleep alone in my bedroom with all of my own linens. And I was having a terrible reaction to the medicines. The meds were so strong that they were causing severe stomach problems for me—painful cramping and continuous vomiting. But I was willing to put up with all of the discomfort and inconvenience if the treatments were working. And sadly they weren't. It actually appeared as if the infection was spreading.

So instead of going back to the hospital, I decided to see my primary doctor at the time. She took a look at the pus pocket and saw how big it was getting and decided to drain it. She stuck a needle directly into the infection and sucked out the gunk that was inside (insert puke sound here). But instead of taking the drainage and getting it tested to ensure that the infection was what they said it was, she decided to throw it away! So now there was no way to guarantee that this infection was indeed staph. Sure, I was mad that she didn't take the time to confirm the diagnosis, but if I didn't go to her, I may have never been cured.

After she drained the infection, she recommended for me to go see an infectious disease doctor. She gave me the name of someone to see and I immediately made an appointment.

Now it's the day of my infectious disease consultation. I sat in the waiting room still in pain and discomfort—hoping and praying that this man would be able to help me. As they called my name and brought me into the room my legs felt like Jell-O. I was so nervous to hear what he was going to say. I took off all of my clothes, put on a robe and sat on the paper-covered table, anxiously waiting to meet the person who I hoped would be my miracle man.

A very nice, professional doctor entered the room and shook my hand. When he asked why I was there, I lifted up the paper gown to show him the back of my leg.  I explained my whole story from the very beginning and told him it was as simple as this—I just needed a cure.

After thoroughly listening to every detail, the infectious disease doctor agreed. It was definitely MRSA. MRSA is an awful staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics and very difficult to treat. He also said being that I was never bit by anything in the Dominican Republic. The cause was was most likely from shaving. Yup, shaving. As women, we all have to shave. We shave our legs, our underarms, and other parts of our bodies—usually using just one razor. And we have a tendency to leave that razor on the edge of a bathtub or shower, when we are finished.  And that's exactly what I did while on vacation. Apparently, some sort of bacteria was on the hotel bathtub ledge and got inside of my razor. So every time I shaved my underarms and legs, I was spreading the bacteria and getting it inside of my body. I couldn't believe it. This was all from shaving.

Know what else I couldn’t believe? The next four words that came out of the doctor's mouth.

Take a bleach bath.

"What?" I said to the doctor in utter disbelief. He said that if I soaked my leg in a bathtub filled with warm water and a cup of bleach, the bacteria would begin to leave my body. So he was saying that the antibiotics, the IV, the draining, the sterilized soap—none of that was going to kill this thing. But good ol', run of the mill Clorox, that I use to keep my towels white, was going to do the trick.

At this point I was so desperate that I would try anything. I took his word for it and BAM! After a few days of soaking (and not smelling so nice), the infection was almost invisible. A few more days later and it was completely gone. This infectious disease doctor saved my life. And for that I will be forever grateful.

So ladies (and gentleman), if there is one thing you learn from my story, it's to please, please never leave a wet razor on the side of any bathtub or shower. And if you must, always make sure it's always face up!


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