I went for a jog at dusk last Thursday , which brought me down to Tonquin Beach. In the low light, i didn’t see a small rock; it caught my left foot and i came down hard on my right side, directly onto a rock outcrop. Bad words were uttered, curses invoked. But the net result was just a scraped knee and elbow, so i continued my run. I cleaned the scrapes in the shower, slapped on a couple of bandaids, and that would normally have been that.
Friday morning, the injured joints were stiff and a bit swollen, but usable. On Saturday, Mr. Knee was improving; Sir Elbow, though, was noticeably swollen and tender. Hm, i thought, must be some fluid build-up. I’ll keep it in mind.
By Saturday night, it was hard to put out of mind. Swollen to an angry red, the elbow throbbed and ached. Sunday night was unpleasant. Turns out everything you do in bed — getting in, rolling over, adjusting the blankets — involves elbows. When one of them is uber-sensitive to every tiny sensation, it doesn’t make for a restful night.
After a long meeting Monday, i want straight to Tonquin clinic. The doc took one look and said Yep, antibiotics required, and wrote me a scrip for Kellex. He did warn me that the hospital had been seeing some infections resistant to this antibiotic, but that as i didn’t have much exposure to the risk groups, it was worth a try. I filled the scrip and started at once.
Things were better the next day — not hugely, but noticeable. It didn’t last, though. Wednesday, the swelling was back. On Thursday, the doc took one look, said Yep, resistant, and sent me to emerg for a direct intravenous infusion of stronger antibiotic.
A half-hour pokefest with two funny nurses, then a stoic session while the doc froze my bum elbow and sliced away at it with a scalpel, looking for a centre core of pus to release. (He didn’t find one.)
Then a half-hour laying there alone to think while 300 ml or so of drug-infused saline dripped into my good arm. And i thought, this is pretty serious. I’d asked the doc what would happen if i did nothing. Would it eventually go away? He shook his head but didn’t elaborate. I made the extrapolation myself: My immune system was powerless against this invader. It would get worse until my arm had to be amputated, and if that didn’t happen in time it would kill me, slowly and painfully.
This IV dripping into me was uncomfortably close to a last line of defence against that outcome. Soon after i left the hospital, an evil metallic taste appeared in my mouth, and i thought, “This is more like chemotherapy than what i remember as infection control.”
I went back the next morning for a second IV dose, then filled a prescription for stronger antibiotic pills, which i am now following religiously. At the beginning of day three i feel good, and the battle against the resistance seems to be won.
All this drama from a scrape on the elbow, something i normally shrug off. The injured knee is healing up normally, after all, with scarcely a second thought.
But it’s a telling indication of what life before antibiotics was like, where any tiny scratch might turn deadly serious. More importantly, it gives a first-hand look at what is coming. Medical researchers have been sounding drug-resistance warnings for years. More and more resistant strains are appearing, largely as a result of irresponsible use of antibiotics in industrial animal farming. Fewer antibiotic drugs are being developed, because of rising costs and fewer promising avenues of research.
I used to think of unstoppable, flesh-eating infections as a nasty urban blight or third-world curse. I assumed i was safe from all that, out here at the end of the road in pristine, wild Clayoquot Sound. Turns out it’s a global village after all.