It COULD Happen to YOU!
I Hope NOT!
By Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, June 24, 2017
Background. I tell this story not to seek sympathy but to give credence to this Nugget based upon actual experience. Until March 2016 I had experienced 5 left knee surgeries with the 5th being a total left knee replacement in 1998. The knee was so bad that I was permanently retired from the U. S. Coast Guard in 1985 because of it. Then in March 2016 the knee replacement just quit working properly – it had totally worn out (doctor’s words). The knee was replaced again in March 2016.
All went well for about 6 months. Then I noticed that the knee felt like it was giving way; not often, but often enough to cause me to constantly be aware of it. Then in March 2017 I met with my surgeon and demonstrated how much the knee was giving way and how I could make it “click” in and out of its proper position. The diagnosis – it needed a larger spacer inserted between the two major replacement parts of the knee. The surgery was done in March 2017.
As always, I signed all the documents put in front of me without reading them because I pretty much knew what they said and I also knew I needed the surgery. If I elected NOT to sign the documents, I would NOT have the surgery and the knee would gradually become worse and eventually adversely affect my qualify of life far worse than it already had. I signed the documents one of which laid out all the various possibilities that could go wrong with the surgery including having the surgical site becoming infected.
To me, having surgery was similar in results to driving a car, flying in a plane, bungie jumping, sky diving, etc. Accidents always happened to other people, surely they would not happen to me. (I did not bungie jump or sky dive.) Signing the papers was a mere formality to achieve a certain result; a better knee.
I had the surgery to insert the larger spacer and at first all seemed to have gone well. The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was that the incision would not stop bleeding. At first it was obviously blood but as the leakage continued, the discharge turned pink then clear and would not stop. The surgeon became very concerned and re-admitted me for a second surgery, this one to “wash” out the left knee and that was done. But while in the wound area the surgeon took cultures and they came back positive for infection.
Back into surgery I went for a third time in about 3 weeks. This time the surgeon removed the enlarged spacer and inserted a spacer that contained antibiotics to fight the infection PLUS a new procedure where he literally packed the knee cavity with “beads” that contained antibiotics. He later told me that it took special approval by the hospital because it was a very new and expensive procedure.
I was then seen by an Infectious Disease Doctor. Just the title, Infectious Disease Doctor, is discomforting. She said she was putting me on a daily drip of antibiotics for the next 6 weeks. I could not imagine having an IV inserted every day for 6 weeks and that is when I was introduced to a PICC Line. Instead of explaining it, here is how the Internet describes it:
A PICC line is a thin, soft, long catheter (tube) that is inserted into a vein in the patient’s arm, leg or neck. The tip of the catheter is positioned in a large vein that carries blood into the heart. The PICC line is used for long-term intravenous (IV) antibiotics, nutrition or medications, and for blood draws.
The PICC Line was inserted into my left bicep and has two protruding extensions that hang from my arm. While I am constantly aware they exist, they really present no problem other than the nuisance factor – plus I could NOT get them wet meaning no showers for six weeks. Every day I would go to the Infusion Center at the hospital and sit while an antibiotic drip was downloaded into my body. When the PICC Line is removed next week, I will go on a very strong oral antibiotic medication taken twice a day for 3 to 6 months. During that time I will also be giving blood samples from which they can monitor the infection or in my case, I hope the lack of infection.
How did all this infection happen? No one knows for certain. The surgeon explained that he took extra precautions for all his surgeries including taping the door to the operating room to prevent contaminated air from entering the room.
What I discovered is that the number of patients acquiring infections after surgeries is not all that uncommon. The remedies for contracting an infection is time consuming, costly and some have adverse reactions to the strong antibiotics given to fight the infections.
WHY DO I TELL THIS STORY?
First, take the warnings given prior to surgery very seriously. Weigh the adverse possibilities against the need for the surgical procedure. For example, I see people having surgeries to improve their looks. Is that a procedure that is needed or one that is simply desired; there is a significant difference. All surgeries no matter how slight or how severe all carry the same adverse possibilities. Just be aware of these possibilities and choose wisely.
Second, I was surprised when I entered the Infusion Center for my daily antibiotic drip. The area was huge with several rows of recliner type chairs and on any given day at least 12 or more nurses who specialize in drips of all kinds. I say all kinds because this is the area where people with cancers receive their chemo therapy drips. Some of those drips take hours to administer. In my case the antibiotic drip last only 30 minutes at each daily sitting. Think about this for a moment. This is more about gratitude and giving thanks for what you have. As I see the patients of all ages receiving their “drips”, I could not help but think of my own ignorance as to the number of people who are experiencing health issues EVERY DAY and how serious those issues actually are including my own knee infection. An infection of any kind can prove to be devastating if not properly taken care of. In my case, the infection can actually eat away at the metal parts of my knee replacement and that would or could result in having another total knee replacement (#3) done on the same knee. Then you open yourself up to the same serious issues including infections you expose yourself to with any surgery.
The town where I live is a small town by most standards; less than 30,000 living within its city limits. There may be 60,000 within a 25 mile radius. When you see the number of people having procedures done just within the Infusion Center, it is shocking, at least to me. Remember, I was there only 30 minutes a day. The Center is open 8 hours a day 5 days a week (the hospital does the work on weekends). I have seen as many as 25 people waiting to be seen at the Center.
Be grateful for your health and take steps to do your best to insure you keep your health. In that regard I am very saddened when I see the number of people being treated at the Infusion Center and while I did not specifically ask the question, I am certain that a lot of those patients were smokers. The dangers of smoking are well known and well advertised yet people still smoke. Now in addition to smoking cigarettes we have more and more people smoking pot and the results of either or both types of smoking will most assuredly lead to those smokers experiencing the treatment at Centers like the one I frequented for a knee infection.
Here is the most important fact of this Nugget. I witnessed many healthcare professionals and they all showed that they deeply cared about not only my condition and treatment but the care and treatment for everyone in the Center. For the most part these professionals go about their daily work with little praise or even recognition. The next time you see a nurse, doctor, or medical technician, express your gratitude by appreciating what they do and how well they do it.
Suggestion. Whenever a friend or family member is admitted inpatient to a hospital the natural tendency is to go to the hospital to see them and wish them well. Given my story about the infected knee, think about what you are doing. While I was inpatient, there were numerous nurses, doctors, technicians, food service people, janitorial service people, and people from local churches who wanted to say a prayer for or with me. Then there are your family members and friends who come to visit. Every one of these people have the ability to bring bacteria into your hospital room; everyone! Granted some of these people take extra efforts to properly clean their hands each time they enter your room. But what do family and friends do to insure they do not bring the unwanted bacteria guest into your hospital room? Plus they naturally want to give you a hug, shake your hand and/or kiss you. I cannot speak for you but these are the thoughts of someone sitting in an Infusion Center watching the slow drip of an antibiotic into my body and the same for the numerous other patients receiving drips as I sat there. It is definitely something to think about is it not?