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Christopher’s story

A simple knock to Christopher's elbow was the start Christopher's fight with Necrotising Fasciitis. His wife tells his story.
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Saturday January 17th 1998 and the day began as any other. My husband Christopher had gone to his parents home to help with some odd jobs around their house, he took our ten year old son Matthew with him while I stayed at home with our other two children, Amy aged eight and Emily aged three.

Later on that day a simple knock on Christopher’s elbow started a chain of events, which was to become a living nightmare.

That night Christopher’s arm became sore a blister appeared where he had knocked his elbow earlier in the day. Not being the type of person to complain, Christopher just ignored the pain and to bed. We didn’t start to get unduly concerned until the Monday lunchtime, by this time his arm was extremely painful and has swollen up alarmingly.

It was also badly bruised and I suspected he might of broken it. We thought we’d better go to our nearest casualty department at Singleton Hospital to have it out. The doctors didn’t think that any bones were broken and diagnosed an infection.

As Singleton Hospital doesn’t have the facilities, we were sent to Morriston Hospital for Christopher’s arm to be x-rayed. There they confirmed that no bones were broken and we were sent home.

The following morning Christopher was in excruciating pain with his arm, but to add to his discomfort he also began to feel unwell. As the day wore on his temperature rose and he started to vomit. I was starting to get very concerned about his condition and against Christopher’s wishes I phoned for the doctor.

The doctor thought Christopher was showing the symptoms of flu but he also prescribed penicillin for the infection in his arm. I was relieved that there was nothing to worry about and that Christopher would feel better in a few days. IF ONLY I’D KNOWN WHAT LAY AHEAD!

Looking back I am relieved that my son Matthew had stayed off from school with a flare-up of eczema on that Wednesday. For if he hadn’t been home, his daddy might not have be with us today! Although I didn’t want to go, I really needed to go into Swansea that morning. Christopher assured that he would be okay so I went, promising not to be long.

I phoned home just to check that everyone was okay, Matthew although calm, sounded distraught. What he told me sent me straight into a panic. ‘Daddy’s not well, he’s turned a funny blue colour! ‘My heart beating, raced home. I couldn’t get there quick enough. I didn’t know what to think, could Christopher be that ill? No, surely not, he only had the flu.

On my arrival at home, I could see indeed wasn’t very well. Feeling bewildered and knowing what to do, I phoned my doctors surgery for advice. He couldn’t be that ill surely? Then Christopher having difficulties in breathing! What on earth was happening? The nurse at the surgery told me that she was phoning for an ambulance.

The ambulance arrived within minutes, after asking a few questions they whisked us off to Morriston Hospital. Why was the blue light on the ambulance flashing?

On our arrival at the hospital, Christopher was whisked straight away, I was told to give his details and wait in the waiting room. What on earth was happening to my husband? After what seemed like an eternity and in reality was only a few more moments, the sister took me in to the relative’s room.

There she explained that they didn’t know what was wrong with Christopher, but that he was an extremely ill man. I was bewildered and confused, the sister went on to explain that Christopher had been taken up to the Intensive Care Unit. When I saw Christopher on the intensive care unit I was shocked at how quickly his condition had deteriorated, at this point he was conscious but his breathing was laboured and he was on oxygen.

The doctors requested that I leave for a few moments so that they could examine him, I didn’t want to leave his side but I realised that I had to allow the doctors to do their work. After a short time the nurse came and took me back into Christopher, the scene that met me as I walked onto the unit was like a scene from a horror film. Christopher had collapsed, his heart had stopped and the nurses were frantically performing CPR on him.

I just stood there screaming! Although I didn’t want to leave him ,the nurse insisted and took me back to all the family who were in the sister’s office. Christopher’s heart stopped three times in total, the medical staff brought him back each time. He was so very ill and not expected to last the night.

When the doctors accompanied by a nurse entered the sisters office and closed the door, I knew it was bad news. All the family listened in disbelief, Christopher had been placed on a Life Support Machine. We were all in a state of shock as we were told to take it minute by minute. All Christopher’s organs were failing, his body being completely overwhelmed with toxins in his blood.

At this point the doctors were baffled, they didn’t know what was causing his condition to deteriorate so quickly was in complete denial, This nightmare couldn’t be happening. The nurse took me in to see Christopher, he was unconscious and connected to a frightening amount of tubes and wires. The monitors continually bleeped, This wasn’t my Christopher laying on that bed. He was unrecognisable, all red and swollen.

Again the doctors called all the family together, this time the news was worse. They had the results of their tests. NECROTISING FASCIITIS, What on earth was that! I didn’t understand. The doctors face was grim as he went on to explain that it was the flesh-eating bug which had been reported in the media. FLESH EATING BUG! I was now really frightened for Christopher as the realisation of how desperately ill he really was sunk in.

The consultant explained that the disease was caused by Streptococcus Bacteria and attacks living tissue at a rate of a Foot (30cm) an hour. Time was of the essence. The consultants wanted to operate, Christopher’s blood pressure was dangerously low and his whole system was being systematically poisoned. He was so weak that the doctors warned us that he might not be strong enough to withstand the operation.

They advised that amputation of the arm was the only answer to rid Christopher’s body of the Flesh-Eating Bug that was advancing at a rapid rate. Quick action could mean the difference between ‘only’ losing his arm or losing his life. What choice did I have but to sign the consent form?

I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the operation to be over. Fight Christopher! Don’t leave us, I love you, the children love you, you have to be strong and FIGHT! These thoughts raced through my head. When Christopher was brought back to the intensive therapy unit, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing Christopher still had his arm, It hadn’t been amputated.

What was happening, I was elated but confused at the same time. The surgeons said that they had succeeded in removing only the flesh on Christopher’s arm that had been infected with the Necrotising Fasciitis. They had removed approximately nine inches of flesh; this wound we were told would need a skin graft at a later date.

I was so happy. Now the infection had been cut away, I thought that Christopher would soon be out of danger. My jubilation was soon deflated as the consultants told me not to build my hopes up Christopher was still critically ill and not yet out of danger.

Two weeks later Christopher’s condition still hadn’t improved , he remained critical and was still attached to the life support machine. I was exhausted and emotionally drained felt so helpless watching the machine breathing for him, every time an alarm on the monitors would bleep, my heart would sink. As time went on I started to belief that the longer Christopher was attached to the ventilator the stronger he was getting he had survived against all the odds.

I was now feeling very optimistic it would only be a matter of time before he would be well again. The doctors dropped a bombshell! They explained that the longer that Christopher was attached to the life support machine the worse the situation was. DEVASTATION!

I couldn’t take much more, what an emotional rollercoaster! Even though I had all my family offering emotional support, felt so alone.

The doctors couldn’t seem to rid his body of the poisonous toxins that had overtaken his system. Even though the odds were still heavily stacked against him surviving, the doctors and nurses never give up. As a last resort they decided to try a new trial drug to eliminate the toxic poisons in his body, and to stabilise his alarmingly fluctuating blood pressure.

No one knew whether Christopher was receiving the actual drug or a placebo, but slowly his condition started to improve. Eventually after another three weeks of uncertainty the doctors thought that Christopher might be strong enough to be weaned off the live support machine. With every small improvement I became more optimistic, every little frown he made meant that Christopher was still fighting.

At last the day arrived when the ventilator was to be completely removed, everyone was very apprehensive, could Christopher breath on his own? SUCCESS! Christopher finally came back to me on his Fortieth birthday!

It has been hard work but Christopher is slowly recovering. He will never be the fit healthy man he was, but even though he is now classed as disabled he remains cheerful and optimistic. The whole episode seems like a bad dream, who could have thought that a simple knock on the arm could cause such heartache! Only flu.

There she explained that they didn’t know what was wrong with Christopher, but that he was an extremely ill man. I was bewildered and confused, the sister went on to explain that Christopher had been taken up to the Intensive Care Unit. When I saw Christopher on the intensive care unit I was shocked at how quickly his condition had deteriorated, at this point he was conscious but his breathing was laboured and he was on oxygen.

I’ll never say only flu again !!!

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