It all happened towards the end of March 2013 . It was a normal day, except for one thing. I had finished the night shift, and as per usual I wanted to be up nice and early so I could spend some time with my family before going back to work. The difference was today, I couldn’t pull myself out of bed. I had a massive pain in my groin and I felt really woozy.
I booked an appointment at my GPs and he told me that I had an abscess on my groin and that antibiotics should be able to clear it up. Well three days later I felt worse. The lump was getting bigger and I was feeling terrible. I went back to him. He had another look and decided it would need draining. I was booked immediately into the Medway Maritime Hospital where a few hours later I was under the knife for what I thought at the time should be a fairly routine operation. I remember waking up in the award with my partner there, and I remember being impressed with the fact that Danone yoghurt was to be part of my daily medication . I remember thinking how modern the NHS was becoming. Long gone were the days of matrons and thermometers, we were being fed little tubs of flavoured yoghurt. To this day my memory is still hazy but I remember desperately wanting to come home to be with my family., what I do remember is a nurse coming to change my dressing in my bed because it was leaking. As he took the dressing off, I will never ever forget the smell that came from the lower part of my body. It is hard to put in to words. All I can say is that it smelt like dead rotting meat and fish combined, and it was at that point that I started to panic. I just knew that something was not quite right.
I called my sister in law, Who is a nurse and she came straight to the hospital to see me. It was only to reassure me as family members do, that there was nothing wrong everything was fine I was in the best hands etc.
I slept a bit easier that night but I was still in loads of pain and I could not get that smell out of my head.
I was discharged the following day and told to rest for a couple of days to recuperate.
I was also informed that a district nurse would come round the following day to change my dressing for me. I hobbled in absolute agony to the car, and my partner drove me home. I spent the rest of the day on the sofa and I was unable to do anything for myself due to the severe amount of pain I was still in. When I woke up in the morning after spending the night on the sofa, I was finding it increasingly difficult to do anything. I had the mother of all headaches, my partner tells me now that I was saying incoherent things, and in my own words I emailed work saying I wouldn’t be in tonight because “I felt like I had been hit by a bus”. I have no recollection of sending this email or any of the numerous text messages I sent around this time. It is only in the last few months that I have been through my phone and seen what I sent.
To cut a long story short, my wound site was leaking. It was stinking, and there was no sign of the district nurse. My partner phoned the GP who suggested that we make an appointment with the local health centre and they would be able to do the dressing for me. I vaguely recollect, my partner telling me that she had got me an appointment within two hours, and I do remember very well driving down there. Purely because of the severe pain. I remember sitting in the waiting room and all I could smell was that same smell over and over again. My trainers were covered in stuff that had been leaking from the wound. I remember the nurse an absolutely lovely lady, coming in to the waiting room to help me down to her room where I laid on the bed. Pleased of the rest, my head pounding and I knew that this was my final destination and that she was going to take care of me, change the dressing, and give me some tablets to ease the pain.
Little did I know at the time that this was just the beginning of my adventure. The district nurse took one look at the wound, physically held her breath took one look at my partner and said to her. “I am sorry I can’t treat this. It’s infected.” She made a phone call and told me to get straight back up to the hospital where they would be expecting me. I don’t remember the journey up there, I don’t remember going in the hospital I don’t remember being readmitted. I do remember being sent for a CT scan, and I do remember a nurse putting a finger somewhere where I really wish rather she didn’t have to, but I was assured it was for a good reason !!
That is my last memory. Bearing in mind this was the 25th March.
My next memory is looking at the clock with the date on in the HDU ward. It was April 17th.
I will come back to that part in a minute if you will forgive me. I will continue with the story from that last memory. I have acquired this info from talking to friends and family, counsellors and reading my diary that everyone was keeping.
Having had the CT scan and a visit from an irate Doctor who could not understand why I had been allowed to be discharged, I was rushed into the intensive care unit, where I had been diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis.
I was placed into an induced coma and I had up to 22 operations where they would take me down to theatre, cut away any dead flesh and skin, and then take me back up to the unit to assess how it was all going. They fitted me with a urinary catheter and a bum bag and as time progressed they fitted me with a vacuum pump which used to suck all of the bad stuff out of my wound in between operations and cleaning. I had Sepsis as well and my family were told at one point that the next two hours were critical on whether I was going to make it or not. A horrific time for everyone. Well thanks to the hard work dedication and care of all the nursing and surgical staff, I pulled through and started to slowly recover.
Like I say my earliest memory is April 17th where I looked at the clock on the wall. I remember panicking and saying to my brother who was constantly by my bedside along with my partner. Shit I’m getting married in 3 days !! It was at this point that they decided to tell me what had happened to me, what I had been through and what the future held for me. The nursing staff had told my family that I would be expected to be in hospital until at least November and it would be unlikely that I would walk as they had stripped dead flesh away to my bone in some places.
Obviously I wouldn’t be getting married and all my honeymoon had been cancelled. I didn’t understand, I thought they were lying, I was confused upset and still bonkers from all the morphine. I was convinced I was in a hospital abroad. I was convinced that the nurses were trying to kill me. I was convinced I was going to die because I was so thirsty and they wouldn’t give me any water. Obviously this was because I was nil by mouth, but I never knew this. I remember the pleasure of sucking an ice cube. I remember the satisfaction of my mum dabbing my lips with a wettened swab. I remember the pleasure of when I was allowed a jug of water and I remember how quickly I drunk it. I remembered one of the surgeons coming to see me and telling me that he was going to fix my leg, and from this moment on I knew he was someone special. In my morphine state, he became the witch doctor. He was the man that was going to save me , he was going to make me a new leg. I could tell you so many of my Morphined dreams as I call them. To this day I don’t know which ones are real, and which ones my mind has fabricated. I will tell you a few more, just so you know what the mind is capable of. Feel free to laugh, I do now, when looking back. My new leg which the witch doctor was making me had to be made of the finest chocolate, and for this we would need to travel to Switzerland, for which the nurses would change me every day to get me looking my best. When I went to bed at night the zombies used to visit me. I asked my son to stay with me one night to help me fight them off, which he did of course !! my old next door neighbour came to visit me which I remember vividly. It was lovely to see him, he made all that effort to come and see me, and he even dressed up as a clown complete with makeup to be by my bedside. Madness, absolute madness. He asked me about my garden which I had worked on last summer and I had great pleasure in telling him that instead of grass we had used bake well tarts and that it looked lovely.
Like I say now I can look back and laugh, but at the time it was a living nightmare.
Back to the story. I remember spending April 20th my wedding day with all my family by my bedside. It was a special day. Even the man opposite me in hospital gave us a card, and his wife made us a lovely cushion. I knew that I had to get out and make this day real. A few days later, one of the surgeons came to see me. He told me that I would be going for another operation the following day and that if my wound was still healing the way it was then this would be the last time for now that i would have to go to theatres. They would try and change the dressing on the ward. I remember 2 things after this . Initially the relief of never having to hear the automatic doors on the theatre again, or the voices of the anaesthetists saying to me, Mr.Kimble you again. I was becoming part of the furniture. The other thing I remember was the tunnel was no longer endless. It sounds like a total cliché but I could see a light. This was the beginning of the end.
I recall making a special effort that afternoon when the physiotherapists came round, to get out of my bed on my crutches and walk around the ward, totally undignified as those hospital gowns that you make us wear leave nothing to the imagination.
I remember thinking. We are in April and I have got another 5 months of this minimum. I was determined to get out early.
I had my last operation, thanked all the staff for their hard work and assured them I would update them on my progress. They cared. They really cared.
A couple of days later the surgeon came back to the ward and told me that they would change my dressing in bed the following day.
I was excited, but I was nervous. I was frightened. This had started as an abscess on my groin, but now where they had cut so much away it was not only my groin, but bottom and lower back. He described the look of it as a Great White Shark bite. I couldn’t look at it. I didn’t want to look at it. It’s not because I was vain, far from it, but it was because this was still so unreal this couldn’t be me.
I remember the fear and trepidation the following morning after having my breakfast. Breakfast by the way is a massive time when you are in hospital long term. It means that another sleepless lonely night is over, and it is only a couple of hours before you can see your loved ones again.
I finished my breakfast. Got out of my bed for the overworked nurses to change my bed and generally look after my every whim and need, got back into bed and awaited the big event. My partner Verity turned up at 10 on the dot as she had done every day, and we waited the surgeon to arrive at 12. At 11.30 I was given an extra dose of orimorph to ease the pain when they unwrapped me on the ward.
12.00 on the dot my surgeon turned up with 5 other members of his team. I remember thinking this was a biggie. 6 people to look after me. They brought me a full canister of entonox to suck on to try and ease the pain. They first of all disconnected my Vac machine and then started to remove all the dressing. I had a nurse on each side holding my hand and I had another 2 holding my leg in the air. Verity positioned herself so that I could see her at all times, and I started to panic. I was really frightened. I frantically sucked at the entonox through the mask, waiting for the pain to strike. I remember thinking it’s going to come in a minute. But guess what. It never came. Every where was completely numb. There was no pain. There was no feeling. I was later told that this was quite normal as every nerve had been cut away from that area, and it could take months for it to return. Indeed it might never come back.
It didn’t stop me having another blast on the entonox though. That was quite soothing.
My ordeal was over. What was next on the agenda. The surgeon took a photo of the wound and told me that it was healing really well and would soon be ready for skin grafts.
2 days later they repeated this procedure, this time I wasn’t frightened. I was quite calm (more entonox).
This time though, the surgeon told me that he was going to send the photo to the plastic surgeons as he was certain I was almost ready for the graft , the wound was now only about 2 inches deep and was healing rapidly. It was at this point I asked to see the photo. I cried and cried and cried. It was horrific viewing.
2 days later I was shipped off to East Grinstead burns unit for what I thought was to be the penultimate part of my journey. I was told that I would be having the skin graft on the 4th May, and that I would be back in the Medway by the 7th May, to continue with the healing process.
I went to East Grinstead by ambulance car and was given a room on my own. They were giving me the same treatment as they would a burns victim as this was being treated in exactly the same way as a severe burn. I met the
plastic surgeon, who explained the procedure. It was again unreal to me what they planned to do. They were going to take a massive layer of skin from my left thigh, put it through a processing machine and apply it to my wound. If all went well this would take after a couple of days, and a new layer of skin would start to grow. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was just unreal. I had seen that photo and convinced myself that this wound was never going to heal. It was just too big.
I went down to surgery the following day as agreed, and after the obligatory count one two three sleep, I remember waking up in recovery in extreme pain. Something was wrong though. The pain I was in was coming from the other leg. My good leg. It was bloody agony. I couldn’t believe it. It was laughable. After all I had been through and I was in pain from a graze, the skin donor site. It made me start to realise how damn lucky I had been when it came to pain. There was this big gaping wound on my right side which was completely painless and a scrape on my left thigh which was excruciating.
I had been told by my plastic surgeon that the next 48 hours were crucial. If the graft was to take properly first time, I had to be careful not to knock it or scrape it as I would have to go back to theatre for a second try.
Believe me when I tell you, I didn’t move a muscle for the next 2 days. I wasn’t jeopardising anything. I wanted out and I wanted out as soon as possible. I broke a few rules, but I knew in my heart it would be worth it. I peed in a bottle in bed, to save walking to the toilet and risk knocking it in some way. My partner helped me. I was meant to wash in the bathroom but I didn’t. I had a strip down bed bath. The furthest I went was from my bed to my chair for meals, and then straight back to bed. My gamble paid off. The plastic surgeon took a look 2 days later as promised, and was impressed. My graft had taken in over 80 % of where it was meant to. He used it as a platform for his own work. He asked if he would mind if he could photograph it and use it as a model example of a skin graft whilst teaching his students. Who was I to say no? I was impressed as he was. I needed perfection after this whole ordeal and he delivered. With over 300 staples securing it in place it shows the complexity and skill of the man. I will be eternally grateful.
I was expecting to go back to the Medway, but I healed so well they decided to keep me at East Grinstead and let me finish my time there. I didn’t complain. I would miss the nurses and patients at the Medway, but the food was better at East Grinstead and the staff were just as competent and friendly.
A week exactly after being admitted to East Grinstead, I got the news that I had been waiting eight weeks to hear. They were discharging me in the morning. I was to be allowed home, on the proviso that every other day I would return for a dressing change. A round trip of about 110 miles. I didn’t care I was going home, I was getting better, I was going to lead a half normal life again.
And here I am today, the every other day dressing changes changed to every three days, to every week to every two weeks. I now go back to East Grinstead bi monthly for a massage on my scar. It is completely at skin level now, apart from a small dent on my back, but even that seems to be growing. I would love to report that I still have no feeling, but I can’t. Although the main wound is still without feeling, the outline of the scar itches a lot and sometimes drives me crazy. Like I said it started in my groin, so it isn’t in the best of places when I need to itch in public. A small price to pay for being alive.
Mentally I am struggling. I don’t think I will ever come to terms with what I have been through. I burst in to tears for no reason, I am paranoid about becoming infected again, and I get cross with anyone that puts themselves at risk. My son came home recently with his ear pierced. I lost the plot. He had risked becoming infected for the sake of his image. Extreme I know, but I just can’t deal with it. Through the charity the Lee Spark foundation I have met fellow survivors, who still after 10 years have all these feelings and emotions. Maybe one day I will get that tattoo that I wanted just before I went ill, but if I am honest I very much doubt it.
There are a few ways which I deal with my emotions.
Sometimes I do the wrong thing and block them out with a few vodkas, I know this isn’t right but for me, it works and sometimes it is the right thing to do. I have a couple of drinks and I cry. I talk to my partner about the experiences and I just cry and cry. It does me good to get it all out.
There are other times when I go and see my niece. My sons are grown up now and although they are sweet on the inside, are big ugly brutes on the outside, Apart from my partner my niece is the most beautiful thing on this planet . She is coming up to 2 years old and when I look at her it makes me realise how lucky I am to still have the opportunity to watch her grow older every day.
I also have my follow up nurse from ICU. A wonderful lady who I have regular after care appointments with. I talk she listens. She talks I listen. She has become a good friend and I am hoping to work with her more in the future with regards to a patients view of Sepsis and Necrotising Fasciitis. She has asked me to speak to her staff in January if I am up for it.
I have Doreen and the Lee Spark foundation. Through the horror stories I read, the people I talk to, and the friends I have made, I have been made to realise I am not alone and there is always someone to speak to if I need anything at all. That is very comforting. Through days like today, if I can do some good and just help out in some way, then it makes it all worth it to me.
And finally my partner Verity, there every single step of the way for me, by my bedside every day, changing my dressings and putting up with my tears tantrums and feelings.
She made me the happiest man alive last week by becoming Mrs.Kimble after our initial disappointment and setback in April.
For someone who was still due to be in his hospital bed, I haven’t done too badly. Thanks to the astuteness of that district nurse, i am still here today. And thanks to the hard work and dedication of all the medical staff in both hospitals I was able to tell you my story today.