Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, otherwise know as MRSA is a form of staph bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. Staphylococcus Aureus, often referred to as “staph” is found on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. Most of which are healthcare workers. 25-30% of the population will carry MRSA on their bodies but will never become sick. Sometimes staph can cause an infection. These show up in pimples or boils and other skin infections. Staph can occasionally cause serious illness if found in the bloodstream, lungs or a wound after surgery. This is where my story begins.
I am a home health nurse with many years of experience. In mid January of 2011, I went to work like I normally would. By my second patient I had started with a cough. Thinking nothing of it since I have a history of Asthma, I finished my day. For two more days I coughed and eventually started wheezing. Finally I decided to see my physician. I was started on Prednisone (steroid) tapering the dose every three days. I started on 30mg, and by the time I was to decrease to 20mg, I awoke around 4am unable to breathe. I used my inhalant medication with no results and decided to take my prednisone dose at that time. By 9am, I was getting no better and realized I had taken my allotted dose for the day already, I decided to go to the hospital.
At the hospital, I was given breathing treatments, a chest xray and IV steroids. The chest xray was negative and the doctor on duty asked me if I wanted to stay or go home. I chose to stay by the grace of God.
Twelve hours later, I had a very high temperature, was short of breath and had severe back pains. They decided to do a cat scan of my chest. Apparently both of my lungs filled up with pus and fluid in that short time and I was diagnosed with pleurisy and pneumonia.
Well, if you have ever been in a hospital, you know that routinely they swab your nose when you are admitted, looking for MRSA. Mine was positive as most health care workers are. Thus beginning one of the biggest battles I have ever had to fight.
Every day was an adventure. I was poked and prodded for blood cultures every day. On my second day, in the afternoon, I was laying in bed watching the television. A nurse comes in to tell me not to get alarmed. She said a large group of people will be entering my room quickly because my heart was beating very fast. I asked her if this was a code blue, and she replied “yes”. So I just tried to relax while they brought in the crash cart. Luckily, it only took a shot of IV medication to slow it down but it also bought me a ticket for a very fast ride to the ICU.
In the ICU, the back pains became much more intense. As a mother of two children, I can say this back pain was way worse than labor. Every breath in and out was extremely painful. I cried most of the time because none of the pain medications they tried would give me any relief. After getting no sleep for 2 days they tried Toradol. It is an anti-inflammatory medication given at short intervals for severe pain. Finally I had relief.
I ended up in ICU for a week, but could have been moved after three days if there would have been a bed available. So from all the pain medications building up in my system and the continuous high fevers, I started becoming confused. I would start a sentence and have to think “no this isn’t right” and I’d stop. With each day I became worse, mentally.
I was transferred to a regular room on the fifth day of ICU. At that time, I seemed o.k. during the day, but that night I became frightened and paranoid being alone in the room. The next morning I didn’t know where I was at. I kept staring down the hallway. When my husband came to visit he said I looked so bewildered and was tearful. I just wasn’t “right” but didn’t know why. My husband told me that while in ICU, the blood cultures came back positive which meant I had a serious blood infection. The bacteria found was MSSA or Methicillin Suceptable Staph Aureus. Meaning, it would be sensitive to antibiotics. That was the good news. The bad news was that my sputum contained MRSA.
The antibiotics were started immediately, but my fever would never subside. That evening, I was sitting in the chair and remember my pulmonary doctor coming in. He said “wow, you don’t look like someone with a collapsed lung”. I was panic stricken. As a nurse, my worst memory was observing placement of a chest tube. He said he would place one in at the bedside, but it would be small. If it did not help, I would need a much larger one placed. I made it through that like a champ. The next morning he came in to tell me it wasn’t working.
So that afternoon I had surgery. VATS. Video assisted thoracoscopic surgery. They cleaned the chest cavity and placed 3 large chest tubes.
Now, remember, I said I was slowly becoming confused? Well, the anesthesia and new pain medication made everything worse. During the night, I’m told I walked up the hallway dragging all my tubes behind me. I destroyed a pulse oximeter and eventually a “condition” was called. I was off my rocker. Found my self with a stranger in the room 24/7. A sitter.
After a few days, I was started on a psyche med to help me come back to reality. After 2 days of that, I asked if my sister could spend the night and if I stayed out of trouble could I go home. I was more comfortable with a friendly face and made it through the night without any problems. I was discharged the next morning.
I came home so very weak. Dark circles under my eyes. Spent my days doing one chore then laying down. I had several follow up appointments and various scans to make sure the lungs cleared. I took iv vancomycin for 6 weeks. I was able to clear the sputum of MRSA, but not my nose. I am now a labeled “carrier”.
So when I was able to go back to work, I was told it wasn’t a good idea to work home care. I would now have to gown, glove and mask every time I walked into a patients home. I knew that would scare the patient and their family. So I was forced to quit.
6 months passed without any work prospects. I visited the infectious disease doctor to make sure it was written down that I was not a threat to any one. I had so many nose swabs I cant remember.
Finally I was able to find a job. I was honest with them and gave them all my documentation before starting. What a change! I became a GI nurse and I still am.
Now on occasion, my asthma flares up. I am at risk for pneumonia and lung issues due to the scar tissue in my left lower lobe. I’ve become a germophobe. When I think back, I kept my hands clean, but you never know what the person before you touches. MRSA is a terrible bacteria. I’m labeled for life, and on isolation when admitted to the hospital. It’s unbelievable how a bacteria can change a life forever. I try to look at it as a new beginning. I loved my homecare patients, but I’m loving my new job as well. I always say” I almost died to get the job”.
Jodi Wolf RN, BSN -Pittsburgh Pa.