Since the last post my Lymphoedema leg has taken on a new identity, now to be called the Unhappy Leg! The degree of unhappiness depends on the day, worst is when I have a dose of Cellilitis. Having Lymph nodes removed, due to cancer treatment, can leave you vulnerable to infection. The lymph nodes have a role in the body as “filtration stations”, they clean the lymph of bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and various impurities. This is why when you have an infection the “glands swell up” as the nodes fight the infection.
Cellulitis is a serious infection, which left untreated could turn into septicemia if the infection were to enter the blood stream. Normal skin harbors various bacteria and viruses and it is these that causes the infection of the upper dermis (skin and tissue) called Cellulitis. This can occur anywhere on the body but for me it is a weakness of the Unhappy Leg. During the past 11 years I have lost count of the number of episodes, even though I am scrupulous with the care of my skin but a tiny bite or scratch, that you cannot see, allows germs to enter and with no lymph nodes in the groin area to act as a filtration station so the problem starts.
The first time I had Cellulitus I had not had Lymphoedema very long, I had no idea about Cellulitis and how sick it could make me. I woke up one morning feeling terrible with a temperature and vomiting, I thought I had food poisoning or had picked up a gastric bug. I didn’t even look at my leg immediately but later when I went to the loo I noticed my thigh was very red, hot and swollen. This was to be the first of many visits to the hospital emergency department over the years. After the usual few hours wait I was told I had Cellulitis and needed Intravenous Antibiotics, so a hospital stay was on the agenda, for a week, then oral antibiotics at home for two more weeks. No one wants to be in hospital so it was a very Unhappy Leg that was taken to the ward.
My worst case of Cellulitis was when the infection spread to the heart in the form of Pericarditis. This is an infection in the sac around the heart and very dangerous. The infection started in the normal way in the groin with pain and redness. I have now learnt to recognize the signs, as I know within half an hour I will be very ill and need to get to the hospital. I carry antibiotics at all times (with the rubber gloves!) so that I can start them immediately, prior to the IV ones. However this time I had a pain all over and felt awful, much worse than usual. At the hospital they started to treat me of cellulitis but the pain in my body did not go away, after a few days of treatment the doctors realized something more was wrong!!! At last and many tests later they found the infection around the heart. Infected fluid was drained from around my heart, (sorry for weak stomachs) I had a PICC line inserted in my arm and into the chest cavity and for four weeks I had 8000mg of antibiotics per day, yes I did not get the zeros wrong! Fortunately by this time they had started a service called Hospital in the Home. I was allowed to leave hospital and everyday a nurse would come to my house and hook me up to the days antibiotics, they were on call should I need help. At least I could sleep in my own bed without all the hospital noises and people. Over the years Hospital in the Home has been my sanity as it allows me to be treated out of hospital. Even so this time I could not work for seven weeks and at other times at least two weeks.
At the start of my blog I posed the question “Am I CRAZY”. I believe that if this Lymph Node Transplant can save me from Cellulitis episodes then it is worth it. To be vulnerable to such severe infections, that can knock you side ways in half an hour, makes life very difficult. It is only that I work for myself that I have been able to continue. Once again Lymphoedema shows itself to be a difficult and chronic health issue that should not be ignored. I hope with this blog that I am giving it a voice, along with my Unhappy Leg!