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Dan Morsette's Survivor Story
Faith, Hope and Love

My journey through hell with Necrotizing Fasciitis

 

I first discovered this web site, and these stories of others trials and tribulations with NF while still in the Burn/ICU at Miller Dwan Medical Center. I had my laptop on my bedside table and would read these stories each day, drawing strength and hope, that someday I to could write my survivors’ story. To date I have read each one of your stories several times. I believe this battle is as much an emotional one as a physical one, and I thank each and every one of you for sharing your experiences with me.

My story begins in September of 2002, I’m a carpenter by trade, in a small northeastern Minnesota town, and was working on a large deck/screen house project. One Thursday evening, after work, I noticed my abdomen was a little sore, but just figured I had strained myself on some of the large timbers we were working with. Friday was a little worse, and I called it a day early. On Saturday, I was at my brothers, and in a lot of pain. I was surfing the net, and used Web MD to diagnose myself with a hernia. That area was getting a little pink, and most of my symptoms seem to fit. The site said that a hernia is a condition that can be put off for a time, so I decided to wait out the weekend and see a doctor on Monday, if I wasn’t feeling any better by then.

I went home that evening and things started going down hill fast. I started to run a fever and was shaking terribly with the chills, even though I had the heat in the house and electric mattress pad turned way up. It was a very long night; I didn’t get any sleep and was vomiting every forty-five minutes. The pain had me just about doubled over.

Sunday, September 22, I waited until about 8am, before sliding into a pair of slip-on shoes because I could not bend over to tie a pair of shoes. I crawled into my car and drove the two blocks to my brothers. He was out for a walk, and the twenty-minute wait for his return seemed like hours. The red inflammation on my side had now grown to the size of my hand, with a cherry tomato size lump beneath the skin.

Don rushed me the twenty-five miles to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Duluth Clinic. I was about to start the registration process, when someone noticed I didn’t look so good and rushed me into an exam room. They put me into a gown and started with the vitals, elevated temperature, fast pulse, and low blood pressure. At about this time I was starting to nod in and out of conciness, I remember going for a C-scan, and returning to the exam room. The next thing I know, I’ve been admitted and am in a room and on IV’s. I remember talking with my roommate Olaf briefly, he said he was in for gallbladder surgery, and I explained I was in for a hernia. I was sure I would be home later that evening or the next morning. Carpenters really shouldn’t do self-diagnosis, I think they had ruled out a hernia by this time, but didn’t inform me. The last thing I remember is, the doctors were tracking the rapid advance of the infection in my skin and mapping it on my body with a black marker. They left the marker on my bed and I used it to draw a smiley face on my stomach.

The rest of that week I was in a coma, while my wife, who arrived back in town from a weekend in the cities, my two kids, parents, brother and sister in-law were in hell. The events of that week, as they explained them to me, went something like this: I was put on a heavy doses of multiple antibiotics, while the team of doctors tried to determine what was doing on. As one emergency room physician would later say, “About once a week we get a real good mystery.”

It was early Tuesday morning when they reached the diagnosis of Necrotizing Fasciitis. I was rushed to surgery for the first skin debriment. I think the only thing more barbaric than a ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ is the scientific procedure for dealing with it. Cut the skin off! In all fairness, Dr Krook and the whole team, they did a great and courageous job. They removed skin and muscle tissue from my right hip across to my left hip, from just below my belly button to the middle of my groin.

A second surgery was scheduled for Wednesday as the infection was still spreading fast, and had moved up my right side. The situation was serious. The doctors were not giving me much of a chance of surviving, and priest was called to administer the Sacrament of Last Rites. One nurse in particular that my family singled out, by the name of Terry, he told them to “have faith, hang on to that small piece of hope, and pray”, which they did. I made it out of the second surgery, having a total 20% of my skin removed.

A third surgery was scheduled for Thursday, but the infection that had at one time covered 59% of my body was now under control and the surgery was cancelled.

I do not remember anything of that week. I spent the balance of it in Nero Science/ICU on a respirator and in restraints, and while in a drug induced coma, still managed to free my hands and remove the respirator from throat. My only recollection of the whole week, was a dream. I was standing at the front door of a palatial estate, flanked with large white ionic columns. I rang the bell and knocked loudly, several times, but no one answered! Finally, I got angry, and who ever was standing over my shoulder and I just walked away. I know that there were several churches in a couple of towns, literally thousands of people praying. I think that kept someone so busy he couldn’t answer the door.

When I came to, I had been transferred to the Burn/Intensive Care Unit of Miller Dwan Medical Center. The first recollection was a nurse trying to explain what is was that I had and what was done to stop it. I remember looking under the sheets at all of the bandages, and the amount of pain I was in, and knew that this was no hernia.

For the next week, I underwent bandage changes twice a day. The mornings would involve being lowered by an overhead winch into a whirlpool bath to soften up the bandages to make removing them easier. I remember thinking to myself, you have to look, you have to deal with this and the first step is to look at it. The feeling I had when I looked at the gapping hole in me, was the same feeling I had when I saw the gapping hole where the twin towers use to stand. The process of removing the bandages was excruciating. I told the staff, that on the 0-10 pain scale, this is a 12.

I felt sorry for one nurse who could not stomach the site and had to leave the room.

I have to mention another special pair of nurses. There was a male nurse by the name of Doug, who kept flirting with another pretty nurse. I thought at times that some of his comments were kind of pushing it a bit, until one day in the tub room she told me that they were married. I kidded around with Doug a bunch, and I remember him say “Hang on to that sense of humor Dan, it will help a lot and you’re going to need it.”

I was on Morphine for a little while, but it just was not doing the trick, so I was put on Diladid. That in conjunction with the IV’s and ‘pill cocktails’ that took two cans of 7-up to get down, had me pretty looped.

Dr. Webber was the plastic surgeon stuck with the job of trying to put me back together again. Over the coarse of three more surgeries, split thickness skin graphs were taken from my thighs, buttocks, and back to be placed on my right side/back, hips, abdomen and groin. This took about another four weeks and over 520 stainless steal staples. There was also a short intermission for another infection. This time caused from the IV site. I almost die a second time as my blood pressure bottomed out, everything started to shut down.

About a week after my third skin graph, Dr Webber says he wants me to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. Why, I’ve had a catheter since Sept., I don’t have to walk to the bathroom to go. Besides that, trying to walk, does he know what he is asking for? Well to make this already long story a little shorter, I was released from the hospital in November, weeks ahead of what they were thinking. My recovery from the surgeries was quick, but I still had months of physical therapy to go. I was out of the wheel chair by Thanksgiving, and walking pretty well on my own by Christmas.

Just to add insult to injury thou, I just got out of the hospital about two weeks ago after surgery #6. This one, you guessed it, to repair a hernia caused by the weekend abdominal wall. Seems I’ve come full circle. I just told Dr Krook that he had better not leave a scar. Ha ha. Well if you are interested in seeing the operation, The Learning Channel is doing my whole story and will be airing it in late summer of 2003 on a program called Amazing Medical Stories.

I titled this story Faith, Hope and Love, because with these three things,
there is nothing you can’t get thru.

Dan Morsette
morsette@lakenet.com
Minnesota
April 2003

Prior to first surgery. Shows growth of infection from palm size on Sunday
to this by early Tuesday morning. Also goes down thighs a few inches.

Please note: The following linked images are very graphic and may be upsetting.

Additional Images of Dan's Experience


Dan Morsette
morsette@lakenet.com
Minnesota
April 2003
 

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April 5, 2003