|Doreen Mulman's Survivor Story|
February, I nearly died. I had contracted Necrotizing Fasciitis and was
in the hospital for 42 days: 02/22/2004 -- 04/03/2004. I have my suspicions
as to how I got NF, but not with 100% certainty, so I'd rather not disclose
this information. I woke up one morning with pain in my armpit. I thought
I had slept on my arm funny. I also had a spider bite near my tailbone,
so I thought the bite was what was causing my fever and other symptoms.
After a few days of bed rest, I continued to get worse and my roommate
finally persuaded me to go to a hospital.
When I first arrived, the doctors ruled out NF, even though huge blisters were growing before their eyes, then popping and spewing the most foul-smelling pus I've ever experienced. Two more days, and a bunch of IV antibiotics, went by. By the time the surgeons did the first debridement operation, I had had NF for 6 days and was in the final stages of organ failure! They removed my entire right armpit, a small portion of my right breast, most of my right upper arm and a smaller portion of my right inner forearm: skin, fascia, fat, lymph nodes/glands and some muscle, etc. I had 3 debridement surgeries in 3 days and was in the ICU for 5 days. I was on life support for the first 3 of those 5 days.
Nobody thought I was going to live -- the doctors were all certain I was going to die the first night I was in the ICU. When I finally woke up and they got the tubes out of my throat and nose and cleaned me up a bit, I was in amazingly good spirits and the doctors were all in awe. A couple of weeks passed and I had to have a fourth debridement performed to remove a ball of pus that had developed in my armpit.
I began to refer to my arm as the "meatsicle." All that was left was bone with some muscle on it. The looks on the nurses' faces, when they would see it for the first time during a dressing change, was as if they were seeing a ghost -- they'd go pale. I had a lot of anxiety and they put me on Prozac, which as it turned out, only GAVE me depression! About half an hour after taking the pill, I would sob uncontrollably. After a few days of this, I refused the Prozac.
For over a month, I had no skin on the majority of my arm. I had to have 4 blood transfusions (5 pints total). I was supposed to have my skin graft done on March 19, but my Albumin (protein) levels were really, really low and my plastic surgeon feared the graft would not take, so they postponed the surgery. I spent several days getting "TPN" IV's (protein and other fluids). I didn't have medical insurance, so I was in a County LEARNING Hospital and there would be days when students would do various things, like change my dressing or give me shots. I did not like that one bit and began to refuse to let them touch me because they always seemed to cause more discomfort than the real nurses.
Finally, on March 26, I had my fifth debridement and 6 and a half hour long skin graft surgery. They had to replace the huge amount of missing arm skin by grafting skin "donated" from my right upper thigh. I spent the next 5 days with a vacuum device suctioning my arm. My arm was also wrapped in 3 BLANKETS folded into large strips -- which I thought was a fire hose when I first woke up in post-op! This was so I wouldn't be able to put my arm down (close my armpit). The doctor really feared my armpit would not take the graft. When he finally removed all the bandages and foam and stuff, my arm looked so skinny! The graft take was 100% at that point. A few days later, I was pretty much kicked out of the hospital (the state was prepared to pay for 30 days and I was already there 42).
A few days later, I returned to see the doc. The skin graft take was down to 97%, due to some staple tears and a little weepiness in the area of the tears. I also was having a severe allergic reaction to the petrolatum in the Xeroform dressing -- the petrolatum was coming out of all my pores and even my hair and the smell made me ill! My thigh healed (for the most part) within 3 weeks and only has one nasty scar left that's not too big. My arm however will be grossly disfigured for the rest of my life and I will have other life-long problems, such as lymphedema.
My right hand is very weak and painful. My right pinkie looks twisted now, too. My elbow is still severely contracted -- I cannot straighten my arm fully. BUT, I can feed myself with it again which I couldn't do for many months. I also drive and, obviously, can type again. I go to Occupational Therapy twice a week and Physical Therapy once a week. I also have to wear a custom vascular garment (a zippered vest with a full length sleeve on the affected side) 8 hours a day.
There's been talk of "releasing" some of the scars and possibly some reconstructive surgery to help improve my mobility problems. I still have a long road ahead of me, it'll be many more months before we will know how much damage will be left. The pain isn't much fun, but I've been coping. I decided I wanted to post photos of how my arm looked in March 2004 and how it looks now (July 31, 2004), because words can't accurately describe my condition. It's really something you have to see with your own eyes to fully grasp.
I'd like to thank Nora S. for getting me to the hospital and for being there every single day, cleaning me, washing my hair, basically doing everything for me, including holding my hand in ICU. I'd also like to thank Dino A. for his support and for holding my hand in ICU. Special thanks also go to my family and other friends, especially Gail R. and to the Olive View Hospital staff (Dr. Brian Dickinson, Rico, Mary, Paul, Mary Kay, Trudy, Victoria and the dozens of others who helped me). A big shout out goes to my plastic surgeon, Dr. Derek Shadid, for all his hard work. You're amazing! Thank you for taking the photos in the operating room & hospital and emailing them to me. God bless everyone whose lives have been or will be affected by NF. Thank you for letting me share my story with you. If anyone needs someone to talk to about NF, my email address is DoReEgon@aol.com.
Please note: The following linked images are very graphic and may be upsetting.
North Hollywood, CA USA
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August 4, 2004