Rotten luck

An incey-wincey blister turned into this...

Published by: Polly Taylor
Published on: 17th March 2011

Sunlight shimmered off the pool as I dived in. Gliding through the water, my body cooled. Phew, that was better!
My wife Kristine, 55, and me had spent the first morning of our holiday in Side, Turkey, soaking up the rays by the swimming pool – a refreshing dip was just what I needed.
Climbing out, I dried myself off.
‘You’re burning,’ Kristine said, pointing to a white, thumbnail-sized blister on my calf.
‘Typical pasty British tourist,’ I chuckled, applying sun cream to the area. For the rest of our holiday I kept my legs covered – I’d read horror stories about skin cancer developing from too much sun exposure.
But back home weeks later, the blister hadn’t budged. In fact… ‘Is it me, or has it got bigger?’ I asked Kristine, rolling up my trouser leg.
‘Yeah,’ she frowned. ‘It has.’
It didn’t really hurt – but it was now about the size of a 50p piece. No amount of antiseptic cream would shift it, so I went to the doctor’s.
‘Just keep it clean, it’ll go,’ he said.
But laying in bed a week later, I was woken by shooting pains in my leg. It was excruciating – like someone stabbing me repeatedly!
‘This isn’t right,’ I yelped. ‘How can a blister cause this much pain?’
The following day, I returned to the doctor, who referred me to a blood vessel specialist – but my appointment wasn’t for weeks.
That evening, trying my best to ignore the pain, I nipped to the pub with my son Dwight, 25. ‘Dad, have you spilled your drink?’ he asked, pointing to the floor. There was a puddle of liquid beside my shoe.
‘Don’t think so…’ I shrugged, bending down. Eurgh, it was all over my trousers, too. Then I realised – the liquid was coming from me! I lifted up my trouser leg… Blood spewed from my blister, squirting in all directions like a burst pipe. Hit the floor, the walls…
‘Dad!’ Dwight cried. Splat! My blood gushed and splattered straight into his worried face.
I collapsed to the floor in shock, my vision blurring. Dwight wrapped his coat around the wound, and the landlord called an ambulance.
When paramedics arrived, Dwight had stemmed the bleeding.
‘We’ll patch you up,’ they said, applying a dressing. ‘Go and see your doctor in the morning.’
Doctor? Again? Well, maybe I’d be taken seriously now my leg had split open! The next day, I was told the blister had put pressure on a varicose vein, causing it to burst.
‘But what’s caused the blister?’ I asked, my leg still throbbing in pain.
‘I’ve no idea,’ the doctor told me.
My appointment with the specialist was rushed forward. Although he couldn’t identify the strange spot, he decided to operate. ‘We’ll strip the veins out, it’ll ease the pain,’ he said.
If only! Coming round from the operation, I was in agony. Even though the veins had gone, the blister was worse.
‘Look at it!’ I shrieked to Kristine a week later. Sticky pus oozed out of the bulging wound, now the size of a plum. As for the pain… it felt like someone was squeezing my calf
with giant pliers. The op had made things worse, not better!
Baffled, doctors prescribed painkillers and sent me to a skin specialist. But, after six weeks, it seemed no amount of lotions and dressings would help.
‘It’s bigger still!’ Kristine tutted as she cleaned me up. Every day, she had to mop up the yellow, sticky liquid that oozed constantly from the tennis ball-sized wound. The skin round it was raw and mushy, too. It was like my leg was being eaten away. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Kristine leaned closer, sniffed, then recoiled.
‘It smells,’ she grimaced.
‘Sorry,’ I gulped, retching as the stench of gone-off meat and warm milk wafted my way.
A year later, doctors were still clueless. They tried cutting away the entire infected area during a second op, but it made no difference.
‘Now I have a giant, infected crater in my leg,’ I fumed. It looked like a collapsed, rotten, blackened apple – only bigger.
The pain was so bad by now I could barely stand, and had to give up my marine business. I had to use a wheelchair to get about most of the time. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse…
‘I’d like you to consider amputation from the knee down,’ the doctor said. ‘Or the infection could spread. You might lose your leg.’
Just 18 months earlier, I’d had a blister on my calf, now I was being told I might lose my leg!
‘This is a living nightmare,’ I said to Kristine. ‘My life is in tatters, and no one can tell me why.’
At that moment, an image flashed up on the TV screen that looked frighteningly familiar – a leg with a gaping wound, pulpy flesh spilling out. The leg belonged to a woman, and as she explained how her wound had developed, it was like she was describing my own experience.
Only, she knew what had caused hers. ‘I was bitten by a brown recluse spider on holiday,’ she said.
I looked at Kristine, speechless. Grabbing the laptop, I searched for information. A picture of a small spider, with long spindly legs, appeared on screen. ‘They’re found in Turkey,’ I said, heart racing.
‘You must have been bitten by the pool!’ Kristine gasped.
The next day, I went to a Tropical Disease Centre in Hampshire. ‘That’s a brown recluse bite all right,’ the doctor said. Finally! After two long years, I had an explanation.
‘The spider has a powerful poison,’ he went on. ‘It’s been eating your flesh all this time.’
I was so shocked I could hardly speak. But now I knew what had happened, there was hope. Through my research, I found a new leg care centre was opening in my hometown.
Meeting Pauline, the clinical nurse there, she reeled back in horror at the sight of my wound.
‘I can’t promise I can help,’ she said. But little by little, with special lotions and dressings, the treatment started to work. I visited the clinic every other day. After two months, it’d healed over almost completely.
‘You’ll still experience pain due to the damage already done to the nerve endings,’ Pauline explained.
‘A little pain is nothing compared to a fist-size hole in your leg,’ I said.
Slowly but surely, I’m getting back on my feet. But I won’t be going back to Turkey for a holiday – once bitten, twice shy!
Brian Holman, 55, Fareham, Hants