Life and death

What had brought my son into the world was also making me rot...

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 31st March 2011

Thank God that was over! I’d had a stress-free pregnancy, but couldn’t say the same about the birth.
When I’d gone into labour, doctors had discovered my baby was in breech. His heartbeat had rocketed, and they’d rushed me in for an emergency caesarean.
I’d had no idea if he’d make it. It was only when I’d heard his cries fill the air I’d finally relaxed.
As Ethan lay in my arms, now that we were home, two days after the birth, I wanted to stare at him forever. ‘He’s beautiful,’ I beamed to my hubby Keith, 35. ‘Time to get the nappies out,’ I cooed. ‘And start being a mummy.’
So what if I felt queasy, I wasn’t worried about me when I had a precious little bundle to care for.
The next day, though, as Keith handed me Ethan for his feed, I felt a twinge of pain in my left thigh.
‘Ouch,’ I winced, gripping it.
‘You okay?’ worried Keith.
‘Yeah,’ I frowned. ‘You’d have thought my stitches would hurt, not my leg. Must be cramp.’
Ah well, most new mums feel a bit poorly. No point complaining, I just had to get on with it – as long as my baby was healthy, that was all I cared about.
But over the next couple of days, the pain in my leg grew worse. Whenever I moved, a sharp burning sensation shot through my thigh.
Sat on the bed, three days after Ethan was born, I was trying to feed him when I noticed my nightdress had ridden up over my left thigh,  revealing a swollen lump, the size of a penny. Touching it, sharp stabbing pains shot through my leg.
What the…? This couldn’t have anything to do with the caesarean. This was something else, something weird. I couldn’t be ill, I had a baby to look after… But suddenly my body began to shake uncontrollably.
‘Keith!’ I panicked, scared I’d drop Ethan. As he raced into the room, the pain grew unbearable. ‘Take Ethan,’ I groaned.
‘What’s wrong?’ he panicked.
As my baby’s cries rang out, I wanted to hold him, reassure him. He’d had such a traumatic start to life, now I couldn’t move to comfort him.
I was in agony. Pain seared through my leg. ‘I’m calling an ambulance,’ said Keith. But I hardly heard him. Everything was muffled. Then the room went black…
‘Denise? Can you hear me? I’m giving you an injection…’ A voice punched through the darkness. I blinked open my gritty eyes, as the pain in my leg hit me again.
‘It hurts,’ I groaned.
‘Your caesarean’s infected,’ said the doctor. My caesarean?!
‘No… my… leg…’
‘We’re going to operate,’ he said. But I couldn’t argue, couldn’t keep my eyes open…
The noise of a door closing woke me. Pain hit my body like a train. The lump on my leg was the size of a 50p, and looked like a purple blister had popped and crusted over. I could see a hole beneath it…
‘Denise, it’s okay, you’re in hospital.’ Turning, I saw Keith, pale and tired, sat beside me. ‘Everything’s going to be okay.’
‘H-have you been here all night?’ I asked.
‘No – you’ve been in hospital a week,’ he said.
A week?! ‘Ethan,’ I blurted, ‘what about Ethan?’
The first week of his life, and his mummy hadn’t been there for him. This was when I should have been bonding with him. I should have been, breastfeeding, changing nappies and showering him in kisses. Instead, I was laying here, helpless. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked.
‘They don’t know,’ sighed Keith. ‘But don’t worry, my mum’s looking after Ethan.’
‘I want my baby,’ I sobbed. But the effort to stay awake, battle through the pain, was too much…
Over the next three weeks, I was in and out of consciousness. Every time I looked, the hole on my leg seemed more raw. But that wasn’t what was on my mind.
All I wanted was to hold Ethan. His life had hung in the balance even before he was born, and yet I’d only spent three days with him before we’d been torn apart.
I was desperate to hear his soft gurgles, see his dimpled cheeks, rock him to sleep. But now my life was on the line.
Doctors had no idea what was wrong, couldn’t even say if Ethan was in danger. I should have been there to protect him. Instead, I was scared I’d infected him with this mystery illness.
I was terrified of never seeing Ethan again. But the next time I woke, I was in for more than one surprise. The pain in my leg had dulled, the 5in long hole was drying out at the edges – and I heard the gentle gurgles of a baby.
There was Keith, bobbing Ethan up and down on his knee. ‘Oh darling, you’ve grown!’ I gasped. ‘You’re getting better,’ smiled Keith. ‘You’re coming home.’
It had taken seven weeks, but doctors knew what was wrong. ‘You had pyoderma gangrenosum,’ they explained. ‘It’s a flesh-eating bug which can lay dormant on your skin for years. It got in through your caesarean scar.’
What had brought Ethan into the world had almost killed me…
Once it’d been diagnosed, I was given medication and the dead tissue on my leg was cut away, leaving a dent like someone had taken an ice-cream scoop to me.
Finally, I was allowed home. ‘Mummy’s back,’ I sobbed, holding Ethan in my arms again.
Since then, I’ve been fit as a fiddle – and my boy’s doing great, too. But I’m not sure if I’ll have more children. Another caesarean could trigger the bug again.
But it doesn’t matter, not when I have Ethan. I’m just glad it’s all over.
Denise Sudbury, 30, St Neots, Cambridgeshire