At least two of you (thanks mum and dad) have suggested that I write a blog and so finally, after months of procrastination I finally have some time (post recovery from operation number eight), to pull my keyboard out and tell you the full, no-holds-barred story of how I Nearly Died.
Most of you will be very shocked to find out that I Nearly Died because I have tried to keep the whole traumatic experience quiet and to put it all behind me and move on without making a fuss or demanding money for collections. Most of my work colleagues, running mates, real friends, mumsy mates and NCT associates have absolutely NO IDEA that I have had multiple breast reconstructions and liposuction because one thing I NEVER do is talk about it. In fact it was only the other day when I was not talking about it loudly in the workroom that I realised it might make a good first blog post, seeing as how nobody knows about it. So here goes-
The Story Of How I Nearly Died
Once upon a time there was a beautiful lady woman called Victoria. She was blessed with a single Frog child and everything was fine and she didn’t Nearly Die. And then one day, two years after the birth of the boy Frog, she found out from her evil sonographer that she was cursed with twins and her life took a turn for the worse. Once twins were diagnosed, Victoria’s life began to unravel and was soon spiralling out of control, culminating in a Near Death experience which began when HER LEFT TIT TRIED TO KILL HER.
It all started when the Baldy Rats were seven months old, and having breastfed them exclusively for the whole seven months with no real problems, I contracted mastitis in my left breast. Mastitis occurs when a milk duct becomes blocked and can usually be sorted by manually expressing milk from the breast until the duct unblocks itself, or in more severe cases, with antibiotics.
I’d had mastitis a couple of times with Frog so I knew that as soon as the first flu-like symptoms appeared I needed to take action. It was painful but I wasn’t overly concerned at first because when I’d had it in the past it had sorted itself out after a couple of days of antibiotics.
I first got the mastitis symptoms on a Thursday and happened to be out with my mum, my kids, my fake NCT friend, and her kids (who are much better behaved than my kids) and the two dogs. We were walking in the woods when I started to feel really awful- apparently I turned white as a sheet- and my mum had to help me back to the car. We weren’t far from where I lived so I left the kids with my mum (every cloud) and drove back home to take paracetamol.
After a couple of hours mum brought the kids back to my house but I wasn’t feeling any better, in fact I was feeling a lot worse. I managed to breastfeed the Baldy Rats but my left breast was very painful and I decided that I probably needed to see the doctor the next day to get some antibiotics. That night the pain got worse and so first thing the next day (Friday) I left the kids with Porl and went to see my GP. I was prescribed antibiotics and started taking them straight away. I continued to try to express milk from my left breast but I couldn’t get any milk out and the breast was becoming inflamed and more and more painful. Luckily the Baldy Rats were seven months old at the time and they had been fed a mix of solids and breastmilk for about a month. This was really lucky as now my left breast was far too painful to feed them from and there was no way that I could have fed both of them from my right one.
Fast forward to Saturday and the pain from my left breast was now unbearable- the antibiotics hadn’t touched it and my breast was not only swollen and sore but had turned scarlet. I went to the out of hours doctors first thing on the Saturday morning and got some stronger painkillers but by the afternoon I was seriously worried and knew that it was a case for the hospital. Porl had to look after the kids so Fake Friend came over to take me to the hospital on Saturday afternoon. (Thanks sweet friend).
When we got to the hospital there was a lot of to-ing-and-fro-ing and waiting around and eventually the decision was made to let the antibiotics that I was already taking run their course and I was sent home with some stronger painkillers. By this time my left breast was very red and inflamed and a small black bruise was visible. Everyone assumed that I had caused the bruising when I had tried to express milk and there was no undue concern at this point. As far as the doctors were concerned, I just had a severe case of mastitis which would eventually clear up once the antibiotics kicked in.
But it didn’t clear up. The pain just got worse and worse over the weekend. Now I’m a double hard bastard when it comes to pain (I got through both of my labours with only gas and air) but I was crying and wishing I was dead by Monday morning. I have never been in such agony. I was taking strong doses of prescription pain killers- codeine and cocodamol but they weren’t having any effect at all and the small bruise on my breast had started to get bigger. My breast swelled up to almost twice its usual size and my chest area was so tender that I couldn’t bear to cover it with anything. I was feeling seriously unwell. By now I was pretty sure that this wasn’t just a case of mastitis. I’d never heard of mastitis causing breasts to turn black before and I knew that I must have some sort of serious infection.
First thing on Monday Porl took me to the hospital again and this time I must have been looking seriously ill (I was very sleepy and wasn’t able to talk very much- which is VERY unusual for me). The doctors were obviously concerned because this time there was no to-ing or fro-ing or waiting around, I was rushed straight through A&E and into the medical assessment unit where I was immediately seen by a breast consultant, placed on an IV drip and admitted to my own private room. I think that was when I first realised just how serious my condition was- who gets a private room on the NHS?
And then things went seriously down hill. The doctors and consultants ran lots and lots of tests and screened me for pretty much anything they could think of but they kept drawing a blank. And I was getting worse and worse to the point where I was almost comatose and unable to answer any of their questions. My breast had turned completely black and looked like a bruised banana. I couldn’t eat, talk or sit up in bed and within a couple of hours of being in hospital I had three consultants and a microbiologist assigned to me. It wasn’t looking good. No one had a clue what was going on, my family were in pieces and everyone had to drop everything to look after the kids.
I was in a private room on the breast ward for three days before finally being diagnosed with the life threatening, flesh eating, bacterial infection Necrotising Fasciitis (don’t Google it if you’re squeamish) and because the risk of cross infection was so severe, once it had been diagnosed I was immediately moved to Intensive Care and my room on the breast ward was cordoned off and swabbed clean.
From then on, people were only allowed to approach me if they were fully gowned up and I wasn’t allowed any visitors other than my mum and Porl. It was terrifying. There were biohazard type warning signs up outside the Intensive Care ward which were pretty cool but by this point I was too ill to notice them.
The worst point in the whole ordeal was the night before Necrotising Fasciitis was diagnosed. I had the most awful night of my life and I really thought that I was going to die. I was hooked up to four IV drips, the contents of which the nurses nicknamed ’Dettol’ because of how strong the mixture of antibiotics were. I was on morphine, the Dettol mix and about four other types of oral meds. But I just kept getting worse and worse. The infection in my left breast had started to spread and the whole of my left side from my breast down to my knee was scarlet and swollen up like a balloon. The infection had also started to spread towards my right breast and it was pretty much touch and go at this point I think.
I have a very vivid memory of coming round from unconsciousness at about 4am one morning to find a group of ten or so people at the foot of my bed, some of them wearing their normal clothes under their gowns. They had been called in from their homes. At 4am! And they were arguing with each other!
I remember thinking that this really wasn’t a good sign- before I drifted off again into unconsciousness. I found out later that the people arguing at the foot of my bed were consultants, infectious dressings specialists, my microbiologist, house doctors and registrars and they weren’t sure how best to treat me. This really wasn’t looking good.
It was Mr Andrew Flatt my wonderful microbiologist (and now Clinical Director of Pathology) who figured out that I had Necrotising Fasciitis and as soon as the infection was positively diagnosed I was rushed into emergency surgery. I was warned that there was a risk that they would need to amputate both breasts.
Necrotising Fasciitis is incredibly rare and was totally off the radar, which is why it took such a long time for the docs to figure out what was wrong with me. It is even rarer for it to start with an infection caused by mastitis. In fact to date there have, I think, only been six recorded cases worldwide of Necrotising Mastitis and so I quickly became a celebrity patient. I had hourly visits from breast consultants, medical students, house doctors, nurses, registrars and two academic papers have now been written about me (and my breasts). Every stage of the surgery and my recovery was documented and photographed and if I hadn’t have been so very ill at the time I would have quite enjoyed all the fuss and attention.
When I eventually had the first of my four life saving operations it was made more difficult because I had been breastfeeding the Baldy Rats and I was still lactating. This meant that the surgery was more complicated and the recovery much longer because the milk in my ducts meant that the site of the wound was wet and wouldn’t dry out, increasing the risk of cross infection. I had to take a hormone treatment to stop me lactating which led to me feeling very low and quite depressed. I couldn’t stop crying. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am generally a pretty optimistic person and annoyingly positive about most things and so this marked a big change and my family were very worried about the state of my mental health. At this time it was only my close family and a couple of very good friends who knew how seriously ill I was and my visitors were still limited to just mum and Porl and so I felt very lonely, despite being very well looked after by the fantastic medical staff.
By the time I had my first operation I had been in hospital for five days and had been prevented from seeing any of the kids and having any visitors (apart from mum and Porl) because of the infection risk. Prior to getting the infection I had not had any intention of stopping breastfeeding the twins and having the choice taken away from me and having them put onto formula was really upsetting to me. I can honestly say it was the lowest point of my life and I felt really depressed.
The first operation I had was jointly led by both the breast and plastics teams and resulted in a mastectomy to my left breast. I was very, very lucky that I didn’t lose both breasts. It seems that the Dettol had done its job and stopped the infection from spreading further across to my right breast. The first operation took six hours and the surgeons managed to remove most of the necrotising flesh before having to stop to allow my body time to recover.
I then spent a further two weeks in Intensive Care and had two more life saving operations, each one removing more necrotising tissue, and then two blood transfusions as I had lost so much blood during the operations. It became clear that with more and more of the infected fat and skin removed each time I was operated on I was getting better. I was eventually allowed visitors and Frog was able to come and see me. I also had visits from friends for the first time and although the twins weren’t allowed to visit as the risk of infection was still too high for them, I felt a lot better for seeing Frog and my friends and I started to perk up a bit. It was going to be another three weeks before I was allowed home and it was tough being in hospital for so long but at least I was on the road to recovery.
So that’s the story of how I Nearly Died. Sorry if it was all a bit serious and gloomy- the next instalment of my blog is about what happened once I was discharged from hospital and is MUCH more entertaining, I promise.
This post is the first in a series of blog posts about the trauma of my Near Death and the saga of my near life. You can read the whole series here.
Please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you (as long as you’re not a weirdo).