By Amy Kalman, RN
I’m sure you heard the recent news stories about a young woman named Aimee Copeland. She’s scheduled for release from the hospital and preparing for rehabilitation after what’s considered to be a commonly found bacteria infected her skin, causing a flesh eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. The infection required a nearly two month hospital stay, with inpatient rehabilitation time planned, and resulted in the loss of both hands, left leg, right foot, part of her torso, and nearly her life.
My understanding is that Ms. Copeland visited multiple physicians before receiving her diagnosis, which of course delayed treatment. This is another reminder of how important it is to trust your instincts…If she and her family hadn’t, she likely would have died in a matter of days.
It may sound silly, but even a scratch on your leg or any other part of your body exposed to common bacteria can result in the destruction of the soft tissue, vessels, and bones, leading to a potential stay in an intensive care unit, surgery, amputation, or even death. During the course of cancer treatment, there are more opportunities for infection to form as a result of alterations in the body’s immune system and exposure ranging from basic skin injuries like a paper cut to post-operative surgical sites for removal of a malignancy or associated lymph nodes. Wounds can also form from pressure ulcers or radiation therapy.
If you’re familiar with the signs of infection, you’ll be a step ahead in the process of healing. The following is a list of symptoms to monitor the area of or around any incision, wound, or injury. If you notice any of these, you should report it to your physician immediately.
* Discharge (including yellow, green, or brown)
* Foul odor
* Increase in pain
* Fever or chills
Additionally, if you have a fever or chills and subsequently develop nausea or vomiting it is essential that you contact your physician immediately.
Ignoring symptoms from fear of potential outcomes or worry that your doctor is “too busy” can result in traumatic outcomes. Ignoring signs of infection put your life at risk; even those simple cuts on skin can result in an infection of the blood stream (sepsis), which can be deadly when ignored. Any suspicion of infection should be reported to your oncologist or surgeon within 24 hours of noticing the previously described symptoms. Though antibiotic-resistant organisms do exist, the infection is very likely treatable with antibiotics. Wounds or ulcers may require some longer-term care, but have great potential to heal if given proper treatment.
Following surgery, wound, or ulcer development, recovery should always include proper hand washing prior to care, maintenance of good nutrition, and hydration for proper healing and infection prevention.