In 1991, I experienced a MRSA infection in my throat. Back then, MRSA was almost unknown, even amongst physicians. It was a scary experience, but it taught me so much about how to manage a serious infection.
A Mysterious Health Problem
During the summer of ’91, I developed a sore throat. I didn’t normally have them during the summer, and thought it must be severe allergies. I was exhausted, sometimes falling asleep on my typewriter (yes, a typewriter) for short periods of time. After several weeks, I moved to a new city, and saw a new doctor. She initially didn’t take me seriously. She prescribed a new allergy medicine. When I came back weeks later, she finally consented to do a throat culture, at my insistence. The wait for the culture took a few days, and I was in agony by then.
She could hardly believe the results: MRSA. I was the first patient she’d ever diagnosed who didn’t live in an institution. In fact, she grilled me about how I could have acquired such a thing. She tried to tell me it was okay to admit if I had lived in an orphanage, or had had long-term hospitalization. I hadn’t; I was just as shocked at the diagnosis. I had never heard of drug resistant bacteria infections, and neither had most people. Fortunately for me, my doctor was inexperienced at the time with treating MRSA. Instead of going through the range of antibiotic options, she had to look it up. She prescribed vancomycin as my first drug. Since I had suffered for over two months by then, it may have saved my life. Filling the prescription at that time was frightening to the pharmacist as well; he’d never filled one outpatient. He made me wait across the room, and only approach the counter when he was at a safe distance.
I learned valuable tips for others: always insist on a culture, when facing a bacterial infection. Knowing which strain means knowing which drug will work. Don’t dismiss serious symptoms as allergies, if they go on for weeks. Always follow antibiotic prescriptions precisely; misuse causes drug resistant strains to develop. Only use antibiotics for bacterial infections. Treat antibiotics with respect, while they are still effective.
I recovered completely and rapidly. Vancomycin resistant infections hadn’t developed back then. I felt I had a new lease on life. At 19, I knew I had avoided disaster.