Monday, March 03, 2008

Dying from Treatable Illnesses

Someone I know (but not well) just passed away from Bacterial Meningitis caused by a Strep infection and I'm feeling pretty angry about it and this is by far the best place to vent rather than make the living feel worse than they already are.

The problem with Strep is that we have some familiarity with it but it has a dark side that can be very nasty and deadly if not recognized and treated early and aggressively (ref1, ref2, ref3). I think of it like driving a car. As an analogy, we are very familiar with driving, but to stay sane, have to retain some denial of how very dangerous it can be (and I just drove 300 miles yesterday), but that analogy doesn't hold really is that while most of us drive, if asked, we know about the danger, and that probably isn't true about Strep infections.

This is all very much on my mind as ironically I was listening to a Discover Magazine's Vital Signs podcast of someone nearly losing a leg to a Strep infection resulting from a stupid scratch on her foot and the medical staff disagreeing on how to treat it. It was very much a parable in don't take infections lightly and if you think it's Strep treat it immediately and aggressively.

The person I knew had been battling a sinus infection (page down on the ref. to "eliminate infection") for several weeks. Now while I know him casually, I don't know his health status, his attitude to getting medical attention (how long he'll just "put up with it"), how his body responds to large doses of pennicillin (Strep responses well to it according to the podcast) or the skill and patience of his doctor, and most importantly what strain of Strep it was (group A or B - see the numbered refs above). Sinus infections are common and it's easy to just think of them as a nuisance and they mostly are, but ones that hang on I think (though I'm no doctor so what do I know? Just enough to make me dangerous.) is a red or at least a yellow flag. More than a week is certainly long enough to get a culture to see what you're dealing with and I don't know if that was done (and I'm not going to ask as it's beside the point for us as it won't bring him back, and a kind loving person is no longer in this world and we're worse off because of it.)

1 comment:

Elf said...

I am miserable about Kevin. I didn't know him well, either, but I had guessed that he was in his 30s, he was so healthy and active and vibrant and funny. A surprise to learn that he was born in '63. I, too, read into the email that we received that perhaps something hadn't been treated the way that it should have been treated. This is on top of a friend whose MRI was read as "there's nothing wrong with your brain; must be stress-related seizures" until a friend looked at the MRI and said, "this is NOT normal, that's a huge old tumor right there, what are they THINKING??". It's very scary.

Reading Discover magazine's medical column through the years, I've read over and over about how serious medical issues that are solved through a good hunch because in fact the symptoms could be maybe hundreds of things and you have to look for the particular combination of other symptoms, or the way they manifest, or something completely outside the realm of just ticking a checkbox and making the diagnosis.

Still, one thinks that this was SO treatable, and it wasn't treated, and what was going on? Jackie (a nurse) called me today about Kevin. She's more distraught about the unfairness of the universe, and wants to hug everyone she knows in case they're suddenly not there tomorrow (a feeling I can almost empathize with, and I'm not much of a hugger) but she also brought up the "what was going on, I wonder?" question.

Meanwhile, on the car analogy--I attended a safety presentation lately and the lady opened with the question, "how many of you have ever operated heavy machinery?" and a couple of people raised their hands. She feigned astonishment and followed with something like, "What, NONE of you have ever driven a CAR??" It was a good reminder.

And this is yet another reminder that life isn't certain.