Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm Lovin' Me Some Good Drugs

Roughly 16 years ago our son, Matt, now 30, had a small scratch on his leg. That scratch became infected and he ended up having emergency surgery on his leg to remove dead flesh, spent about three weeks in the hospital and about six weeks on some of the strongest antibiotics known. It was really our first brush with the power of bacteria and the miracle of antibiotics.  I've often wondered how this would have ended in 1910, would Matt have both legs, would he have survived?

Bacteria in all of their assorted sizes and colors have been the bane of Marty’s existence since she had her second stroke. Respiratory, sinus, urinary tract infections are a fairly regular part of our life. We have learned about methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, e coli, pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus Aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and more. It’s amazing how many naturally occurring things, like bacteria, can really cause your day to go sour quickly.

If not for the fairly consistent infections our home life could be reasonably normal (whatever that is). We have gained the skills we need to handle the disabilities from the stroke; it’s handling the persistent medical issues that wear on you. The bacteria require constant vigilance, and cause the most danger to Marty on a day to day basis. It’s the bacteria causing us to be frequent flyers at the offices of the Great and Wise, it’s the bacteria pushing us to have the blood tests, it’s the bad, bad bacteria. For people who had strokes in the 40's and 50's -- this wasn't even a discussion.

On Saturday night I scratched my head, it itched and it felt good to give it a really good scratch. Because I live with a lovely woman who is a human Petri dish the Saturday night scratch had me in the doctor’s office by Tuesday. (Yes, I do wash my hands religiously) It’s never good when the doctor looks at your forehead and says, “Impressive, I don’t like the looks of that.” In a matter of about 48 hours I had developed an itchy, painful bout of cellulitis, a nasty skin infection.

I’m not sure which of the panoply of bacteria attacked me but it moved fast. Then the miracle of medicine, I started taking only one of the roughly 120 antibiotics available to us. It worked and when you think about it, it’s amazing. Prior to the advent of sulfa drugs and penicillin at the turn of the 20th century people with cellulitis, people with staph infections, people with strep infections died, I’m going to be alright. If I had been around at the turn of the century and scratched my melon like this I probably wouldn't be around to tell this story.

Antibiotics are amazing things. The scientists of the world have developed all kinds of drugs for us to fight the evil bacteria (I know, not all bacteria is bad). There are penicillin based, fluoroquinolines, cephalasporins, sulfas, tetracyclines, gentamicins and macrolids. There are broad spectrum, narrow-spectrum, oral, IV, gram-negative and gram-positive and the list can get longer. All of them do the same thing, or not, or they do it differently somehow, some way, I don’t know, I don’t understand it, it makes my head hurt. God invented doctors to know this stuff.

I know we have to be careful with our use or overuse of antibiotics. Evil bacteria are really pretty sneaky about morphing into something resistant to some drugs we use too much. I hope our medicine can continue to keep pace with nature because our ability to fight infection has increased all of our life spans and improved the quality of our lives, like not having to cut off limbs on a regular basis.

Sometimes it’s pretty easy to think simply taking a pill will cure all. We take so much for granted. I know antibiotics saved my son’s leg and probably his life. I know they have saved literally given life back to Marty. I suspect this minor little skin infection would not have been minor without the good services of a Doctor and miracle pills. I’m glad some really smart, inspired people figured out that whole moldy penicillin thing.

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