MRSA, PTSD, and Your Family

Eighteen-year-old MRSA survivor Bethany Burke: “These things on my face were taking over. It’s like my face was being invaded. I looked like I had been stung by some venomous insect. They were all over. They were swelling. And it seemed like the more I was taking antibiotics it was like feeding these things on my face. They just kept getting bigger and eventually the one on my eye became so large that I couldn’t open my eye anymore.”

 

 

As Sanjay Gupta, MD, reports, Bethany’s ordeal began at age 15 when she developed an irritation on her forehead. After being diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at a local emergency room, Bethany was treated with several different antibiotics, and the skin abscesses had to be lanced and drained. Health issues related to the infection persisted for the next two years.

“I missed so much school,” says Bethany, then a freshman at Southwestern University in Texas. “Just getting dressed would exhaust me so much that I didn’t have any energy left. While other girls were taking bubble baths, I was checking my body for abscesses and taking diluted bleach baths.”

Although they got the infection under control “it left some pretty deep scars, physically and emotionally,” Bethany says. In fact, she was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “Not being able to control what’s going on with your body… nothing makes you feel more helpless.”

And Bethany wasn’t the only one diagnosed with PTSD – so was her mother. “I looked at her and could not believe what I was seeing,” her mother Mary recalls. “The blemish on her forehead was now just enormous. They also spread to her nose and eyelid.”

There’s a saying in the cancer field: when somebody gets cancer, the whole family gets cancer. “Cancer moves in, like a rude and unwanted guest. And, as the patient, you have to understand – as hard as that might be – that it’s not just you alone who has to cope with the disease,” cancer patient Dana Jennings wrote in The New York Times.

It’s easy to see how “MRSA” and “Cancer” are interchangeable in Jennings’ statement, especially since MRSA is contagious. For example, how would you cope when the MRSA patient is your partner with whom you so intimately share living quarters? Or if you’re infected with MRSA and have children, how do you cope with the possibility of infecting them? Or worse, what if, like with the flu, family members started contracting MRSA, one after the other?

A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conservatively estimated that there are over 80,000 “severe” MRSA infections in the United States each year. However, maybe a better way to understand what the CDC is telling us is this: Each year in the U.S., over 80,000 families are infected with a severe case of MRSA.

 

 

 

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