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E Coli 0157

Julian Moffatt
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What? - was my exact response when the doctor told me what I had last week. "How is that possible?" was my second question. So begins a tale of gastric strife and six days lost to hospital time and pain killers ...

WARNING: SEMI-GRAPHIC details about colon function, stomach pain and very tiny microscopic bacteria. THOSE WITH WEAK STOMACHS (and hearts) SHOULD NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

Lets begin our tale early last week. On a Tuesday morning. Nothing out of the ordinary other than a slight rumble in the nether regions that usually signifies some upcoming trouble. As usual, when this happens, the day goes on. So we went to work. We had a few meetings, answered the phone, wrote emails and added/removed stuff from the work list. Hand soap and anti-bacterial hand wash was used repeatedly. By the end of Tuesday, the rumble was still there and was dismissed as the start of a possible flu bug.

Wednesday starts very much the same as Tuesday. Rumblings have escalated and we have a full blown case of diarrhea, but nothing out of the ordinary. Being the overly cautious (read slightly germ paranoid) person that we are, the day continues. Hand washing and anti-bacterial soap are being used like they are in endless supply. We go to a meeting, answers some phones and continue about the day. Sometime around mid-afternoon on Wednesday, we start to experience some slightly out of the ordinary stomach cramping. However, having had various gastric maladies over the years, Norwalk Virus for one, this usually just means that things are becoming more active and about to peak in some nasty vomiting before they begin to improve. Well, the vomiting never came.

Just for fun, escalate the cramping to a mildly annoying hit every five minutes or so. Also for kicks, lets throw in some serious bleeding at about 4am on Thursday morning. Well, if you have never had an intestinal bleed before (we had not) ... it is really scary.

With the first 4am episode of bleeding, some phone calls were made to the family (doctors, the lot of them - call me the black sheep of the family) and we are told to go back to sleep and see how it is in the morning. Come 7am and severe cramping and more bleeding, we are showered and headed to the local emergency room. All work plans are out the window. We leave the wife and daughter and plan to be gone for a few hours.

Fast forward to 5pm that day. Being as it is over Passover, the surgeon on GI Bleeds has turned his pager off and not come to the emergency room to diagnose us. Luckily, our brother is on call in the same hospital that day and has been checking in on his bleeding and in pain brother. He calls in a favor and gets the GI doc who is half-way out the door and headed home to come back and look at me.

Needless to say, GI doctors actually like to scope things. We assume their love of scoping is almost exclusively for rectums, but you never know. Well, seeing as we are still bleeding and cramping is occurring constantly and then severely every five minutes, nothing sounds better as far as we are concerned. We will skip the details of the scope other than the fact that the tool they use to blow up your colon could also be used to inflate the Goodyear blimp.

Skip ahead to 9pm and we are discharged from the emergency 14 hours later, with no diagnosis, no pain killers and some advice to drink lots, stay hydrated and come back if things get any worse. We are full of Midazolam, 2 doses above the normal procedural dose because we tolerate chemicals very well, and finally get a few hours of sleep for the first time in 48 hours. However, as soon as the Midazolam wears off, the pain is terrible. And of course, the bleeding is getting worse.

Needless to say, by the middle of Friday afternoon, we are headed back to the hospital. They have called to say that my biopsy and stool samples have tested positive for Ecoli 0157. We are re-admitted to the emergency, hooked to an IV and Morphine is started for the pain. Every doctor in the hospital, it is seems, comes by for a visit and to see the "E Coli" case. However, thanks to the Morphine and IV fluids (mostly the Morphine), we are feeling 100% better than the previous 2 days. The cramping - which was the worst pain we have experienced in our life and having broken 2 collarbones, torn ligaments and the like - was nearly unbearable due to the frequent repetition and severity of each cramp. Unlike regular pain from various sources, the cramping is almost impossible to ignore and as painful as you can ever imagine.

Skip ahead to Sunday. The bleeding is almost stopped. The cramping is all but gone, and we are discharged in time to head home for dinner.

E Coli 0157 is one of those viruses that kills people. It kills people because of the dehydration that occurs so quickly as your body tries to flush the bacteria from your body. Oddly enough, not everyone that is exposed to the E Coli bacteria gets a full blown case of E Coli poisoning. Some people don't even get sick. Lucky us, we got as sick as possible. Had we stayed home and not gone to the hospital, the 17 pounds we lost over the 12 days of feeling ill, might well have been complete dehydration and a myriad of other complications.

Given that we are now almost 14 days away from the start of the bleeding and illness, we can confidently say that we are over the E Coli. Our appetite has started to return and we are starting to get our strength back. The worst part of the entire event was the return to work, where everything had pilled up for 6 business days, and you still have to get through it all. Ah well, alive and 18 days without a hamburger!

Editorial note: if time permits, I'll write about the various stories that I skipped over during the hospital stay. There are plenty, but this entry is plenty long enough.