This is Part 5 of my fight with cellulitis. In this post, I explore the frustrations of life after cellulitis. If you wish to read Part 4: The Flood, you can do so here.
The floor of the ward was wet. Really wet. The water, which had reached my bed and soaked my clothes, was now creeping towards the corridor.
After I had crawled into bed, a nurse marched into the room to find Charlotte on her hands and knees cleaning the floor. Evidently confused, she tried to piece together how the situation had arisen. A raised eyebrow from Charlotte and my refusal to make eye contact was enough evidence to suggest that it was I behind the waterlogged circumstance we had all found ourselves in.
Eventually, the floor dried. My temperature was taken and blood pressure checked. My infection rate was dropping and slowly, my leg was whitening.
That’s when it started.
I need you to think of the last time you were bitten by an insect. Just imagine the red dot with the white circle. The relentless oozing, itching and scratching: a daily reminder of your hatred for mosquitos, midges and other such creatures.
Now take that sensation and multiply it by one thousand. That was the itchiness my leg felt as it started to heal from the cellulitis and regenerate every tiny skin cell.
The itchy tickle never seemed to stop. Just writing this is making me scratch my leg. The worst part? I couldn’t touch it. Well I could, but just a gentle stroke. Nothing on the satisfaction of a good ole’ scratch. Again, morphine came to my rescue as it numbed the feeling in my leg. I also applied cream every couple of hours or so, which provided some relief.
This lasted for a couple of days but eventually, it calmed down and the skin on my leg was back to its usual, pasty and somewhat freckly self.
I was given the all clear and sent on my way. Standing up still hurt with every attempt and my leg would still turn a bluish-purple each time. But, irrespective of the pain, I was glad to be out.
As a goody bag, the pharmacist prescribed me the biggest bag of drugs I have ever seen. It was similar to a bag of liquorice all-sorts – equally disgusting, but far better for me. Inside, there was an eclectic mix of painkillers, inhalers, creams, gels and antibiotics. Sorted.
Upon leaving, the best tip I was given by the doctor was to cream my leg twice a day. I have done so till this day (around 4 months later) and my leg is looking much better. As she explained to me, your skin becomes incredibly weak with lymphoedema. Applying cream just gives your skin wall the strength to defend against future breakages and infections.
We left the hospital and headed straight for a taxi just opposite. It was hot outside and the streets of Bristol were full of people going about their days.
It’s odd. When you leave hospital after nine days, it feels like the world should have changed. It hasn’t, but you have, and for some reason it felt like everyone I passed would know it. They didn’t.
It was our last day in Bristol. Charlotte had spent her final week of university looking after me, so we decided to go for one last celebratory meal at an Italian restaurant called Pasta Loco. If you have the chance to go there you will not be disappointed – the food is simply incredible. I washed my antibiotics down with a glass of white wine, a natural pairing of course.
From there, Dad picked us up and we headed back home to Buckinghamshire. It was over. No more Patient X, hospital food or late nights. No more wailing elderly folk, Dr Sophie or injections. The whole ordeal had finished.
Before I knew it, I was sat on my sofa at home watching television. It was a relief to be back amongst my family, friends and my dog, Luna. I rested for a day or so and even managed the trip to Wales, which thanks to the cellulitis, was almost destined to never happen. My friends looked after both Charlotte and I for the weekend, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. I didn’t have to lift a finger and I could enjoy the fresh air.
A few days passed and again I was on that same sofa, leg raised. My friends went back to work and it didn’t take long before I got bored. I couldn’t really walk, I definitely couldn’t drive and usually, I could only stay awake for a few hours at a time.
When you have lymphoedema, cellulitis can make the fluid go rock solid. This is called “fibrosis”. To me, the density feels much like leather padding. It really doesn’t give and is very uncomfortable. The trouble is without proper treatment that fluid isn’t budging. In fact, over time it just gets harder and more painful.
The fibrosis was immobilising my ability to do anything. As you can imagine, this quickly turned my restfulness into restlessness, riddling my recovery with frustration. The sofa sessions lasted a few weeks. I would sit and ponder what on earth I was going to do with my life. It might sound dramatic, but the damage my leg had taken hugely limited my opportunities.
No standing for too long. No sitting for too long. No heat, no cold. Less alcohol more water. Commuting was off-limits. Forget driving or long train journeys and don’t even consider flying. Festivals were a no-go. Be wary of insect bites and don’t stay in the sun for too long. Careful what you eat. Watch what you wear.
The list goes on and on.
So, what was I going to do with my life? I had always wanted to travel and see the world, to soak in the culture of places I never knew existed. Backpacking was the next thing on my to-do list, but with each passing leg-raised day, that ambition slowly faded. The candle had been blown out and a fear started to consume me.
But, just as the colour in my life started to turn grey, my mum handed me her phone. On the other end was a lymphoedema therapist. She was very kind, understanding and convinced me to pay her visit.
If it weren’t for mum, that phone conversation never would have happened. It was her research that led to the call, and it was seeing this therapist that got me back on my feet again.
In my next blog, I will take you through my recovery and the life-changing advice I received from an incredible therapist by the name of Carmel.