Part 1: Two Weeks Annual Leave

That was the deal. Five days of overtime for two weeks annual leave. I had it all planned out. A spa day, a weekend in Paris, mum’s 60th and a trip to Wales with my closest friends. Great.

It had all started off so promisingly. I was visiting my girlfriend Charlotte in Bristol where she had just finished her degree. Joining in the celebrations we made our way to a pub, The Hobgoblin, where a crude drawing of Nigel Farage granted us a worthy second place in the weekly pub quiz. We never do well in pub quizzes I remember thinking. This was certain to be a great two weeks and for our hard work we were rewarded with a round of drinks.

We moved on to the next location where outside I found a ten-pound note on the floor. Anyone would have thought I’d just discovered I was royalty, and for the brief hour it lasted, I was. Ten pounds quickly became fried chicken and chips and a satisfying conclusion to a much-deserved night. Well, on Charlotte’s behalf at least.

The next morning arrived and Charlotte and I were making our way to a board games café for some brunch and a detox. No sooner than five minutes after our arrival my toes felt a little sore and a bit hot. I went to the toilet to inspect my foot, assuming I might have put my Lymphoedema through a bit too much the night before.

I couldn’t get my shoe off. It hurt too much. This was not normal. Eventually, after loosening every lace I managed to free my foot and upon touching it I felt a considerable amount of pain. I hopped to the exit of the café and made a call to 111.

After a brief discussion surrounding my symptoms it was clear I needed to visit a doctor quickly.

We made our way to the Walk In Clinic, which was situated in a Boots ten minutes away from where we were. By this point I couldn’t walk. The pain had moved up to my shin and that’s when I started to panic. There was no doctor in but the nurse prescribed me some antibiotics. Charlotte made her way down to the pharmacy. I sat down in the Marie Claire section of the make-up department next to two ladies.

“Are you alright?” one asked. I was not all right. In fact it’s safe to say I’ve never been so not all right in my life. I was all wrong and in a lot of pain, which had now reached my groin. It felt like lightening bolts pulsating from toe to thigh. I began to shake, my heart racing and my eyes tearing.

With that we headed to A&E, which was characteristically overflowing with every type of ailment known to man. I was put to the front of the queue and was soon seen by a doctor. I was later told had there been any delay it could have been fatal. That’s always good. Charlotte rang my parents and told them I was going to be okay. We didn’t want to scare them as they were preparing for mum’s 60th.

“Don’t worry, cellulitis can be cleared in a day or so with some antibiotics” I was informed by the doctor. Mum had always warned me about cellulitis, but until you experience it you don’t take notice, much like receiving your first speeding ticket. The infection was already pretty heavy, so I was asked to stay in overnight just in case.

They marked around the red patches with a pen so they could tell whether the infection was spreading. I was put on a drip to keep hydrated. At this point I felt a little better as I was in safe hands and it was only a night’s stay so nothing too tragic. We passed the time with card games and smartphones before I knocked back some painkillers and tried to get some sleep.

 

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Please do not cross the line

 

Absolutely no sleep was gained that night. I had neither pillow nor blanket and the sounds of the emergency department bounced around my head like a pinball. I tossed and turned using my hoodie as a makeshift pillow, eavesdropping on the quarrels of neighbouring patients. The codeine I was given made my stomach twist, making me squirm. Eventually morning arrived and yesterday’s doctor pulled back my gown for the big reveal. I could see by the look on his face there was not too much to smile about. It had spread and my whole leg was inflamed with a dark red. They took some blood and sent me up to another ward where a specialist saw me.

 

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This was life now

 

There’s something oddly unsettling about a doctor staring inquisitively at your body. He admitted right then and there that he wasn’t sure why the antibiotics hadn’t worked and why it was the infection was so aggressive. I sat there just as clueless as he was. “It will all be fine”, I was told, and on that note he left the ward. I wasn’t scared at this point, more uncertain than anything.

I stayed in that ward for about five hours and amongst all the commotion something stood out for me. A nurse said I didn’t need my leg raised as I was on a bed. As you might know “Lymphoedema 101” would state otherwise. It’s nothing major, it just highlights how little is known about the condition.

Eventually my time came to leave my temporary bed. I got out of it with the help of the nurse and sat down in a wheelchair. Walking was not an option. From here I was transported across the hospital to a new ward, one that I now refer to as Death’s Corridor, and yes, it is as fun as it sounds.

If you want to know anymore about my hospital experience please get in contact. Cellulitis can be life threatening, if you don’t know what signs to look for, you can find some tips here.

I Don’t Want to Go Travelling

Okay, I do want to travel, really badly, but the UK is quite literally a giant fluffy pillow compared to the rest of the world.

Lymphoedema makes it incredibly hard for the affected part of your body to fight infection. That’s why it is essential to keep healthy through nutrition and exercise in particular, so that if one day you do get a cut you stand a better chance of saying “no infection, not today”, or any other day for that matter.

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How to Spot Cellulitis

Okay. I’m no doctor, but I’ve had Cellulitis and it really, really hurt. That’s not meant to scare you (as it can be really quite minor) but the infection is no joke. If you are unfortunate enough to catch it, look out for these signs:

  1. The most obvious sign of Cellulitis is blotchy red skin which becomes sensitive to touch (try not to, you’ll aggravate it).
  2. Travelling pain. Mine started at the base of my toes, moved to my foot, shin, calf, knee and up to my groin. It’s essential that you stop it ASAP as the infection can further damage your lymphatics the further around your body it spreads.
  3. You might get hot, cold, sweaty and shiver i.e. a fever. Not fun.
  4. Heat. For Lymphoedema this is a sign of any aggravation in general, never mind Cellulitis. Where there is heat, often there is something going on, but in the case of Cellulitis the heat will be noticeably more apparent.
  5. Another key sign of Cellulitis is glossy, shiny skin. Almost like someone had layered your skin with a coating of plastic, your infected body part will feel tight and sore.

 

Life is for Living

It took me a while to come to terms with my Lymphoedema. For about six years I simply ignored the symptoms, as that seemed the easiest way to deal with it. As far as I was concerned, if I acted normal, I was normal. It was just one leg after all. There was no wheelchair or crutches and I could wear my jeans to hide my “fat leg”. Simple. Condition cured. Job done!

Except Lymphoedema doesn’t work like that. It requires constant attention, care and treatment, so ignoring it is just about the worst thing you can do. My stint in hospital taught me to accept the disease. It was as much a part of me as my extraordinarily long thumbs, or say, my enchanting brown eyes (don’t deny them).

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