On Aug. 31, 2002, I woke up with a tiny red bump on the outside corner of my eye. Like any good 22-year-old would do, I went to pop it and winced when the fiery red bump did nothing but burn. I figured
I had acted prematurely.
The next morning when
I awoke, there were four more bumps right in line with one another. Not two days later, they turned into dime-sized boils on my face, secreting yellow pus, with more infant red bumps spreading like wildfire.
Scared, I went to visit the nurse practitioner, who consulted a book for my symptoms: red, pus-filled rash, spreading. She diagnosed me with eczema and sent me on my way. She said that if it got worse in two weeks to come back and see her. Had I waited the two weeks, I could have become violently ill, or worse.
Being the college-age female that I was, having my face look like a petri dish was no picnic. In fact, it was downright upsetting. People stopped looking at me from the neck up. I remember going to a theme park with a group of friends and insisting on wearing makeup (that burned badly) so that I could feel normal for a day.
After a water ride, my makeup came clean off. It was distressing, as I was treated differently -- not by my friends, who knew I was in the midst of a medical mystery, but by those in line who would stare with looks of pity. When I turned to look at them, they would look away.
After waking up the next morning with an eye swollen shut from one of the boils and counting the new growths on my neck, I called the doctor for a referral to a dermatologist. I was told I would have to wait a month for insurance to agree. Rather than wait for insurance to approve, I decided to use my own money and called the specialist myself.
I got an appointment within a day and they confirmed the diagnosis -- a staph infection. Until then, I had never heard of it. According to MedicineNet.com, staph is short for staphylococcus aureus. Staph infection can be simple and localized, such as with impetigo. It can, however, become widespread, by infecting the blood. It could prove fatal after infecting major organs.
I was lucky, as only my skin has been affected, and a prescription for the quickest antibiotic they had made it all fade away. However, what is starting to spread today is a drug-resistant germ called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Prevention is now the big key to stopping this "superbug."
How could this have been prevented? I asked. "Wash your hands" was the answer I received. Constantly I wash my hands, including under my fingernails. My face is off limits to touch, or I use Neosporin to touch open sores. I am not afraid of staph, but only because I am now aware of it.
It's like making sure you lock the doors so that your car does not get broken into. Sometimes the thief manages to get past, but not without the clear warning that they're not welcome. If you stay observant and careful, there is nothing to fear.
LaBarbera, a Modesto resident, works for the Yosemite Community College District in the office of external affairs. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.