REAL LIFE

I got scurvy!

Penny thought her disease was consigned to the history books

Penny Jackson, 56, from Wentworthville, NSW, shares what it’s like to be diagnosed with a forgotten disease

I winced as the doctor examined my leg.

I’d been in hospital for two weeks with cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, on the bottom half of my left leg.

I’d had it for months, but despite taking antibiotics, I couldn’t shake off the painful condition.

I have diabetes, which can slow healing, but the doctor thought there was another underlying problem, so arranged for blood tests.

When I got the results I was stunned.

‘You’ve got scurvy,’ she told me. ‘Scurvy?!’ I exclaimed.

My mind instantly went to images of sick sailors from hundreds of years ago.

‘I didn’t know you could get scurvy these days!’

As I listened to the symptoms, I realised they fitted me perfectly – my gums often bled and I also bruised easily.

“Scurvy?!” I exclaimed.

The doctor explained it was a vitamin C deficiency and asked me about my diet.

I didn’t eat a lot of fresh food because of how long it took to prepare, so instead I tucked into takeaways.

I avoided fruit because I was worried the sugar would affect my diabetes, and oranges gave me digestion problems.

The doctor told me to eat more fruit and vegies, and to take vitamin C supplements as well.

Around a month later, my infection cleared up. I felt a lot healthier too.

Five years on, I’ve stuck to my new diet. I had a second bout of cellulitis three years ago, but it cleared up much more quickly.

There’s been a resurgence of scurvy in Australia recently, and it’s thought that New Zealand could follow suit.

If the symptoms ring any bells, I hope people will see their GP.

I’d love to see scurvy consigned to the history books.

What is scurvy?

➜ Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C. It is important for the formation of collagen, which is needed by bodily tissues.

➜ Symptoms include gum disease, slow healing times, anaemia and weakness.

➜ The condition was common among 16th to 18th century sailors who couldn’t eat fresh food at sea

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