Survival

A bluebottle nearly took my leg: my amputation nightmare!

'You've contracted a life-threatening infection' a nurse told me.
Getty Images/Supplied

A regular trip to the beach turned into a nightmare for John.

Here, John, 46, tells the story in his own words.

What a great start to the year, I thought to myself. It was New Year’s Day and to mark the beginning of 2018, the kids and I were going for a morning swim at the beach.

On a break in Urunga, NSW, my wife Kylie 38, and her friend Louise were enjoying some girly time back at the holiday home. As the kids, Carter 14, Oscar 12, Matilda, nine, and Lincoln, seven, clambered out of the car and rushed to the ocean, I was left to carry the boogie boards. Reaching the sand I realised it was dotted with bluebottle jellyfish. I knew they had a nasty sting and didn’t want any of the kids to get hurt.Yanking off my shoes, I quickly ran towards the water to tell them to get out. But as I reached the water’s edge, I felt a twinge of pain on my foot. Looking down, I realised a bluebottle had wrapped itself around my foot and stung me! Gasping, I quickly pulled it off, throwing it into the sea. It felt similar to a wasp sting, but I wasn’t worried as I’d heard the pain usually went after a day or so.The kids came rushing over and, after assuring them that I was okay, we decided to head back to the house. ‘You’re back already?’ Kylie questioned.‘Yep, I got stung by a bluebottle,’ I sighed.

Trawling the internet for pain relief, I learned that hot water was meant to help. So I stood in a scorching shower for half an hour in hope that the pain would subside. It didn’t really ease off, so I did my best to put it to the back of my mind. But by evening, the pain had increased and a red rash had appeared on my foot. Tossing and turning all night through the agony, at 4am I woke Kylie. ‘I think I need to go to hospital,’ I declared. Turning on the bedroom light, I was shocked to discover that my leg had turned black. We couldn’t leave the kids alone, so Louise got up to drive me. She took one glance at my leg before widening her eyes.  ‘Let’s go,’ she urged.

sting turned black
The jellyfish sting turned my leg black! (Credit: Supplied)

By the time we had reached the local hospital, the blackness had spread up my leg and I was in agony. The nurses dosed me up on antibiotics and morphine until the doc arrived. After my leg was examined I was told I’d need to go to a bigger hospital in Coffs Harbour. An ambulance whizzed me over there, where I had blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds. As my black leg began to blister, I winced through the pain. A surgeon said they’d operate that night. ‘We’ll use a process called debridement, which involves cutting out the dead, infected skin tissue,’ he explained. ‘It helps to heal the wound and prevent the infection spreading.’ Coming around from the surgery in ICU, I was given yet more bad news.‘You’ve contracted a life-threatening marine infection called vibrio vulnificus,’ said a nurse. ‘It’s often found in the Mediterranean and there’s only been a few cases of it here in Australia.’ I couldn’t believe a trip to the beach had ended like this!

Ringing Kylie to fill her in on the news, she promised to bring the kids in to see me in the morning. It was so lovely to wake up the next day and see my family, but my journey wasn’t over yet. After 12 days in hospital on an antibiotic drip, a doctor said I might be able to go home soon. ‘That would be great,’ I enthused. But then, when they unwrapped the dressing, they found the infection had spread and I’d have to fly to Sydney. Saying goodbye to Kylie and the kids while holding back tears, I was flown there by air ambulance. After I’d settled into the ward, a surgeon came to look at my leg and delivered some frightening news. ‘Don’t be surprised if you lose your leg,’ he warned. Gulping with fear as I took in the news, all I could do was hope that my limb could be saved. This time, the surgeons took away even more skin, from my knee right down to my foot. They repeated the operation two more times. Kylie flew down for a few nights to keep me company. ‘We’ll get through this together,’ she said squeezing my hand.

Finally I got some good news – my wound was free of infection. I just needed a skin graft from my thigh to seal it up. Ten days later I was free to go home. ‘Welcome home daddy!’ said my kids as I pulled them all into a big hug.Ten weeks on from the bluebottle sting, I’m still using crutches to get around and I’m unable to work. I can’t believe how much trouble that jellyfish caused! But if I ever get down, I thank my lucky stars I’ve still got two legs.
skin graft
My leg six days after the skin graft (Credit: Supplied)
John and his family
My family: Zachary, Matilda, Lincoln, Kylie, Indigo, me, Oscar and Carter (Credit: Supplied)

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