I don’t know how many times I have cut myself, but I realize now that in all those time I have not marveled enough about my skin’s ability to heal. Until last weekend when it didn’t.
Last weekend I have a few scratches on my hands from pruning the overenthusiastic bougainvillea that brightens up our back corner. They weren’t anything serious but I came in from the garden and soaked my hands in Dettol, smeared on some Savlon and trusted the rest to my immune system. The scratches scabbed over and all was well.
Except on Saturday night the scratch on my thumb started to really hurt, then it started to throb and look a bit nasty. On Sunday Soy and I made jokes about my thumb having a life of its own. I was a little dismayed by how much it hurt, but it’s a little scratch and my skin will heal quickly, I thought.
Sunday night the joint in my thumb started to ache and grow hot and I knew I needed to see a doctor. All the late night GPs were shut, so I headed over to RPA hospital to enjoy the ambience of late night A&E. I have to say, I felt a little foolish because I thought this was a problem that could be dealt with by a GP, a hospital seemed like overkill. The doctors and nurses at RPA didn’t share that view, especially when they pulled up my sleeve and saw the pink line tracing up my arm, showing how far the infection had spread.
They pumped me full of antibiotics via IV drip, cleaned up the wound (now 3 times the size of my other thumb) and sent me home with a script for oral penicillin. They had mentioned scary things about infections in bones and tendons, confirming that it was entirely appropriate to come to Emergency with an infection like that.
Today my thumb is back to normal size, my skin is normal colour and I am tempted to revert to my old view that it was really a lot of fuss over nothing. But 100 years ago, before Howard Florey experimented with using penicillin on human infections, that infection would have raged on and done who-knows-how-much damage to my hand and, possibly, my life. How lucky I am to live in this age of modern medicine and this country with a free health system.