For all the criticism of the scientific method and Big Pharma, antibiotics is truly one of its great discoveries. The flu pandemic of 1918 claimed nearly seventy million lives because there were no antibiotics to deal with the complications arising from Spanish flu. This week I got a lesson in the efficacy of modern medicine.
A couple of weeks ago I sat outside a hotel enjoying a coffee and the sunshine during a business meeting. It was an informal affair and I was wearing shorts. The next morning my wife asked me if I had been stabbed in the night for on the back of my thigh was a wound the size of a dinner plate. On closer inspection it turned out to be a reaction to an insect bite but it was a fierce reaction and the skin was blood red. I felt no discomfort and so decided against seeing a doctor. The reaction persisted for the next few days with the skin going through various colour changes but still with no discomfort apart from the odd itch.
On the tenth day I was woken up in the night with a painful irritation. The wound was now giving me massive discomfort. In the morning light I could see, with the aid of a mirror, that the skin was inflamed and blood red again. As soon as the local walk in centre was open I attended it and saw a doctor. He took one look at it and declared it was infected and prescribed antibiotics. At the start of the course I could envisage how my leg could easily develop an escalating infection. The wound was exquisitely painful to touch and had become swollen. It was easy to imagine gangrene setting in or septicaemia, followed by an amputation or death. That was the reality of a simple insect bite before the advent of antibiotics.
Within 36 hours of taking the medication the pain had subsided to a sensation of having an overly hot water bottle adjacent to my skin. But then the infection fought back and spread further around the original wound which now had a ring of blisters along its boundary. Another visit to the walk in centre produced a nurse this time who burst the marble sized blisters and dressed the wound. A biro line was drawn around the new infected area (which I could now see without the aid of a mirror) and the nurse reassured me that the antibiotics took 48 hours to kick in properly.
A couple of days after this and the swelling had gone down significantly.
Today is the penultimate day of the antibiotic course and the infection appears to be beaten. Phew. Now I know why MRSA is so feared inside hospitals.