Paul Houghton

From Paul Houghton, 127 Hart Road Thundersley Essex SS7 3QP I had been joking with other patients on the orthopedic ward that the doctors didn't know what was wrong with me and despite flu-like symptoms for the ten days previously, I wasn't unduly concerned about my health. The aches in my leg as well as a couple of scabs on my knee that were taking longer than usual to heal were causing slight concern, but I had no reason to expect the sudden flurry of activity around my bed. A group of doctors, consultants and other medical staff all turned up to see me and seconds later the curtains remained closed, and the top surgeon Mr Ashley Brown & his Team at Southend General Hospital broke the news to me in no uncertain terms. He told me he had to operate immediately and even then he could not be certain he could save my life. He said he had no choice but to continue cutting until he was certain he had removed all the infected tissue. I was suffering from Necrotizing Fasciitis, a tissue-eating bacteria which cuts off the blood supply and attacks organs, muscle and body tissue at a rate of 2 cm an hour! Antibiotics can't treat it, and if not dealt with swiftly it can kill and often does. When the bacteria is removed from the body, it leaves toxins into the bloodstream causing the body to go into toxic shock, and sufferers often die from this rather than the NF. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and there was barely time for the news to sink in. I had just two hours to prepare myself for an operation that at best I would survive, with a leg missing, but at worst I would not survive at all. There was just enough time to see my German girlfriend Silke and my two daughters, Amy 12 and Louise 15. (I am divorced.) It was an emotional time for everyone, but at least I didn't have long to dwell on what was about to happen. It was hard to believe that just a couple of weeks earlier life had been perfectly normal, and now I was being told I could die. I worked as a roofer, and only twelve days previously had been working on a flat roof, where there had been some stagnant water in a blocked outlet. It was nothing unusual and I am quite used to have clear leaves and other debris from such ducts. This time, the foul-smelling water obviously harbored this deadly germ and a couple of scabs on my knee provided the point of entry for the infection. Sore knees are just one of the hazards of working as a roofer, and as one of my hobbies is scuba-diving, they sometimes don't get a chance to heal very quickly. Just a day after working on the roof I began to feel unwell, with flu-like symptoms, and aches and pains in my leg, which I put down to a pulled muscle while I had been working. This continued for almost a week, before a friend took one look at me and said I really ought to go into hospital. Even then staff didn't know what the problem was, apart from the Dermatologist a Mrs Henderson who's quick thinking in sending away cultures for analysis confirmed the diagnosis of NF. Following the operation, I was put in a sedated coma for ten days, as the toxic shock took over my body, and I was left to fight for my life. It's a little like having sunburn on the inside as the body heats itself to such a high temperature to fight the bacteria, and all this overheating causes the body to burn up many calories. It as very fortunate I weighed a hefty sixteen stone because those who don't have any excess weight, literally waste away. Afterwards I weighed just 11 1/2 stone, and soon after I came out of the coma, I remember my mother trying to force me to eat chocolate as nursing staff had told her how important it was that I should eat. My leg had been cut eight inches above the knee, and because it wasn't a planned amputation, and surrounding muscles were infected, it wasn't finished in quite the same way. Fortunately an eminent plastic surgeon happened to be at the hospital that day. Mr. Lotion Kengesu He, along with many other doctors were present during the operation, as it is something very rare. His expertise ensured I was left with a stump that could accept a prosthesis (walking aid) without the need for further surgery. During the ten days I was in the coma, Silke, an osteopath, talked me through what had happened, and I did take in things she had been saying. The first time I was fully conscious I didn't want to look at what was left of my leg, but it is vital to do so as part of the recovery process. You have to accept what has happened, and was given counseling by some wonderful nurses, (by this time I had been moved to a specialist plastic surgery unit St. Andrews in Chelmsford) who helped to look at my leg, touch the wound and see what had been done. It is hard to describe my feelings afterwards, as it is something none of can ever imagine happening. The first time I tried to sit up was awful. I had been lying down for two weeks, and as I raised my head the room began to spin, I felt nauseous and it was very emotional. It took a while to come to terms with what had happened. I spent a couple of months in rehabilitation, before finally coming home, and learning to adapt to a totally new way of life. I now wear a prosthesis and prefer not to wear a cover on it to make it look like a real leg. The phantom pains that amputees can suffer from are very painful, as the nerve endings look for a path, and if you start kidding yourself the false leg is a real one, the pains can be far worse. My family has coped well with what has happened to me and my girlfriend has been very supportive. Obviously I had to give up my job as a roofer, and am now still keeping busy. Studying for a diploma in I.T., scuba diving and playing chess! I plan to go to University in January for a short course to train as an Access Auditor, helping to ensure public buildings come into line with various disability requirements. I also work as a voluntary visitor for amputees and the disabled. Disablement has opened my eyes and made me reflect on how fragile our lives can be. Until this happened I was just like every other able bodied person, not really caring much about the disabled. But I now know just how much discrimination there is amongst the British whose, traditional stereotypical stiff upper lip, and dislike of anything not quite normal prevents them from really looking at what's going on and seeing how they can help. I am very different to the man I was a year ago and despite the trauma I have been through, I have emerged a much better person. As long as I get up one more time than I fall down! (sic Chris Moon) 1 leg still standing! PS. Since writing this piece 18 months ago, I work as a Access Officer at Chelmsford Borough Council, I have married my beloved Silke and I have continued working within the disabled movement: ACCESS AUDITORS COURSE CHELMSFORD COLLEGE 2002 DISABILITY & EQUALITY TRAINERS COURSE 2002 REGIONAL REPRESENTITIVE FOR ESSEX COALITION OF DISABLED PEOPLE. INDEPENDENT (DISABLED) VISITOR SCHEME. ( I.V.S. ) ACCESS CONSULTANT, FOR SOUTHEND GENERAL HOSPITAL. COMMITTEE MEMBER OF CASTLE POINT ACCESS GROUP COMMITTEE MEMBER CHELMSFORD AREA ACCESS GROUP ESSEX ACCESS FORUM REPRESENTITIVE ESSEX POLICE ACCESS FORUM I have recently work as a model and have gained letters after my name. I have become the first accredited disabled access auditor to come through a charity based project. I have also swam 3 miles to raise money for Cancer relief. I also play amputee soccer for Southend United.