Stony Bottom womanﾒs self-diagnosis saved her life
A year after losing her arm to necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh eating bacteria, Stony Bottom resident Mary Geiger is very candid about her ordeal with the disease.
December 27, 2008
ﾓI must have been sewing or something and I picked up something off my table and my thumb had just about a 1/16 of an inch crack that kept getting sore,ﾔ Geiger said. ﾓWhen I would pick anything up, it kept getting sorer to where I couldnﾒt stand to touch the end of my thumb.ﾔ
Geiger put a finger splint on her thumb and continued sewing, hoping the pain would go away.
ﾓA few hours later, I took it off my finger and it was black like a blackberry and bubbly,ﾔ she said. ﾓThe bacteria and the toxins kind of made it bubble up.ﾔ
The appearance of her thumb reminded Geiger of an episode of Mystery Diagnosis she had seen several years ago. The information from that show is what, in her opinion, saved her life.
ﾓThis guy was doing something, camping out west I think and I recognized that my thumb looked like what I saw on TV,ﾔ she explained.
Geiger said she the episode made such an impact on her that she remembered that someone with flesh eating bacteria had to get medical care within 24 hours of diagnosis or they could suffer limb loss or even death.
Knowing how imperative it was for her to get medical attention, Geiger asked her grandson, who was in for Christmas vacation, to take her to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.
ﾓI told him Iﾒve got to go to the doctor, but I knew that Iﾒd have to go on beyond Marlinton because I knew you have to amputate almost always, according to this show, that it goes that fast and you could die within 24 hours,ﾔ she remembered.
Although she was sure she had a fatal disease, Geiger kept her wits about her and called ahead to a hospital in Roanoke to be sure a surgeon was on call because it was a Saturday.
ﾓI spoke to the surgeon and I told him I had flesh eating disease and he asked me how I knew,ﾔ she recalled. ﾓI described it and everything so he would believe me. I went to Marlinton and it was a good thing I knew what I had because they said it looked like I had a blood clot. I said, ﾑno, I have flesh eating bacteria, just send me to Roanoke, I know what I have.ﾒﾔ
December 28, 2008
ﾓBefore I got to Marlinton, I had spots, these black spots the size of 50 cent pieces and quarters,ﾔ she described. ﾓThe disease, it starts multiplying really, really fast and the toxins go all over your body and itﾒs so bad, it starts shutting down all your other functions.ﾔ
Geiger arrived to the hospital in Roanoke around 2 a.m. Sunday as the disease continued to spread through her body, eating away her flesh and shutting down her vital organs.
ﾓIt shut down my kidneys and I had to have dialysis right away, while they were doing the amputation,ﾔ she said.
As the disease works itself through the body, it kills the flesh and causes the blackened appearance. Geiger explained that the doctorﾒs fought to find the best place for amputation to ensure that none of the bacteria was left in her body.
ﾓThey tried to amputate about midway between my elbow and my wrist, but it was going so fast that they couldnﾒt,ﾔ she continued. ﾓIt went into my torso. I had a partial mastectomy and a lot of tissue taken out around there. It goes through your blood stream and it seems to go to the extremities first, but there are times it can get deep in the muscle.ﾔ
Because the disease moves so quickly through the body, Geiger knew the difference between life and death could be only a few hours. She didnﾒt think twice about losing her arm.
ﾓI already had zero chances of living and I was definitely going to die if they didnﾒt amputate my arm,ﾔ she said. ﾓMy sister, Margaret, having my power of attorney, told them to do what they have to do.ﾔ
Doctorﾒs also had to address the situation with Geigerﾒs kidneys. They put her on massive doses of antibiotics and kept her sedated. She was in a coma for 11 days to allow her body to rebound from the amputation.
ﾓI was on dialysis for six weeks before my body came back,ﾔ she explained.
Geigerﾒs doctorﾒs explained that necrotizing fasciitis is caused by group A straptococcus, a bacteria found in the throat and on the skin. If a person is carrying the bacteria, it can cause NF by traveling through saliva into a cut or wound in the body.
Doctors asked Geigerﾒs sister Margaret if they should sedate her before telling her they had amputated her arm.
ﾓMargaret told them that when I came out from under that I wouldnﾒt need anything,ﾔ she said. ﾓIﾒm pretty strong and wouldnﾒt be hysterical, but I knew when I woke up. I could tell because this side moved and that side didnﾒt. I said, ﾑwell, at least I lived.ﾒ My biggest thing was my kidneys. When I came out, they said I had a 50/50 chance of getting my kidneys back and thank goodness I did after about six weeks.ﾔ
Although her kidneys regained their functions, Geiger is still facing one last issue.
ﾓThe only thing that didnﾒt come back for me yet is this chemical that your kidneys produce that tells your bone marrow to make red blood cells,ﾔ she said. ﾓI had to go back to Roanoke because my blood was still down and I had to work with the Hematologist who checked every possible thing. Heﾒs not really sure why I havenﾒt gotten that back.ﾔ
The Hematologist gives Geiger a shot every three weeks to assist her red blood cell production. She said the doctor told her that it is possible her immune system is still fighting off what it thinks is the bacteria and is attacking her red blood cells.
After she returned home, Geiger had to fight to get her strength back and relearn how to do almost everything.
February 17, 2009
Margaret stayed with her once she returned home.
ﾓI still could hardly walk and I was weak probably through March and April, maybe even May before I got my strength back,ﾔ she said. ﾓMargaretﾒs son had to take me around the house in a wheelchair and push me up the steps.ﾔ
She rearranged the furniture so that chairs were readily available for her whenever she had to sit.
Once Geiger regained her strength, she began to learn how to do everything with her left hand.
ﾓMy daughter in Florida sent me some coloring books so I could practice making this hand go where I want and not out of the lines, which is just amazing,ﾔ she said. ﾓIt helped me get used to gripping the pencil and the same pressure and movements and then I had those books for students to learn cursive. Iﾒd sit there, watch TV and write. Iﾒm really pretty good.ﾔ
Learning to write again is hard enough, but Geiger had to learn how to do everyday tasks with one arm. Tasks like opening a jar of peanut butter or cutting a steak.
ﾓI got a lot of the kitchen things for one handed people,ﾔ she said. Itﾒs just kind of second nature now, it doesnﾒt really bother me. There are all kinds of electric things and gadgets in the kitchen. My daughter sent me a soap dispenser with a censor where I just have to put my hand under it and it gives me the right amount of soap.ﾔ
Her kitchen is also equipped with an electric salad shooter, electric knife and plates with prongs to hold down a piece of meat to make it easier to cut. Dunmore resident Bill Loudermilk made Geiger a vise grip mechanism that she can fasten jars in and unscrew the lid with one hand.
Like many amputees, Geiger has a prosthetic arm, but she doesnﾒt use it much.
ﾓI do have an arm I got in June,ﾔ she said, ﾓbut around September, my left shoulder began hurting because it had bone spurs on my collarbone and on my shoulder bone. That had been going on about four or five years and it had been getting worse. So when I began using this arm exclusively, it got really bad, messing up my rotator cuff. I also had arthritis in it and a pulled ligament.ﾔ
The prosthetic arm made the pain in her shoulder worse because it requires a strap to go around her neck and rest on that shoulder. Geiger said when she moved the prosthetic, the strap rubbed her left shoulder and caused too much pain.
In October, she had an operation to remove the bone spurs and fix her rotator cuff. After her shoulder is healed, Geiger doesnﾒt think sheﾒll return to using the prosthetic.
ﾓI donﾒt think I would use my arm very much,ﾔ she said. ﾓWhen you lose below the elbow, you can do things with your elbow to move the arm, but to move a whole arm from here [the shoulder], you have to set the elbow for wherever you want it and the hand will only clamp, so I donﾒt see enough use and it is awfully long from way up here to bother with.ﾔ
Geiger has realized there are things she may never be able to do again.
ﾓI havenﾒt driven since September,ﾔ she said. ﾓThe ignition is on the right, so I have to lean over and I have to reach to turn on the windshield wipers and to change gears.ﾔ
Sheﾒs also had to stop using her four-wheeler because the start button is on her right.
Even after all she has been through, Geiger has stayed positive the entire time.
ﾓI was lucky,ﾔ she said. ﾓIﾒve never had anything in 69 years at all, never in the hospital except to have my children. I see these other people with cerebral palsy or autism and I just feel that my hit was one that I wouldnﾒt have to live with for the rest of my life.
ﾓIt could have been worse.ﾔ
Geiger said if it wasnﾒt for her persistence and certainty that she had flesh eating bacteria, she may not be alive today.
ﾓIf I hadnﾒt known and did what I did and insist to go to Roanoke and call the doctor ahead of time, who knows what wouldﾒve happened?ﾔ she said. ﾓYou canﾒt wait, you have to get to a doctor. Sometimes you have to fight for yourself. You canﾒt think that they [the doctors] are the authority and they know better. If you know something, donﾒt let them take over.ﾔ