Four or five months ago when I was doing my routine self-breast check I found a small pea sized lump on my breastbone, nestled in my cleavage.
A quick check with our doctor at the time confirmed what I had first thought — a fatty lump or sebaceous cyst — nothing to be concerned about.
Fast forward to last week when I wake up feeling bruised in the same area. The lump was no longer a pea –more like a pea on top of an egg yolk — with a similar feel. This was a different animal — this needed to be checked and NOW.
Our original doctor had passed away in the intervening time — a heart attack so we went to the local health centre to get their advice about replacement family doctors and to see if there was a doctor on call who we could see on an emergency basis. We walked in — it was empty — this did not bode well as it is normally bursting at the seams with queues down the block.
The very helpful lady at reception informs us that no replacement family doctor has yet been assigned to the town and the other doctor was on holiday. Six thousand people without local family doctor care and the tourist season starting? I will add here that there is another health centre and associated doctors twenty kilometres away.
Mr P then reminds me that he has the phone number of the retired doctor who did his medical tests for his driving licence renewal. A phone call later we have an appointment at a café fifteen minutes’ drive away.
So we sit, drinks having been ordered and up roars this motorbike, parks and takes of the very fancy helmet – “Ah here he is” says Mr P — they retire them young around here.
Introductions are made — he speaks English — always a bonus. He turns to me and tells me that “Doctors sometimes see with their hands” — AKA I am going to feel your breast in public in a roadside café. I reply that I know this and rely on his discretion. He leans forward and just traces a finger gently over the offending lump making me jump out of my skin as it is so tender.
He sits back, and explains I have an infected cyst — I need antibiotics.
I explain I have MRSA so they will need to be strong ones.
He writes me a prescription; we trundle off to the chemist, pay and ridiculously low price — under three euros — for the tablets and go home.
I take tablets as prescribed — I have none of the nasty side effects that antibiotics can bring — not tummy problems and no thrush. Sadly I appear to have none of the good effects either. I finish the course, knowing that sometimes there is a slow burn effect with them and that they need time to work.
By now the lump has hardened, and to make things worse is slowly turning purple AND in a final ignominious twist develops a tiny whitehead on top — every time my clothes brushed it — agony ensued.
I am not good with whiteheads — I pick them — knock the heads off. This one was no different. After applying alcohol — I took the top off — oh the relief…
Another phone call to the doctor — this time we meet at the driving school where he does the medicals — got a private room this time.
He took one look at me and said “that has got worse — I do not understand.”
I suggested that he might not have understood what MRSA was — Mr P asked him if he knew what it was — we were right the significance had passed him by. Profuse apologies for the lost in translation moment and correct antibiotics issued — along with instructions to drain gently if a head reappeared and instructions to help “pull” the infection — hot shower, hot flannel, hot bath and sunbathing if all else failed. He also advised having it removed as soon as the infection had gone.
Twenty four hours later I am pleased to report less pain, no head and a considerable reduction in size.
It is ten years since I was infected with MRSA in hospital after abdominal surgery. It is the first time it has presented a problem to me. The main reason it is a problem is because the large majority of skin abscesses are from Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria.
It was a very timely reminder to us both of how close to the line we live, how precious life is and how important the medications I take to bolster my immune system are. Mr P now knows how vital it is to explain — not just mention my MRSA and I know how important it is to get him to explain in Portuguese that I have it and not depend on pidgin English when communicating with doctors. I am also learning to explain it in Portuguese and now carry a written card with an explanation of it in both Portuguese and French which sits in my passport in my wallet.