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.


  1. Just a stunning article, Nicola! I thank you so much for sharing this scary journey with us and I pray everything will heal and work out for you.

    This sort of article is just what Boles Blogs is made to publish — human stories that teach and share and uplift with hardcore information and the truth of life and death. It is an honor and a blessing to publish this story.


  2. Thank you for sharing this story, Nicola. I am glad that you are recovering, and am impressed with the cleverness of your carrying the information in writing in both Portuguese and French! If you can’t communicate with your doctor, you can’t ever expect to get well.

    1. If I can find a medic alert bracelet that is subtle I may use one of them as well – but the cars in the passport works well for now.

  3. Basically because of the position it was in – or not in – which is more to the point – If it had been in the breast tissue itself we would have been in the hospital like a shot.

    We knew it was fatty lump or sebaceous cyst.and took an educated guess that it was inflamed/infected. Knew it was a job for the doc or local health centre. We lso knew that if it was anything else we would get referred on by them to the hospital if necessary. The nearest hospital is 90 minutes drive away – the twenty minutes to see the doctor would not have deayed us much IF I needed the hospital, but could and did save us a wasted trip.

    I also know my body pretty well – I have made a point of getting to know it well after my surgery – that was too close for comfort.

    I will stess to anyone else reading the importance of regular breast checks and mamograms and of contacting your doctor if there are any changes in the feel of your breasts or any noticeable changes in the skin texture or the feel of them and of course if you find any lumps.

    1. Thanks for explaining your thinking, Nicola. It is important that everyone know their body. There was a doctor on TV saying he doesn’t believe in yearly physicals just because of the calendar. He thinks they’re a waste of money. He said that people know when something bad is happening to them and that’s when they rush to see the doctor.

      How does your health insurance work in Portugal? Do you just pay cash? Or are you covered as a UK citizen in your home system?

  4. I cannot remember a time when I did not do breast checks – ever since my teens and they developed I have been checking them. I did have an advantage and may have been a little ahead of the game because my godmother had breast cancer and taught my mother how to check and she then taught me – all before it was highly publicised.

    As of this month I am covered by both systems – I still have my UK / EU reciprical insurance which reimburses me and of this month I start paying social security here – you get a years grace from making social security payments when you start working here – and a years grace fromnot getting any benefits as well. The UK/EU insurance will cover me for another three years. To be honest the medicines I was given it is not worth filling in the claim form and sending it special delivery to the UK to get them repaid ! If I had to have an operation that would be a different matter.

    1. Your living example is really important. Touching your body and learning its curves and nuances is super important. I think I’m pretty body aware, too, but it was a forced learning in dealing with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Now I can sort of sense when things are getting wacky.

      Fascinating about healthcare and how it works. I’m glad you have all the dangerous angles covered. It’s just too bad we, as people of a world nation, just can’t can get fixed whatever is ailing us without having to push paper or file claims or press the matter as one of human rights vs. infernal suffering.

  5. yes I can tell when my blood pressure is out of kilter too – and when a cold is a cold or something nastier.

    The concept of a world nation is an admirable ideal – BUT if has so many problems facing it – it will be a long time before it happens.

    If you look at the EU experience as an example you can see what those problems are – language, currency, wages ,, social security …………. the main problem being that a plasterer or a lorry driver for example earn different rates of pay for different hours in different countries for different benefits. So the drivers and plasterers come from eastern Europe with a harder work ethic and lesser standard of living come to countries like the UK with a higher standard of living and benefits – such as child benefit which they then send home to Grandma who is looking after the kids . You also have a situation where different hours worked per week get you the same benefits/entitlements.

    One currency would make things a lot easier too and stop a lot of the banking scandals.

    I would also love a world passport …………………

    1. You’re right. We’ll never see universal healthcare, let alone world healthcare!

      I can see how entitlements are a problem. Not a great way to even out the experience of living well and right.

      Our “Global Entry” program is a start to a quicker “world passport” — for a few…

  6. Anything global will need a 50 year roll out – and will need to choose a language to start with then work on all the rest to bring it in , in stages.

    All countries should have global passport – trouble is at the moment a global passport for the USA might stop you having ANY passports for some countries. I knew a man who travelled a lot – he had four different passports so he could move around the middle east and Cyprus – at the time you could not get into some countries if you had a South Cyprus stamp on your passport already and you could only get into some of the middle eastern countries via Southern Cyprus.

      1. when I first met him it was 18 years ago, he was working for Secom – the big security company – having previously worked in various security forces in the UK . The developing security market was in the middle east. He had one passport for travel to USA and back – one for Turkey and North Cyprus and countries accessed from North Cyprus and another for South Cyrprus and countries accessed from there – and a private travel one ! So national security before it was national security ,

  7. @ David – he was until he retired and then got a very good pension – but he also paid for it dearly later on with stress induced diabetes and then a minor stroke that affected his right eye – and then a new treatment for his eyes on a trial that made things worse – the trial should not have been administered to diabetics and they missed it in their rush to push ut the new treatment – even though it was all over his notes and he told them etc etc etc

  8. Thanks for sharing this. It’s so important to make sure you’re covered in cases like this, no matter where or when! If or when I travel out of the country, I’m going to to do the same thing that you did, and carry a card explaining any medical issues I might have. That must have been a nervewracking few days for you.

    1. I think its a good idea Emily – theother option is a medic-alert bracelet which you can get printed with anything you are allergic to or any other conditions you might have – sadly there would notbe enough room on the for a long list – but there might be room for a phone number or for one or two conditions – rather than an explanation which is what I need to have,.

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