Photo by Dr. Vishwajeet Singh via flickr
I am not a medical doctor, nor am I prescribing supplements to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any diseases. I’m writing about my experience with gross bacteria, grosser antibiotics, and the journey back to homeopathic living.
For whatever reason, I’ve always had a measly immune system. My mom didn’t quite believe in taking us kids to the doctor right away when we were young, so between my inability to fight off normal viruses and my mom’s belief in sleep and orange juice, I got pneumonia twice and bronchitis once before I was 7 years old. I’m always the first to get sick with the season’s round of flus and colds, and for good measure I come down with a bug about every two months (it’s August and I’m blowing my nose between typing sentences). I got used to being sick and it’s just been a thing I’ve had to deal with my whole life. Around the time I became a vegetarian and started to pay more attention to food, vitamins, and overall health and nutrition, I noticed I got sick less often. That was good news, but it didn’t mean I was any better at fighting off an infection. In my second year of college I had a roommate whose cat got fleas and brought them into the house. I got a bite on my leg and, although I didn’t know it at the time, it started what would be a year-and-a-half long battle with aggressive MRSA colonization.
The chain of events went like this: for some reason, in the middle of August, I came down with an ear infection that got so bad it burst my eardrum overnight and I had to drive myself screaming and crying to the doctor’s office. They couldn’t figure it out either, but the damage was done so I was prescribed a 10-day round of amoxicillin and about 50 painkillers because it hurt so bad. While I was laid up in bed, high as a kite and dimly aware of the life altering pain on the left side of my face, my roommate’s cat walked in and out of my room like normal. Since I was passed out half the time, I imagine he jumped up on my bed and cuddled there to. What I didn’t know was that he had fleas, and once fleas are in the house they’re terrible to get rid of. About halfway into my round of antibiotics for my ear, I got a couple of bites on my lower legs, which is common with fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. I didn’t think anything of it. I had more pressing concerns, like why I couldn’t figure out how the nature documentary I was watching kept switching from the ocean to desert plains (it’s because I was high). About a week later, I realized the bite was a little red and swollen but it hadn’t been itching so I figured, maybe, it was a spider bite or a particularly bad mosquito bite and it would clear on its own. A week after that, my right ankle was so swollen from the bite about two inches above it that I couldn’t see any of my ankle bones – it went from leg to foot, no questions asked. I went to the ER, where I sat for 5 hours and was turned away for a “swollen bug bite,” for which I paid $800, and decided to go to a general physician the next day. She was more understanding of my concerns and (gross alert) ended up draining the spot on my leg that had been so swollen. She was hesitant to push the big red button on a MRSA diagnosis, since doctors are understandably nervous about that, and ordered a culture. Lo and behold, as I was recovering from a busted eardrum that left me sick, high and half-deaf, I contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Long, really gruesome story short, I’d been colonized with MRSA. That’s when the bacteria is taking up residence in your nose (where it actually lives) instead of simply infecting a wound on your skin (where it likes to party), which is generally treated with a one-time dose of antibiotics.
The MRSA came back like clockwork, every two months, and if I didn’t catch the signs fast enough I’d have to go to the doctor and have the abscesses opened and drained to keep the infection from entering my blood. This became so frequent that I stopped getting shots of lidocaine to numb the pain because the lidocaine hurt worse than a scalpel. Pretty serious stuff. My doctor tried everything – packing and wicking the wounds to reduce the chance of infection, hot and cold compresses to draw the bacteria out, baths in salt and mineral tonics, and all kinds of other ideas to reduce my need for harsh medicine. Eventually, none of that worked and I was on a double-dose of clindamycin, bathing in antibacterial soap, and swabbing the inside of my nose with Bactroban to try and eliminate the colony. I’m 5’11 and naturally around 170 pounds, and at the peak of my antibiotic cycles, I was weighing in at 134. It was a bad time.
After about a year and a half, I was used to walking around like I was made of glass because every bug bite, knick, cut, scratch, or poke could turn into an infection. Finally, I went four months without any sign of infection and thought I was in the clear. Of course, I scratched myself and it got infected and I ended up seeing an infectious disease specialist at my college’s health center, which I hadn’t been able to do for three months prior because it was summer. She was so fed up with the history of infections that she told me my only options left were to keep dealing with it, or drive down to Seattle and endure a quarantined 14-day cycle of antibiotics and daily chemical showers to eradicate the colony.
That was the last straw for me.
I’m not saying the antibiotics and antibacterial soap didn’t treat the infections – they did. Without medical intervention I’d be dead, which doesn’t agree with me. Still, at a certain point, I decided that if conventional medicine meant wasting away and being so sick from antibiotics that I couldn’t even keep normal weight on, I had to think of something else.
I turned to some naturopaths in my community. I lived in a small-ish, very “green living” college town with a lot of alternative lifestyle resources. I told them how sick I’d been and how profoundly exhausted of medication I was, but that I was scared and frustrated about my struggle with MRSA. I started a regimen of oil of oregano, found to inhibit parasite growth, and a tincture of uva ursi to battle the general infection. Still, it was explained to me that I had to make my body inhospitable to infection. I felt dumb that the thought had never occurred to me, but being used to having colds and feeling under the weather my whole life, I kind of just figured that’s how my body worked. I found out about an alkaline diet, which raises your body’s natural alkalinity, thereby reducing its acidity. There is a list of benefits to this kind of diet, ranging from “overall good health” to the casual consumer to “cures cancer, oh my god!” to the hard-core believers. Still, I believed (and still do) that creating a harmonious body makes it harder for germs and viruses to wreak havoc. I began a strict alkaline diet and the apple cider vinegar and honey cure, which is another homeopathic remedy with a whole host of alleged benefits, but definitely raises your body’s alkalinity due to its contents. Thus was my aggressively natural new regimen.
While I’m a hopeful, green-living, vegetarian, natural-is-best kind of woman now, I’m always a little skeptical of natural cures (especially the ones people make money off of) and I was so desperate for a solution that I was half expecting this stuff to fail too. The amazing thing was that it began to work. I have no problem admitting that I can be lazy and scatter-brained so I don’t have the best track record with diets, supplements, daily rituals, and things like that. I was on these remedies like clockwork for three weeks, and then whenever I remembered (which was about 5 times a week), and eventually whenever I felt like it, until I was busy with day to day life and forgot about them altogether. You’d think I would be crazy about staying on schedule, but the magical part was that I kept forgetting to do them because I wasn’t getting sick anymore. The last time I got really, officially sick was last July, when I started my natural regimen after my last dose of antibiotics, so I’ve made it a full year with no new infections. I haven’t had the energy to ask a doctor if I’m still colonized because I’ve had my fill of doctor’s offices and testing and bad news. The fact is, I’m healthy, back to a normal weight, and not dying of super gross blood infections that stop your heart. I mean, what more could you ask for!
I truly believe that part of breaking my cycle with MRSA was getting my stress under control. Stress ruins your immune system in a lot of ways – cortisol, a hormone released into your blood when you’re experiencing anxiety, is good for “fight or flight” but bad for every normal mechanism your body has to do on a daily basis to remain healthy. I wrote before about natural supplements that help keep you sane and relaxed, which is just as important as antibiotics and nutrition when your body is healing. When I was cycling through antibiotics every two months on the dot, I was incredibly anxious, and that prolonged the cycle. When I took matters into my own hands, had a daily health ritual and took a minute to breathe, my body began to gain traction and I seriously think that reducing my levels of anxiety tipped the scales in my favor.
If you’re experiencing significant health issues, always see a doctor. Like I said, I’d be sipping some very fine riesling on the pristine beaches of heaven if I hadn’t sought medical attention. That said, it’s important to look after your own health and search for alternatives when what you’re doing isn’t working. I know I was desperate, scared, and frustrated when I finally reached out for alternative solutions, and I would’ve really loved to have them all in one place or from somebody with similar experiences. If these remedies sound right for you, research them, ask people who know what they’re doing (like your doctor or a certified naturopath), and make them part of your daily life. Nothing is as important as your health so take it seriously. Besides, I figured “Here lies Molly, beloved daughter and friend, accidentally died of really icky germs” would’ve made a terrible tombstone.