By: Christian John Lillis
“Living the Story You Want to Tell” by Kristal
I recently shared a photo of myself on social media, leading many people to comment on how I different I look. They didn’t know how poorly my health has been but could see that I have lost a lot of weight. While most people are excited about losing weight, there is a lot sadness and a story beyond what they can see. I have decided that I am ready to share my story.
The British government recently ran a campaign of television adverts warning of antibiotic resistance. Unfortunately, they came out after I was diagnosed with a Clostridium difficile infection. C. diff is an often-deadly antibiotic-resistant superbug usually related to recent antibiotic use, although there are now many reported cases with no recent antibiotic exposure. As part of the campaign, the government is warning that deaths linked to antibiotic resistance will rise. In just over 30 years, when the current generation of children are grown up, it is believed that antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined. Without effective antibiotics, minor infections could become deadly, and many medical advances could be at risk. Surgery, chemotherapy, and caesareans could become simply too dangerous.
I was given no end of antibiotics during and after the birth of my daughter. I was also given no warning of the risks or side effects of taking them. I wasn’t offered a choice, even though many of the antibiotics prescribed were to prevent infections (prophylactic antibiotic prescribing) as opposed to treating one. Even after being diagnosed with a C. diff infection I was provided with no education about this illness.
I have felt very let down by the doctors and hospital. They have over-prescribed the wrong antibiotics and have contributed to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. The hospital wouldn’t provide antibiotics I needed to treat my infection because I was an outpatient in the community. Worse, no pharmacy could get them for me because they were too expensive. I have also had unhelpful comments from healthcare workers such as “people your age don’t get C. diff; it’s only old people who get it.”
Well, I am proof that young people do get C. diff. After doing my own research, I found a support group with people of all ages and circumstances suffering from C. diff infections. I have been talking to other young mums who have had CDIs after giving birth; often due to a prolonged stay in hospital and taking broad-spectrum antibiotics. Reading stories from other C. diff survivors has given me knowledge and hope and has helped me not to feel so alone.
C. diff bacteria can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, in the community, in the soil, water, and in processed foods. It is also carried in the GI tract of 3% of healthy adults. 7 in 10 healthy babies also have C. difficile bacteria living in their gut. The number of C. diff bacteria that live in the gut of healthy people is kept in check by the other “good” bacteria. But, when you take antibiotics a lot of the healthy bacteria is wiped out and that leaves you vulnerable to infections that can be very hard to treat, like C. diff.
I am trying to raise awareness of this terrible superbug. While more common among the elderly, C. diff infections know no boundaries and can be acquired by anyone, at any age, in any location. Even when the physical symptoms have gone C. diff can have a profound and lasting effect on you, and those around you.
My doctor has now put information packs around the surgery center to educate patients since I complained about the lack of public awareness. I feel we should all know the risks of going into hospital or of being prescribed any antibiotics.
I still think more should be done: leaflets should be given out with every prescription of antibiotics and probiotics should be given alongside them to help protect patients. I hope others don’t go through what I’ve been through. But if I have made a difference for one person, it has been worth it. I am still fighting to be heard. Recently, the microbiology lab at Kettering General has updated their policies to prescribe to outpatients.
Without the love and support of my fiancé, mum, family and friends I really don’t know how I would have made it this far. Please share my story to help spread awareness of C. diff infections.
Kristal is C. diff survivor and mother living in London. She blogs at C. differently.