When a Surgical Site Infection Sends a Friend Through Hell

Cheryl Clark, February 16, 2012

Once in a while, you hear a story that synthesizes all the talk about infection prevention and surgical checklists into a real-life horror that is as painful as it is urgent. That's when an arguably avoidable, and especially terrible, adverse event happens in a hospital to someone you know personally.

In this case, the patient is an editor and friend I worked with 15 years ago.

John Muncie is now a college journalism program administrator who lives with his wife, Jody Jaffe, on a Lexington horse farm braced against Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. But a few weeks ago, his life went from idyllic to horrific in just a few days.

Troubled with back pain from shoveling gravel and other ranching chores, on Nov. 28 he entered the brand new Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville for spine surgery. The $275 million facility's opening in August was a regional point of pride, with the facility's 177 beds set in soothing Craftsman-style architecture atop Pantops Mountain.

An elective, routine laminectomy with a 23-hour stay would fix his back, Muncie was told. He was discharged on schedule. Recovery proceeded until just before New Year's, when he became feverish, with renewed pain in his back.

Then the pain got worse.

Several calls to the doctor led to an MRI, but nothing conclusive. On Jan. 7, he was so sick he was rushed back to Martha Jefferson and readmitted.

Over the next 12 days Muncie was treated with multiple drugs—many of which failed—to see what worked as the lab tried to grow and identify the culprit bugs. He underwent two biopsies. A few days after readmission, he underwent a 2.5-hour surgery to remove an abscess that had amassed.

Later a propion acne bacteria and a candida-like fungus were confirmed.


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