Infection - By Howard Schneider

The spot on my wrist is a lot worse this morning than it was last night when I went to bed. Then it was just a blister the size of a quarter. Now it’s oozing pus or something What the hell’s going on? This is scary, I said to myself.

“Cherri, doesn’t this look worse than before? Like bigger—and raw?” I asked my wife when she came into the room.

“Donnie! Oh my God. That’s terrible! You gotta see a dermatologist. Call right now.”

I got an appointment for that afternoon. In the meanwhile, I took three aspirin and an antihistamine, smeared the open sore with antibiotic ointment, and headed to the jobsite. I had to install three toilets and a hot water heater before noon. The painters were supposed to get there after lunch. 

My boss wasn’t happy that I had to take time off for the doctor’s appointment since we were scheduled to do a kitchen hookup that afternoon. But when I showed the lesion to him he didn’t object. “Jesus, Don! That looks bad. Where’d you get that? You better get something for it.”

“I got a little scratch two days ago when I cleaned out the blocked sewer in that old four-square in Buckman. Didn’t think anything about it then, no big deal. Must have become infected with something.”


By the time I got to the clinic the lesion was weeping cloudy liquid and had turned purple. The skin around it was red and tender. The dermatologist frowned when she looked at it. “I’ll take a biopsy for culture. We’ll have a diagnosis in a couple of days. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll put a rush on it. As a precaution, I’ll start you on a broad-spectrum antibiotic, an IV injection, then tablets. I want to see you tomorrow.”

“What do you think it is?”, alarmed by the seriousness of the steps she was taking.

“We’ll see what the culture tells us. I’ll need a blood sample for the lab, as well. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she replied.

Trusting her expertise, I assumed she knew what was best. After the blood draw and injection, I took the prescription and headed home, not feeling like returning to more kitchen plumbing that day. I filled the script and picked up a six-pack of IPA on the way to my house. By the time I got there, I was feeling punky, and Cherri didn’t like the way I looked. “You’ve got a fever,” she said, after feeling my forehead. I took an antibiotic tablet, two aspirins, drank a beer, then fell asleep on the sofa. 

By the next morning, the lesion looked like a piece of rotten,  hamburger meat, was about the size of saucer, and hurt like hell. I was so weak I could hardly get out of bed. I glanced at the dresser clock, then called out, “Cherri. You gotta take me to the clinic. I don’t feel so good. I have to be there in thirty minutes.”

“I can’t, Donnie. I’m showing a house at 9:30. I really need this sale. You’ll have to use Uber or take a taxi.”

The Uber driver honked twenty minutes later, and I managed to make it to the car on my own, although with great difficulty. “You don’t look so good, mister,” the driver said when I slid into the back seat.

“I don’t feel so good, either,” I said, then gave him the address.


“This way, Mr. Rose,” the nurse said after she called my name. “Dr. Prichard will see you in room three.”

“Dr. Prichard entered the room holding a file and a sheaf of computer printouts, which she put on the counter next to a small sink. She asked a few questions then examined the lesion. “I’m afraid I have disturbing news. The culture confirms a diagnosis of necrotizing fasciitis. That’s consistent with the lab results and a fever. You may have heard of it as flesh-eating disease. The infecting organism is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.”

I wasn’t sure what that terminology meant, but from her demeanor I figured it was pretty damn serious. “Can you cure it?”

“Dr. Pendergast will be here in a few minutes. He’s a surgeon and has experience with this disease.”

“Surgeon?” Don exclaimed. “They gotta cut it out?”

“Yes. It’s resistant to antibiotics. Surgery is the only option. I think we’re catching it early enough. You should be okay.”

“You think?” Or do you know for sure?” 

Before Dr. Prichard could respond, there was as gentle rap on the door, and it eased open. An older, bespectacled man in a smart, double-breasted blue suit and silver tie entered. His neatly trimmed goatee matched a full head of white hair.  He nodded at Dr. Prichard, then said, “Hello, Mr. Rose. I’m Dr. Horace Pendergast. I understand you’ve contracted a case of necrotizing fasciitis. That horrible disease happens to be one of my specialties. I hate it and would like to see it eradicated from the face of the earth. May I take a look?”

Don was immediately put at ease by the courtly gentleman’s bedside manner and held his arm out in front of him. “It’s been only a couple of days and it’s spreading like wildfire. Can you can get rid of it?”

Dr. Pendergast put on a pair of latex gloves and gently probed the lesion with his finger, starting at the center and working his way to the periphery. When Don winced, Dr. Pendergast said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Rose. I don’t mean to cause you pain, but I need to assess the extent of tissue damage. That will determine how much tissue I’ll have to remove. I’ll know better after I open it up.”

“You gonna cut out part of my arm?” I asked, terrified at the prospect of losing a body part.

“As little as necessary. It’s the only way to save the limb. Actually, to save your life,” he replied.

“Oh, my God. How did this happen? Why me?” I asked.

“Tell me everything you did during the few days before this started,” Dr. Pendergast said, taking a seat on the chair next to the examination table.

Like he asked, I told him what I’d done each day. When I got to the time I worked on the basement sewer drain in the Buckman house, Dr. Pendergast held up his hand to stop me in mid-sentence. “What did you do when you got that scratch?” he asked, his eyes boring into mine.

I thought for a moment, then said, “Nothing. I just kept working. It was running late, and I wanted to get out of there. It was just a scratch.”

“There’s our culprit. Our source. What’s the address of that house?”

“I don’t remember,” I said. “But I can find out if you really want to know. They’ll have it at the office.” 

“Good. I’d appreciate it if you would,” Dr. Pendergast replied.


Two months and three surgeries later, I was pronounced cured. Unfortunately, my arm had been amputated at the elbow, but at least I was alive. Dr. Pendergast recommended a prosthesis specialist and there was a good chance I would be back at work in a few months. Modern prostheses were more advance than I had realized, and my workers’ comp paid the full bill.

“It could have been worse,” Cherri reminded me, when a black cloud of depression settled in once in a while.


A month after Don was declared cured, the fire station in Buckman was called to a four-alarm conflagration near Morrison and twelfth, where a stately old four-square was in full blaze by the time they got there. “Nothing to salvage here,” the captain said to the fireman standing next to him. An elegantly dressed, elderly gentleman with a white goatee edged up to the captain and asked, “Is it a total loss?”

“Definitely,” the captain replied, glancing at the old man who asked the question.

The elderly man nodded, then sauntered away, wondering where he might stop for a celebratory drink in that neighborhood.

Leave a comment