As a parent of three small children, I’m always wary when we go for a weekend walk around our neighborhood. Why? Our neighbors love dogs, and we regularly pass breeds such as pit bulls, German shepherds, and Siberian huskies.
I don’t have anything against canines, but I have a trio of tiny lives to care for and recognize that one careless moment can lead to disaster. And after hearing the story of 52-year-old British psychiatrist Jaco Nel, I’ve come to realize that furry four-footed friends can prove more dangerous than I ever imagined.
You would not think that Nel’s dog would’ve harmed him in any significant way. See, he owned a cocker spaniel, one of the sweetest breeds in the world.
But while playing with his pet one day, Nel noticed he had a small cut on his hand. No big deal, right? Not exactly.
“We were just playing like you do, and he got a little bit excited, and he just nicked my hand,” the doctor explained to the BBC. “It was a small little nick, which I cleaned, disinfected, forgot about it.”
Little did Nel know that nick would nearly end his life. Within two weeks, he began to feel ill, and he canceled all of his patients’ appointments, thinking he had the flu.
Only he didn’t. He had sepsis, a life-threatening, body-wide inflammatory response due to a blood infection.
“When my partner, Michael, got home after work, I couldn’t stand up, my hands didn’t work properly, and I struggled to speak. That’s when he called the paramedics and I was taken to hospital.”
Unbeknownst to him, those were signs of sepsis. Indeed, anyone with a mottled skin tone, chills, confusion, and a fever should be concerned about the illness.
Nel quickly went into septic shock, a condition that kills 80 percent of those afflicted by it. His kidneys began to fail, and gangrene started to attack his extremities.
“I was lying there in hospital looking at my black, gangrenous legs and fingers,” he recalled. “Looking down, I knew I was going to lose everything.”
The illness cost him his nose, much of the flesh on his face, five fingers, and both legs. But Nel survived, and he says the very dark cloud of his disfigurement has a bright lining.
“I think I have a lot more to give to my patients in terms of empathy and understanding,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be close to death and to have a disability.”
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