Beth’s story – the dangers with invasive medical devices
Beth shares her personal story of developing a healthcare-associated infection caused by a medical device to highlight the impact these infections can have on patients and their whānau.
Healthcare-associated infections, or infections that arise from a hospital stay, are relatively common and in many cases preventable. A recent nationwide survey in public hospitals showed that 1 in 15 patients had a healthcare-associated infection.
More than half of all people admitted to hospital have an intravenous catheter inserted to give medication or fluids. These catheters can get infected, and sometimes these infections lead to a more serious bloodstream infection.
The longer a medical device is kept in, the greater the risk of infection
Beth had been feeling unwell for more than a week when she went to see her GP who diagnosed an acute heart condition. She was immediately transferred by ambulance to hospital.
‘The day before I ended up in hospital, that was probably the worst I felt,’ she said.
At the hospital, two intravenous catheters (lines) were inserted in Beth’s arm as she required heart medication urgently. After she went to the ward, only one of these lines was used. The longer a line is kept in, the greater the risk of infection, so if it is not being used it should be removed.
‘There were all sorts of lines put in when we arrived … I had a line in each arm and then later on only one was used,’ Beth said.
‘There were all sorts of lines put in when we arrived … I had a line in each arm and then later on only one was used.’
The infection got into her blood
Beth responded well to the treatment for her heart condition; however, one of her unused intravenous lines became infected, and this infection got into her blood.
‘So, the one [line] I got the infection in – my right arm – was left there. I didn't question it because they just kept coming, taking blood and giving me pills and potions, and you know, I just sort of did what I was told,’ she said.
‘… they just kept coming, taking blood and giving me pills and potions – and you know, I just sort of did what I was told.’
‘It would have been later that week when they removed it … after that, they noticed there was a bit of swelling around my elbow area, and they did further tests. Then they told me I had an infection and took me down and did an ultrasound on the arm,’ she said.
More to deal with in hospital
Once the infection was diagnosed, Beth needed to have about 3 weeks of antibiotics to treat it. This came as a bit of a shock as she didn’t feel too unwell with the infection.
‘I just thought it would be like a three- or four-day antibiotic and ‘you'll be right’ sort of thing. I never envisaged it was going to be so long on the drip. It was that which made me realise it was obviously quite serious. I don't think I really even appreciated, you know, the seriousness of it,’ she said.
‘All that inconvenience as well as the disruption through the night, you know, not getting enough sleep. I didn’t get a shower for 2 days because I was hooked up to a drip.’
‘I didn’t get a shower for 2 days because I was hooked up to a drip.’
Impact on family life
Beth’s prolonged hospital stay was hugely inconvenient for her as she and her husband Mark were busy packing up their household contents to move to another home when Beth fell ill. Now Mark had to take care of all the moving preparations, which was a big worry for Beth. This was the most stressful part of the infection for her – the disruption to their lives at a hugely busy time.
‘For me to get sick was just really not a good time at all for either of us. Mark wasn’t eating properly, he wasn’t sleeping properly, he was overtired and stressed. I felt so useless, and that he was having to cope with so much,’ Beth said.
‘I felt so useless, and that he was having to cope with so much.’
‘It was [stressful] because basically I was trying to shift the house, pack it all up … I was effectively doing the packing and visiting Beth and then trying to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep,’ Mark said.
Beth had a longer-term peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line put in so that she could go home. When she did get home, Beth could still not do as much as she wanted to help with the moving preparations and relied on Mark a lot. Beth worried about how stressful this became for Mark and the family.
‘I was finding it really quite difficult to manage. You know, I needed Mark to help me shower and dress and it was just really awkward, and I couldn't do anything with that arm. And of course I couldn't do anything to help with our shift, and the stress was just piling up big time on Mark and the family because they had to, you know, take it all on board and do everything.’ Beth said.
After a week, Beth’s PICC line came out and she went onto oral antibiotics. She eventually recovered from both her heart condition and her infection. They also managed to move and now enjoy their new home together.