In November, Megan Galucci of Peabody felt what she thought was a cyst near her waist.
A single mom with a new business and no health insurance, she decided to keep an eye on it rather than have it removed.
By mid-December, the knot was about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide.
Galucci visited an emergency care facility in Wichita and saw a physician’s assistant. The PA ran a few basic tests and diagnosed the knot as a staph infection. Galucci received a prescription for the antibiotic Bactrim to combat the infection.
A week later, the knot was larger and she noticed blisters on the skin around it. She continued Bactrim as prescribed and made another trip to the same facility in Wichita, seeing a nurse.
The nurse suggested she go to a hospital and have a general surgeon remove the knot of infection. Because she had no insurance, Galucci asked if there was an alternative and the nurse said she could try to lance it and drain the infection.
It was an uncomfortable procedure, but after an hour, the abscess was smaller. Galucci left with a second prescription for Clindamycin to take with the Bactrim.
She was told to go straight to an emergency room if she got a fever or noticed redness or streaking of the skin. At a checkup appointment three days later, the spot was smaller but not gone.
Galucci thought she was on the road to recovery when she and her family enjoyed Christmas. The knot was still there, but she had none of the symptoms she had been warned about. She called the clinic and her prescriptions were renewed.
“During the week between Christmas and New Year’s I started feeling itchy and thought I had hives,” she said. “It developed into a rash and I went back to the clinic. The nurse said, ‘Oh, it’s a Bactrim rash — we’ll take you off of that,’ so I stopped taking it. The hives got worse. New Year’s Day, I was talking to a friend in Derby and told her how awful I was feeling. She invited me to come down and just hang out at her house.
“When she opened the door she just looked at me, stunned, and said ‘We’re going to the emergency room.’ My face was swollen about three times its normal size,” Galucci said.
At Via Christi St. Francis, Galucci was immediately checked into an Intensive Care Burn Unit.
She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare but sometimes deadly reaction that can be caused by various medications including antibiotics.
“By the time they got me to ICU, the rash had completely covered my body and they said my body was turning the hives into a burn, just as if I had been in a fire,” she said.
A bigger worry with SJS is that it also attacks internal organs and mucus membranes, causing interior burns and sloughing off the organs’ protective layers. Galucci’s doctor took her off all medication except intravenous fluids with benedryl and steroids. Her fever climbed to 103 degrees on Jan. 2. Her doctor added Lortab to keep her sedated while they tried to get her fever down.
“On Jan. 3, they told me they were going to ‘freeze’ the infection out,” she said. “They turned off heat to the room, got the temperature down to about 60 degrees, and took away every bit of covering I had except the hospital gown. I have never been so cold in my life.”
Galucci was told she needed to eat or the next step would be a feeding tube.
“I told them to just tell me what to do and I would do it,” she said. “They brought me food and I ate. It took a long time to get it all down and it tasted awful, but I did it.”
Biopsies from her arms confirmed SJS. Galucci also learned that she had picked the right hospital.
“Via Christi St. Francis is actually the hospital in the mid-west where most SJS patients go,” she said. By Jan. 4, her fever had broken and the rash had begun to heal. Galucci was dismissed from the hospital on Jan. 6. She stayed in Wichita with family for a week in case her recovery stalled.
“I never want to go through anything like that again,” she said.
Galucci said she didn’t know how she got the staph infection that started it all, but one of the medical staff told her some people carry it and never know they have it.
“I should have just gone to that general surgeon when it was first suggested,” she said. “But the insurance thing was a big deal and I thought I could get by with a prescription. I guess my advice to people is to get it checked out and treated if necessary. Don’t let it get out of control.”