She stayed so long in Montreal she joked she was losing her Cree. Elsie Georgekish Erless is being fitted for a prosthetic leg and hopes to be home by Christmas.
Elsie who is 53, is staying at a rehabilitation centre for people who need artificial limbs. Her husband David comes in every day to visit. “Sometimes he comes in late,” she jokes.
Elsie’s “hard journey” began in her hometown of Waskaganish. It was February 2003 when she contracted flesh-eating disease, “the same disease that Lucien Bouchard had.” She was sent to Chisasibi then to Val d’Or and then finally to Montreal where they operated on her to remove the infection. During that time her condition was critical.
“Her doctor didn’t know how she would do minute-by-minute,” her husband David recalls. “She was on life support and her blood pressure wasn’t stable, they had her on full antibiotics and put her on temporary dialysis. They didn’t give me hope.”
Elsie says the five days she was in intensive care “felt like one day.” During that time David’s faith kept him strong. Deep down he knew she would be okay. In the week when her condition was critical the family received some signs including dreams that he believes were from god that she was going to be okay. “We all prayed for her.
I called other pastors to get their congregations to pray for her,” he said.
They found the flesh-eating infection didn’t spread. Then the next part of the journey started. Elsie’s sugar levels went up and she was put on pills. She didn’t take to the pills and for a while they tried to control the blood sugar levels with her diet. But in August she had kidney failure and had to go on dialysis.
Since then she can only spend a day or so during weekends visiting family in Waskaganish before they have to go back to Chisasibi for dialysis. David had to quit his job at the Cree Trappers Association to be by her side.
“I go in three times a week,” Elsie said. “I sometimes get frustrated. But I know they are trying to help me. I try not to think that way.”
When she started dialysis she had questions. “At first I didn’t know what would happen. I asked the nurse how long I would live. She’d say she didn’t know and pointed out people who had been on the machines for the last 30 years.”
She also goes through bouts of depression. “You know when you get so sad you cry?”
In September the community of Waskaganish gave a feast in their honour and were taken aback with the money raised to ease their burden. “They showed their love,” said David. Elsie, who couldn’t be there, said she “will never forget what they did for us.”
She says the hardest part is being away from family. “Both of my parents are still around and sometimes my father doesn’t do well so I think of them a lot. I think of my children and grandchildren too. It’s a hard road… a hard journey.”
In March she hurt her foot and contracted ulcers that never healed. It got so bad the doctor told her they had to amputate. It was an easy decision for her. “I want to be around to see my children and grandchildren.”
They cut below the left knee but it didn’t heal and a month later they had to cut above the knee. Then remarkably “it healed real fast.”
Elsie is looking forward to being home for the holidays and walking again. “I will try on my new leg tomorrow.” She knows she will walk soon because she’s dreamed of it.
Flesh-eating disease is a Killer
Flesh-eating disease is the common name for necrotizing fasciitis (nek-roe-tie-zing fah-shee-eye-tis), an infection that works its way rapidly through the layers of tissue (the fascia) that surround muscles. It destroys tissue and can cause death within 12 to 24 hours. It is estimated that there are between 90 and 200 cases per year in Canada, and about 20 to 30 percent of these are fatal.
The symptoms of flesh-eating disease include a high fever, and a red, severely painful swelling that feels hot and spreads rapidly. The skin may become purplish and then die. There may be extensive tissue destruction. Sometimes the swelling starts at the site of a minor injury, such as a small cut or bruise, but in other cases there is no obvious source of infection.
Flesh-eating disease can be caused by a number of different bacteria, including group A streptococcus (GAS). GAS is a very common bacteria. Many people carry it in the throat or on their skin without getting sick. It is the same bacteria that causes strep throat, and can also cause impetigo, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever. In rare instances, GAS will cause serious illnesses, including pneumonia, meningitis, blood poisoning (bacteremia), streptococcal toxic-shock syndrome and flesh-eating disease.
Few people who come into contact with GAS will develop a serious disease. The bacteria are normally spread through close personal contact, such as kissing or sharing cutlery with someone who is infected. People who are ill, such as those with strep throat or skin infections, are most likely to spread the bacteria. People who carry the bacteria, but have no symptoms, are much less contagious.
Scientists do not know exactly why group A streptococcus causes only minor infections for some people, but poses a serious threat to others. However, some risk factors have been identified, including:
• A weakened immune system, which could be caused by such factors as disease (HIV infection, AIDS), cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy), or by taking anti-rejection drugs following an organ or bone-marrow transplant;
• Chronic diseases, including heart, lung or liver disease;
• Recent close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease that was caused by GAS;
• Chickenpox (It should be noted, however, that while flesh-eating disease is a complication of chickenpox in children, very few children with chickenpox will develop flesh-eating disease).
Keep in mind that flesh-eating disease is very rare. Your chance of getting it is low, even when these risk factors are present.
MINIMIZING YOUR RISK
The following steps will help to minimize any risk that exists:
• Seek immediate medical attention if you have the symptoms of flesh-eating disease.
• If you have been in close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease caused by GAS, consult your doctor. It may be a good idea to take antibiotics as a precaution.
• Take proper care of minor wounds and cuts. Wash the affected area in warm soapy water, and keep it clean and dry with a bandage.
-from a Health Canada website