Keri Clarbull, 48
(Finger amputation – result of necrotizing fasciitis / flesh-eating bacteria.)
It was Memorial Day weekend 2014. We went shopping and I bought a jar of strawberry rhubarb pie filling. We returned home and while unloading the car, it fell out and shattered all over the driveway. I picked up all of the glass pieces and ended up cutting myself. It was pretty deep. I thought I may need a stitch or two, but I put a “hello kitty” band aid on it and went on with my day. I thought it would be fine.
I used the water hose to clean the driveway, using my index finger to help spray the water. The band aid fell off when it got wet, but I just put another one on.
It was time for bed and I felt really terrible. About 4 a.m. the next morning, Memorial Day, I woke up with the most horrific pain, and my hand was swollen the size of a baseball glove. I called my mom, who is a nurse and she recommended that I go to an urgent care clinic.
By the time I went to the urgent care clinic, I had a temperature of 103 and felt like I was dying. They x-rayed my hand and gave me pain medicine. They didn’t think I needed stitches, as it was just a little tiny puncture hole…. though deep. They told me to soak my hand in warm water, so I did.
Over the next two days it just turned black. My mom looked at it and said that it’s not right. I was just sitting in my bed crying from the pain. So we went to the ER. The ER doctor came in and looked at my hand and said “oh my gosh, that’s an infection, that’s bad, we’re going to admit you.” They hung all kinds of antibiotics and drew blood but didn’t know what it was.
The next morning, an infectious disease doctor came in and said that they still were not quite sure what it was but that we needed to have an orthopedic surgeon debride it. They recommended Dr. Jafarnia. Even though he had patients to see at the Medical Center, he was so concerned when he saw my report and my health, he rushed over. I met him for the first time laying on the OR table. He did his thing, and flushed it out but said that this may or may not solve the problem – “we may need to go back in.”
I spent nine days in the hospital before it was finally diagnosed. While there, they also found four pulmonary embolisms and my kidneys began to shut down from the antibiotics. My husband really thought I was going to die. It was scary.
The Infectious Disease doctor came into my room and asked where the water came from that day; a beach, a lake, a pond? I said the water hose at my house!! She asked if my water hose was laying in the dirt….. I said of course, what water hose isn’t? Apparently, that’s where the bacteria came from, the dirt. While the cut was small, it was so deep the small bacteria came in and went to town – up my arm, to my neck – causing “necrotizing fasciitis” in my finger. It was just the perfect storm.
And if Dr. Jafarnia had not intervened, they said that I would have been dead just days after the injury.
I kept thinking ….it was just a little tiny puncture wound.
Dr. Jafarnia sent me to a plastic surgeon to see if we could save any part of the finger or regrow some tissue. But they said, “no, it needs to come off.” June 25 was the day scheduled for the amputation. There was no way to save the finger. It was gone.
In the two weeks before surgery, I had gone to a wound care center every single day to put my hand in a vat of something like bleach liquid, and my hand just hurt so bad. It turned black as the ace of spades.
Leading up to the amputation, Dr. Jafarnia would come in and just sit next to me and hold my hand. He was so compassionate. If it wasn’t him his PA (physician assistant), Sean, would come in and just comfort me – and tell me what the day’s plan was. They were just so worried about how I was doing.
The day of amputation was the most horrific of my life, but Dr. Jafarnia and his team made it so much better.
Dr. Jafarnia sits at the side of my bed that day, holds my hand and draws with a purple sharpie what he’s going to do. I just kept saying, “make it pretty, just make it pretty.”
I remember when Dr. Jafarnia called from his cell phone just before he went to bed to check on me that night. He and his team are really special.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
My hand was bandaged for two weeks. When he removed the bandage, it was very swollen and bruised. It felt so weird. The phantom pain is actually real.
Dr. Jafarnia then set me up with occupational therapists to learn how to use my middle finger as my primary / index finger. I am right-handed and I lost the index finger on my right hand. You don’t realize all that you do with your hands, until you have to relearn how to use them. I had to learn to hold a knife, use a mouse and a keyboard differently – even how to hold an eyeliner pencil. It’s just unbelievable all of the things you don’t think about. That lasted just two weeks when I passed all of their tests and was discharged early.
There were times I felt woe is me and I cried a river. But you just do what you gotta do.
I just made the emotional decision that I needed to figure it out. My speed on the keyboard has even increased – better now than before the amputation! I’m overcompensating I guess.
Dr. Jafarnia did such a great job. I use my hands a lot when I talk, and I think it just looks fantastic.
The support network I had (medical, friends, family) was incredible. This horrific experience really opened my eyes to my relationship with God and I don’t take anything for granted anymore. And because I was so loved by so many people during that time I see myself doing and giving to perfect strangers in ways I never had.
I sent out a thank you card to everyone involved in my recovery and helping my family during that time. And I wrote thank you notes. The fact that I could pick up a pen and write – it was so beautiful.
My advice to others is don’t self-diagnose.
I’ve done so much research since this experience and realize now that time was critical. Anytime I see a similar story, I blast mine out again and underscore that it’s not necessarily the Gulf of Mexico…but in the backyard.
Dr. Jafarnia is my angel. It is because of him that I am here today.