October 29th 2011 - Most people remember halloween weekend 2011 in the northeast for the freak snowstorm that caused massive power outages, we remember that weekend as one in fear. Fear of infection for both Virginia and myself.
Virginia had been born a week prior and in typical 24-25 weeker fashion, she presented with severe respiratory distress and dangerously low blood pressure. She was unimaginably small, she was sick, and the doctors suspected that in addition to her prematurity she likely had an infection. On her 3rd day of life they did a lumbar puncture and started her on a long course of antibiotics. They simply did not have time to wait for results of the cultures to start treatment. During morning rounds we questioned this approach. We were fearful of infections later in her NICU course and wondered if we were using up an "arsenal" that she would need later. They assured us that she needed this treatment.
At one week post partum I was still in significant pain. My midsection was heavily bruised and I developed a large warm, red lump near my incision site. The afternoon of October 29th I suddenly started bleeding heavily from my incision. We drove to the hospital in the snow and I was later admitted for a hematoma and suspected sepsis. I too was put on a long regimen of 3 different IV antibiotics.
I cannot imagine how my Husband felt. Both Virginia and I were very sick. Virginia was teetering and could have taken a turn for the worse at any moment. Because of the severity of Virginia's condition and my newly minted mama bear attitude I thought I was "just fine." I'm sure he knew differently.
This photo is from November 3rd; I had been released from the hospital 2 days prior and Virginia was finally stable enough to have kangaroo care.
We are the lucky ones. At the end of each of our antibiotic courses there were no signs of infection. Many are not this luckily, especially the smallest patients - the millions of babies that spend time in NICU's each year. Antibiotic resistant infections kill these vulnerable babies. Concerns about infections are not isolated to the sickest micropreemies like Virginia, infection can put a "feeder - grower" that is sailing through the NICU in grave danger very quickly. Infection is a fear of every parent and caregiver in the NICU.
Next week I will be traveling to Washington DC to join the Pew Foundation and other "Supermoms against Superbugs" to advocate against the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in our food animal production. Superbugs and drug resistant bacteria are a very real problem; a very real problem for you and I, but an especially real problem for the smallest, sickest, and most vulnerable.
Before Virginia's premature birth I never gave much thought to superbugs or whether antibiotics would work when I needed them. It was in those moments of vulnerability that I realized that I was at the mercy of something that I always took for granted. Now I know better. Now I know that antibiotics in our meats and dairy are compromising our health and promoting antibiotic resistant bacteria. Now I know what to look for in the grocery store, but that is not enough.
In 2011 nearly 8 million pounds** worth of antibiotics were sold to treat people with infection, whether it was for your child's ear infection or Virginia's suspected sepsis. In that same year, nearly 30 million pounds** of antibiotics were sold for meat and poultry production. Those numbers alone are obvious indicators that something is seriously wrong with antibiotic use and with what our country is (often) unknowingly consuming.