Proper hygiene is very important. It may be even more important today, thanks to COVID-19. The following anecdote was originally posted on my old blog, but I’m sharing it again as a lead into today’s topic.
My dad, who died in July 2014, had a habit of wearing clothes that probably should have been tossed in the laundry basket. He was a typical guy. Bill is better about putting his stuff in the hamper, but there have been a couple of times when I’ve had to tell him that his t-shirt is a bit rank. I definitely have a stronger sense of smell than Bill does.
I have three older sisters. One sister mostly upsets me when I’m around her, but she does have a knack for clever quips. One Christmas, we were all staying at my eldest sister’s house to celebrate the holiday. For his birthday the previous February, I had given my dad a sweater that he really liked. He wore it all the time, even when he should have tossed it in the laundry hamper.
My sister noticed and said, “Dad, you’ve been wearing that sweater for days now. Don’t you think you should change?”
My dad responded, “I really like this sweater and it’s just easier to wear it since it’s already out of my suitcase. If I have a high fashion affair to attend, I’ll change.”
And my sister snarked, “How about a hygienic affair?”
I have to admit, that was a pretty funny comment. My dad good-naturedly smacked her on the head with a rolled up newspaper, which I also thought was funny and well-deserved. I think not long after that exchange, we had a fight. That’s what almost always happens at our immediate family gatherings. That’s why I live in Germany and don’t attend them anymore. 😉 But I do enjoy a clever witticism, and that was a good one.
The topic of hygiene comes up again today as I want to impart a PSA to my readers about face masks. I have a casual Facebook friend whose husband had to go to the emergency room the other day. The side of his face was all swollen and painful, and he and his wife didn’t know why. He ended up being admitted and, as of yesterday, was on two IV drips delivering potent antibiotics. Why? Because he has facial cellulitis.
At first, no one knew how he got the infection. But then a student doctor said that they had recently seen an uptick in facial cellulitis cases due to unhygienic face mask usage. People are wearing them repeatedly, but not washing or replacing them. The dirty surface comes into contact with the face, and bacteria enter the skin via a break– say a nick caused by shaving. Presto! You have a serious skin infection that lands you in the hospital!
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I despise face masks. I know they are required– FOR NOW– and I know that they are necessary until we can get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. But I also know that they are problematic for a number of people, and I hope and expect that their use, at least among people who aren’t in the healthcare delivery profession, will soon be obsolete. Even if the masks are helpful in preventing the spread of the virus or preventing allergy symptoms, they do no good if they’re unclean. I would like to see us come up with something better than masks for slowing the spread, but for now I feel the need to remind people to use clean masks as much as possible.
The fact that this guy wound up hospitalized because he kept wearing a dirty mask is just one reason why the masks are a potential threat. Lots of people recycle their masks rather than washing them (if they are reusable) or replacing them. I don’t think it has anything to do with money, either. I think people are just busy or lazy or whatever, and they forget.
Folks… I have had facial cellulitis myself. It is not a fun experience. Cellulitis is painful and disgusting, and if you’re not careful, it can recur. Below is a somewhat graphic account, so brace yourself.
In my case, I was getting recurrent skin infections for awhile before I finally saw a doctor about them. I’m not totally sure, but I think I picked up some kind of wandering germ when I lived in Armenia. From June of 1996, I kept getting these nasty, extremely painful infections that caused my skin to occasionally abscess. It was painful and messy, but since I didn’t have health insurance and wasn’t systemically ill, I just kind of lived with it… even when a couple of the infections were in embarrassing areas that made sitting down extremely difficult and painful.
During one particularly excruciating period, I had a large abscess over my butt crack. One day, I noticed I was feeling better. I went into the bathroom, and found that it had burst all over my underwear. A week later, it recurred in the same spot. I didn’t know that was cellulitis and it hadn’t made me sick with a fever. It just hurt like the dickens. Unfortunately, I was temping at the College of William & Mary, broke, and couldn’t afford to see a doctor, even if I had relished the idea of showing my ass crack to one. So I put up with it, and soon got a job working at a popular restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. I planned to finally make some money so I could escape my parents’ house and get out on my own. But then, I got a case of cellulitis I couldn’t ignore.
The first time I was formally diagnosed with cellulitis, it was April 1998. I was living in Gloucester, Virginia and I had it on my stomach. It was a bright red, extremely painful, swollen rash that kept getting bigger. I eventually developed a high fever (102 degrees) and was really sick and in severe pain, so I went to the emergency room in hysterical tears, where I was put on an IV drip and given high powered antibiotics. That fixed the problem quickly, and I was able to leave the hospital that night. I spent a few days recovering at home, then I was back to work. My savings was completely wiped out, and I was soon buying health insurance!
The second time I was diagnosed with cellulitis was in January 1999, when I had it on my face. The infection started on my left cheek and the whole side of my face, as well as around my eye, was all swollen. That time, I went straight to the doctor. He wanted to put me in the hospital, since the infection was near my brain. He sent me to the emergency room, but the doctor there was less concerned, and sent me home. The next day, the original doctor called me at home and urged me to see another doctor in Newport News, Virginia. That doctor, who was the best of the lot, wanted to admit me to the hospital. I was insured by then, but trying desperately to save my money so I could escape my parents’ house. I told the doctor I didn’t want to be admitted. Since I didn’t have a fever and had never developed one in that case, he reluctantly agreed.
Fortunately, that doctor was very amenable to helping me avoid hospitalization. I got several shots of Rocephin in my hip and took powerful oral antibiotics. A couple of days later, my face deflated, and I looked and felt much better. But then I got shingles, thanks to being run down. The third and final time I got cellulitis, it was a few months later, and I got it on my waist. But that time, I went directly to the doctor and got it taken care of immediately, before it got too large or made me physically ill. I guess that last bombing of my system must have finally killed off the germ, because that was the last time I had cellulitis. Of course, every time I had to take the antibiotic bombs that kill cellulitis bacteria, I also got yeast infections. That was fun to deal with… NOT.
Anyway… after having had cellulitis three times officially, but more times unofficially, I know how uncomfortable, unpleasant, and dangerous it can be, especially when you get it on your face. I don’t have any pictures of myself when I had it, but I can assure you that I looked really scary. Click this link to see some photos of people who have had cellulitis on their faces– I looked a bit like them when I had it. I went in to the restaurant where I was working at the time, showed them my face, and they told me to take off as much time as I needed. I looked hideous. And that infection really can make a person very sick. Not only can it lead to sepsis, but when you have it on your face, there’s nowhere for the pus to go, so it can threaten your eyesight, among other things.
The pus, by the way, is super disgusting. Every time I’ve had it, it’s been thick, sticky, oily, smelly, and tan colored, tinged with blood. Granted, it’s kind of satisfying to see it drain, especially when you look and feel a lot better in the aftermath. But the process of draining it is really stomach turning. It’s just gross.
So… the moral of the story is, practice good hygiene. Don’t poke your face with anything dirty; wash your hands before you touch your face. Be very careful with your face masks. Make sure you wear a clean one as much as possible, and don’t wear the same one for weeks on end, not having washed or replaced it. Trust me. You do not want cellulitis on your face. It’s an unsightly, expensive, and potentially very dangerous problem. And now, more than ever, you want to avoid hospitals, if you can. I mostly survived that experience with no ill effect, except if I look closely, I can see a tiny reddened/scarred area on my face where all of the revolting pus drained out. Yeccch!