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Posted 3 Dec 2013 in Healthcare Associated Infections

This is the story of Russell, who developed two surgical site infections within the space of just two years.

Former urologist Russell McIlroy gained first-hand experience of the impact of surgical site infections (SSIs) when he developed two infections within the space of just two years.

In 2006, Russell experienced shivering, fever and a pain in his right hip – all signs that he might have an SSI in a hip joint that had been replaced a decade earlier.

Surgeons carried out three operations to wash out the artificial hip joint, replace the components of the joint and remove an infected bursa (fluid-filled sac) in his elbow. The bursa was thought to have been a possible cause of the hip infection.

Two years later, Russell developed another SSI after surgery to repair a mitral valve in his heart. Russell had been home for only one day when he discovered his chest wound was weeping.

He had a series of operations to remove the infected tissue, insert four drains near the incision and remove some of the wires that held his sternum together. The wires may have contributed to the infection.  

Russell’s experience of SSIs showed him the serious impact that infections can have on patients and their families/whānau.

For each of the infections, he spent about two weeks in hospital and had to have intravenous antibiotics administered through a catheter in his arm for six weeks after being discharged.    

Russell’s activities after the second SSI were restricted by the infection, the repeated surgeries, the need for pain relief and the catheter. His wife took over many of his day-to-day responsibilities, while his colleagues shared out his workload over the extra month he took off work.

Having a catheter restricted Russell’s mobility, preventing him from travelling outside Auckland. The painkillers reduced his concentration span to the point where it was difficult to even read the newspaper.  

Russell was impressed by the caring, professional attitude of hospital staff, and has been fortunate to have had no long-term consequences from either SSI. He played golf and went to the gym before developing the two SSIs, and has been able to resume both sports.

Now retired, Russell said his experiences taught him that recovering from an SSI was a mental and intellectual challenge as well as a physical challenge.  

‘You need time for your concentration and stamina to return after major surgery, especially when it is complicated by infection,’ he says.