By: Greg Gatsogiannis
The pain was excruciating, shooting up and down my leg, unlike anything I had ever felt before. It stopped me dead in my tracks. It wasn’t Jose Aldo’s kicks doing to my leg what Rocky Balboa does to a side of beef.
It was relentless, everything I tried only seemed to amplify the pain and every movement only tightened the grip it had on me. It wasn’t Demian Maia turning me into a pretzel against my will.
As a 31 year old who spends 8 hours a day in front of a computer helping people process paperwork, I will most likely never appear under the bright lights of the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Hell, I don’t know if I will get myself in front of 200 people at the Shriner’s Auditorium.
However, last January I went three tough rounds with the toughest opponent most of us who spend any time on the mat will ever have to face. I went three rounds….of antibiotics with MRSA…and won.
For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know, Methicillin-resistant-Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA, is a particularly virulent strain of staph infection which is becoming increasingly common in the general population but especially so among grapplers. It sucks.
MRSA is spread by skin to skin contact and roughly three out of every ten people carry it. In most cases the bacteria is completely harmless and kept in check by your bodies immune system. However, for those who become infected it is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.
For me the infection started as a small bump which looked like a zit that had become a bit to big for its own good. As she did with any zit that I had, my girlfriend at the time tried to pop it(READ: HUGE MISTAKE). After twenty minutes of biting down on a towel with my eyes rimmed with tears, we decided that maybe this was not a zit.
By the time the morning had come along the zit had turned into a golf ball sized hard abscess surrounded by a Nerf football sized area of pink infection. It caused me pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone……except maybe that ex girlfriend who tried to pop it(you know who you are and you know what you did). I decided to see the first doctor who would take me, who as it turned out could have used more medical school. No cultures were taken and no blood drawn. I was prescribed an antibiotic and after a few days the outbreak had cleared up.
About a week after treatment I decided it would be a good time to return to the mat but I saw a small red bump on a spot about five inches from the original. Not wanting to infect anyone at my academy with the torture I went through, I decided that I would keep an eye on it for another day. Sure enough, the next day it had blown up again and I was in agonizing pain. Luckily for me, in between outbreaks I had gotten a Primary Care Physician who had luxuries like actual medical training and access to modern medicine. He sent me to a specialist who correctly identified my infection as MRSA and proscribed a newer more powerful antibiotic which I was to take for 2 weeks. In addition to the antibiotics, I was to apply a warm compress several times a day and painfully drain whatever bloody puss that I cold.
The interesting thing about MRSA is that it has a way of really making itself at home in your body, specifically your nose. MRSA will “colonize” your nose on a cellular level, meaning that antibiotics taken orally will knock out the infection where it is, but that as long as it lives in your nose, it will likely regroup and spread over your body waiting for a scratch or an abrasion and strike again. Near the end of the course of my antibiotics I began to take a second antibiotic…nasally.
My treatment didn’t end there. To make sure that the bacteria didn’t fester in my leg , I underwent a minor surgery to drain the wound. My leg was shot with Novocaine, an incision was made, and the remaining puss squeezed out. The Novocaine did not help. The doctor inserted a length of gauze in my leg, which I was to slowly yank out the next day….once again not an awesome feeling. For the next several weeks I had an open wound on my thigh. I had to bathe the wound in an Epsom salt solution several times a day and keep reopening it to make sure that it didn’t heal too quickly on the top which would allow the bacteria to thrive underneath.
I missed almost 3 weeks of work and close to two months of training, but I was lucky. I caught it early and had access to the medical treatment I needed to get well. Not everyone is so fortunate. I am reminded of it every time I take a shower and look down to see the Eye of Mordor shaped scar I have on my leg. It has made me much more aware of the unseen dangers of grappling and more vigilant in guarding against them.
While there is no way to guarantee that you won't contract MRSA short of getting off the mat entirely, there are things you can do to limit your exposure.
* First of all, do yourself and your teammates a favor, if you have strange looking bump, rash, etc. STAY OFF THE MAT.
* You know your body, if something doesn’t look right, go see a doctor ASAP.
* Make sure that your training equipment, uniform, and mat space are clean and washed regularly.
* GO HOME! For many of us, the people we train with become our friends or our family and we spend time after class just shooting the shit, watching the next class, discussing techniques. You should be taking a shower as quickly as possible after your training is over.
* MRSA has a way of hiding on your body in skin folds and places where the sun don’t shine, so make sure to give a little extra attention to areas such as your groin, arm pits, and the crack of your….well you know. For you heavyweights this includes the jelly rolls you spent so much time to acquire.
* There are anti-bacterial body washes you can buy which have Triclosan in them which has been known to lower the population of staph bacteria in institutional settings. The extra benefit of using these body washes is that they come in great scents like Lavender and Mountain Jasmine which mask our own horrible stench and make us less revolting to women. Additionally there is a a surgical scrub called Hibiclens available at drugs stores which I use on the main gathering spots that I mentioned earlier.
* When showering you should use the hottest water you can stand. Now since most of you are like me, and your idea of fun is wrestling with sweaty men who are trying to tear your arms off, its safe to say you are not that bright. The hottest water you can stand doesn’t mean standing under boiling water till your skin starts to bubble….plain old hot water will work just fine.
Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and take precautions that I should have taken years ago. You will find that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Good Training and Good Luck!
Looking for gear, fight to start my career anyone can help hit me up at DatrickElmore@hotmail.com