Young Woman Suffers Gaping Hole in Neck after Medical Mistake
Readers of popular national news services recently saw horrifying pictures illustrating the effects of a flesh-eating parapharyngeal abscess in a young woman’s neck. Significantly, the graphic images showed how the neck abscess case required intensive care and extended treatment after an initial misdiagnosis.
In March this year (2019), Stacey Raymond, a 32-year old office manager, visited her general practitioner in London to present a bad case of sore throat. However, despite complaining that she could barely drink or eat due to the discomfort and pain, the GP mistakenly diagnosed tonsillitis, a less severe illness. The family doctor sent the patient home with a prescription for antibiotics to treat the swelling.
Subsequently, on seeking a second opinion, a private physician urged Raymond to go to the accident and emergency department of a local hospital, without delay. There, a CT scan revealed a parapharyngeal abscess deep inside her neck.
Significantly, this type of furuncle requires immediate medical treatment to drain the pus and prevent the inflamed tissue from causing further problems, such as restrictions to the airway and sepsis. Although the initial symptoms such as fever and swelling are usually similar to tonsillitis, abscesses are considerably more severe. Worryingly, they can lead to aneurysms, i.e. the bulging of artery walls.
Advised to undergo emergency surgery to treat the worsening disease, Mrs Raymond heard that the infection had started to eat away at her skin and neck muscles. Moreover, as the original antibiotic pills were not powerful enough to deal with the severity of the illness, concerned doctors now administered intravenous antibiotics as well as analgesics.
Although expected to recover, the opposite occurred and, unfortunately, the patient’s condition deteriorated further. Concerned consultants noted that the redness on her neck had begun to extend towards the left arm. Additionally, during routine post-surgery checks, the ward staff saw that new pus had started to leak from the area of the surgical incision. Accordingly, between further treatment sessions, they left the wound unstitched – but carefully covered.
To deal with the narcotising infection more fully, ten clean-up treatments were necessary under sterile operating theatre conditions over the coming days and weeks. Scrupulously, doctors removed the dead tissue during the multiple procedures. However, they still feared that the infection might spread to the patient’s heart and prove to be fatal. Raymond’s immediate family, who had already travelled to the UK hospital from Johannesburg in her native South Africa, learnt from doctors that they should prepare for the worst.
Stacey spent a long time on her back and resorting to hand signals to request help – and, later, using her hand or receiving support to avoid flexing her neck. Subsequently, she had to learn how to move her head again, as the skin and surrounding muscles began to recover gradually. Fortunately, her overall health improved.
In all, the hospitalisation extended to more than a month, of which a fortnight was within the ICU. A skin graft from the patient’s right thigh became necessary to close the neck wound. Pictures showed her lying in a hospital bed with bandaged leg and neck areas after the graft operation, in contrast with the radiant, flawless skin evident in wedding photographs where Mrs Raymond smiled happily towards the camera with her new wife, Michel.
In reports, Stacey recognised that the experience had impacted her physical appearance. She reported that neck muscle stiffness but – on a more optimistic note – spoke about how she now saw things more positively. Remarkably, she considered that the trauma had made her a better person.
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