Bayou Woman’s Adventure with Vibrio Vulnificus

You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been, haven’t you?  I know, you’ve been thinking, “Hm, I bet the awesome fishing trip with those retired Assorted Nuts wore her out!”  And those Assorted Nuts have been thinking, “Poor BW.  She just can’t hang!” Well, you’re all wrong, because the trip was fantastic and invigorating and left me with memories that will go way beyond the Assorted Nuts and the fish they caught.

While those memories will crack me up for a while to come, it’s what came afterward that has kept me from posting over the past week.  Even though they didn’t wear me out as such, the Assorted Nuts kept me so busy cracking bait crab and baiting their hooks that I never had time to wet a line! Can you imagine that?  They fished for about five hours, and I must have cracked a couple dozen crabs for them.

Meet Vibrio Vulnificus

The crabs worked quite well for the ladies, and the fish loved them.  However, there was more to these crabs than meets the eye.  They apparently had a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria, Vibrio Vulnificus*. While not unheard of in these parts, I have only known one other fishing guide to have contracted an infection from Vibrio. And even then, he wasn’t fishing with crab, he was putting a live crab into the boiling pot when a crab pinched him, infecting his finger.

It’s not unusual for my fingers and hands to get pricked by fins, scales, or hooks during every fishing trip.  That is why I keep an industrial strength hand sanitizer on board and even used it on this very fishing trip.  Several such pricks had occurred on my left hand during this trip and seemed fine the next morning.  However, there were two little bumps on my right middle finger that were inflamed and painful.  The bigger of the two was the size of an ant bite but hurt way worse.

Thinking if I could just open the little sore up and drain out the puss, it would feel much better and heal quickly.  So, I pricked it with a needle and pressed; but nothing came out of it, and it seemed to get a little bigger.  After doctoring it with antiobiotic ointment and covering it with a Band-Aid, I went on my way, not thinking much else about it.

The next day was Saturday, and Dotter and I planned to spend some time together.  She’s such a natural care giver, that I asked her to take a look at my finger and see if she might treat it for me again.  Sterilizing a new needle, she performed the same mini-surgery I had the day before, except now the little bump was at least triple in size and hurt about as many times more.  She offered to take me to the urgent care center, but I didn’t think that would be necessary.  Besides, we had more important things to do, like enjoying our pedicures!

On Sunday, when I removed the bandage, the little wound was looking like nothing I had ever seen before.  While I’m not really an alarmist, I must admit I was getting a little concerned, mainly because of the color and the pain.  Both LilSis and Dotter must have Googled the bacteria that I suspected was the culprit, because they both tried to get me to go to the ER.  They settled for a promise from me that I would see a doctor on Monday.

Monday morning found me waiting outside our family doctor clinic when they unlocked the doors.  After pleading my case at the receptionist’s window and scaring her with the sight of my now clearly inflamed finger, she agreed to work me in.  Evidently, the beautiful hue of the grotesque lesion on my finger impressed her, because they called my name shortly thereafter.

Diagnosis of Vibrio Vulnificus

Without culturing the wound, the young female doctor diagnosed Vibrio Vulnificus saying that she had no injection form of antibiotic with which to treat it.  Instead, she gave me a prescription for two oral antibiotics, one of which certainly would treat Vibrio–Doxycycline–the other for a shotgun affect, I presume, and one for pain.  I filled the scripts and began taking the antibiotics right away, but opting not to take the pain medication.  Who needs pain killers?  Not BW.

By Monday afternoon, I was eating those words AND a pain killer.  While lying in bed, waves of pain-induced nausea flowed through my body while the lesion spread and my finger felt like it would explode from the swelling.  By that time, the sore had doubled in size and was so sensitive that the pressure of the bed sheet was unbearable.  Even though both Dotter and LilSis encouraged me to go back to the doctor, it wasn’t until my fishing charter friend, who had already experienced this bacteria, called me that I could no longer swim in the Sea of Denial.  (Well, that AND the pain!)

Saying that he wasn’t trying to scare me, my fishing-guide friend suggested I really should go to the ER.  After hearing the whole story of his hand eventually turning black, even after seven days on oral antibiotics, and the infection having to be surgically cut out, down to the bone, I couldn’t hang up fast enough to jump in the shower and wash my hair in case the hospital decided to keep me.  Furthermore, he remained in the hospital on IV antibiotics for nine days.  It was past time to take this very seriously.

It was close to 7 p.m. when Termite took me to the ER and stayed with me until Muzic Man and Dotter arrived.

Treatment of Vibrio Vulnificus

Based on what I told them and how the wound looked, the ER doctors guessed that the infection was Vibrio and treated it accordingly.  But just in case it might have been something else, they ordered two IV antibiotics and warned me that I might be in the hospital for a week or longer.

And then it happened.

I cried.

Yep.  The big bad BW broke down right there and cried.  There’s just no way I could afford to be laid up in a hospital bed for that long.  While I hid my tear-stained face in shame, young Dr. Lacking Bedside Manner said, “Well, this could be Necrotizing Fasciitis*.  You could lose your finger, your hand, or your life, so suck it up.  You’re not going anywhere.”

Sometime after that, the nurse came in to start the IV.  She pulled what seemed like pints of blood from the IV port before slipping me a milligram of Dilaudid without first warning me.  Hey, when it comes to drugs, BW is a lightweight.  Heck, I don’t even take anything for a headache if I don’t have to.  That narcotic heated up my heart first, and from there it went straight to my brain and then to my extremities.  Welcome to La La Land, and I didn’t really like the place.

Little did I know that pain killer would be necessary for what was to come later between bouts of vomiting–the lancing and draining of the pockets of nasty fluid that were swelling the skin and causing all the pain.  By that time, the Dilaudid had worked so well, I couldn’t even tell you if I had a hand, much less tell you what they were doing to it.

After more general ER torture, Dotter and I were left in a pitch black ER examine room to catch forty winks if we could.  By this time, it was the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and they got me into a room around 2 p.m. later that day.  When I finally woke from the Dilaudid, there beside my bed was my new friend, Mr. I.V. Pole.  Standing faithfully, he showered me with attention, Vancomycin and Zosyn, was a great listener, and never left my side the entire stay.

Recovery from Vibrio Vulnificus

The wound continually showed improvement, and by Wednesday, I could almost straighten the finger out completely and could bend it about halfway.  All this time, they were still watching to see if the culture would grow anything down in the Lab.  On Thursday, after realizing the first dose of antibiotic ruined any chances of growing a positive culture, and upon much improvement in the lesion, the docs decided to let me go home.

Since they did not have a positive culture ID on this bacteria, they felt obligated to send me home on enough antibiotics to cover everything possible, (including their butts).  So I’m now taking three antibiotics, round the clock for seven days.  To counter the side-affects, I’m also consuming mass quantities of Greek yogurt, drinking lots of water, and taking pro-biotic capsules.

Vibrio Vulnificus Education

While Vibrio Vulnificus is nothing to play around with, this post is intended to educate you about its existence, not to scare you or keep you from coming here to fish.  Please remember, that all the years I’ve been fishing and have had open cuts from fishing, I’ve never gotten an infection.  It happened this time because this bacteria is more abundant in crab that come from closer to the coast. Chances are, if I had caught my own bait crab right here in the brackish water of the bayou, the bacteria would not have been present.  But because I was in a hurry and needed so many for this trip, I purchased them from a crab buyer/seller who fishes saltier waters.

What I have learned from this little Bayou Woman Adventure is to be very cautious in the warm months when handling coastal shellfish, including blue crab, shrimp, and oysters.  This adventure has shown me how healthy my immune system is, how fortunate we are to live in a country where the needed medicines are readily available, and to catch my own bait crab from now on, especially in September.

What YOU can take away from this adventure is this:

1) Let your charter guide crack the crab and bait your hook.

2)If you must handle/crack the crab, wear waterproof gloves.

3)Keep either a strong hand sanitizer or bleach/water solution on the boat and USE IT!

4)At the first sign of a sore that starts like a very painful, tiny blister and looks like any of these photos, seek medical attention immediately.

5)Make sure the medical team cultures the wound BEFORE any antibiotics enter your system.

6)Thank God we live in America and keep on fishing!

The photos below show the progression of the infection starting with Sunday morning, three days after handling the bait crabs:

Vibrio Vulnificus
10:30 a.m. Sunday – Day 3 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
9:30 p.m. Sunday – Day 3 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
6:30 a.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
8:30 a.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
2:00 p.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
5:30 p.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
9:30 p.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection Waiting at ER
Vibrio Vulnificus
11:30 p.m. Monday – Day 4 of Infection in ER

The photo above shows the purple line a resident drew around the wound to show future spreading.

NOTE:  There are no photos from Tuesday, Day 5 of infection, because I was too busy sleeping off the Dilaudid!!

Vibrio Vulnificus
7:30 a.m. Wednesday – Day 6 of Infection
Vibrio Vulnificus
3:00 p.m. Thursday – Day 7 of Infection before Discharge
Vibrio Vulnificus
1:00 p.m. Friday – Day 8 of Infection – 24 hours after Discharge
Vibrio Vulnificus
2:00 p.m. Sunday – Day 10 of Infection – 3 Days at Home

(After looking at and editing all these photos, I realize I should have gotten a manicure, too!)

Never in a million years did I think I would ever contract this flesh-eating bacteria, but I’m sitting here today, thanking the good Lord for folks in my life who care enough about me to scare me into seeking the treatment necessary to arrest the infection, save my finger, my hand, and my life.  To each of you, I again offer my heartfelt thanks.  Without you, I wouldn’t be typing this post.

Healing and happy to have all three,


*Vibrio Vulnificus is commonly called “Flesh-eating bacteria” because it can cause Necrotizing Fasciitis if gone untreated, leading to loss of limb and eventually loss of life.

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  1. Wow! That looks painful and I’ve been on enough pain killers the past few days that shouldn’t even hurt me to look at it but it does! Glad you are on the healing side of that!

  2. Another day in the life of the bayou woman! glad you are better…knew it was serious from the first picture you posted last week…

  3. Wow Wendy! I can’t imagine how much that hurts! I am glad to hear that it’s healing and that you’re feeling better. What a scary thing to happen.

  4. …young Dr. Lacking Bedside Manner…that’s funny! What an ordeal you’ve been through. So glad to finally hear you’re better. I’ve been wondering about you every day for the past week, hoping for a good outcome. Sounds like you’re on the mend. There’s no way to know how far-reaching your story is in terms of helping someone down the line who may need to get their hiney to the ER pronto. Do they make crab-proof fishing gloves?

    1. Crab-proof fishing gloves. There’s the kicker! I had a brand new pack of gloves in my storage box in the stern of the boat. I just never thought I would need them! But I guarantee you I won’t crack “coastal” crabs again without wearing them. For a while, I’ll use them no matter where the crabs come from! Glad I could make you smile, Brenda!!!

  5. Oh my gosh Wendy! How scary. So thankful it wasn’t as bad as it COULD have been. Get thee to an ER immediately if something like that happens again. I can personally vouch that people go to the ER for the dumbest things. This is not one of them!

    1. Well, Monica, when you go in and tell Triage that the Loratab didn’t touch the pain, they look at you kind of funny like maybe you’re just there for a stronger RX. Dotter pointed that out to me, and most of the people hanging around didn’t look very ill. Many of them had been there ALL DAY, and it was 8:15 p.m. and still had not seen a doc. But as faith would have it, a paramedic that knows my son-in-law rode in on an ambulance and was able to vouch for me to the charge nurse that I was not someone out looking for a script. (But then when they took me ahead of the gal who had been there since 1:30 p.m., well, I wasn’t very popular!)

  6. Glad you are doing better but that finger will be sensitive for months to come!! I took almost 8 months for my finger to completely heal. The worse is over for sure! You might want to fish with minnows next time. lol

    1. I may grow to love minnows, Bill! I’ve learned that it has more to do with where the crabs come from. The week before, they were fresh out of the water. This time, they were in a large cooler and had a really bad odor when the box was opened. Wonder if that was any indicator? I’ll catch my own from here on out! And now, everyone knows you are the anonymous charter captain!!! Thanks again, Bill, truly.

  7. So glad you are on the mend! I can’t imagine how painful that must have been…you are one brave lady! Take care and wear those gloves..make it a new fashion trend, LOL!

  8. Everyone has already mentioned this, but “WOW!” A good lesson for all of us, and a risky situation for you. We’ve heard terrible things about that virus this year. You do seem to have gotten off fairly easy. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m hoping next time, you won’t hesitate to visit the ER much sooner. People do clog up the system for much punier wounds than yours. I’m so happy you’re on the road to recovery!

  9. Blu is looking very closely at his left index finger hoping that bump is from a nettle.

    Do I have to bring up the oyster, duct tape, gasoline adventure?
    Thanks I’d rather not.

      1. At a Paddlepalooza event laid my hand open combat launching on oysters, Mark slapped duct tape on it. We thought about gasoline as an antibacterial.

        Hurt like heck but I am a guy fished through it.

          1. I told it to you first hand on way to gas station to scrub up and get bandages. Oh well….

            I being retired with time on hands get no invites to this stuff?

            1. It is VERY scary that I have no recollection of this event. Maybe Mark can refresh my memory. You didn’t make nearly a big enough deal of your retirement, my friend. No invites to what stuff? To see me in the hospital?

  10. Yep, looks like it might have been a bit painful. I’ve got a little hatchet and an extra cutting board I’m saving for you. We keep a cutting board in our boat. No hatchet though. When I crack a crab, it’s been boiled and is ready for human consumption. LOL
    Seriously, I’m glad you’re on the mend. How long do you think it will be before you’re back on the water?

    1. Steffi, I have some old kitchen scissors for cutting them up, but you have to pull the shell off first!!! I’m supposed to fish the Grand Isle Ladies Rodeo this Friday and Saturday. Not sure yet if I’m going to participate. Might just observe. We shall see.

          1. Might want to invest in a pair of tongs to hold the crab while chopping it in half with the hatchet. I’d hate to see you lose a finger.

  11. To quote our mate Cap’n. Slappy (co-founder o’ ITLAPD) “Great Neptune’s man nipples!” Ye’d never imagine a few “common” nicks in the finger could be such a hazard.
    Glad yer pulling through it…suggest mass quantities o’ green tea and put some honey on the wound and wrap it. Better yet, find some Calendula flowers (aka Marigold) around, pick the flowers, grind ’em up, mix in some olive oil to make a paste and rub it on the wound – it’s anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and most importantly, anti-genotoxic.

    …and breathe…deeply! We all send our love and respect – loads o’ positive energy to set ye healthy again!

    1. Good captain, did you get my msg via your website about my email address? Hope so. I’m putting Vitamin E oil on the wound right now. I would have to go buy some Marigolds in order to do that. : ) Honey I got! Thanks for the remedies, love, and loads of positive energy. I’m soaking up all I can!

  12. Wendy, glad you got to the er in time. That finger looked like a spider bite almost. Never know what will cause a really serious infection. I get them when a cat scratches me. I stay away from cats.

    At least your immune system should be in top form after you finish all of those antibiotics. Add a flu shot for the winter and you should be in top form. Keep those hands covered!!

  13. OMG! What an ordeal you’ve been through! Thank the Good Lord you are on the mend now! I can!’t help but think “The Nuts” worked you too hard!!! We’ll come a different time of year next time and use artificial bait!! :0). The Awesome Almond

    1. Hello you Awesome Almond, you! No, y’all did not work me too hard! This stuff just happens, but like you said, thank the Good Lord I am on the mend. Much much better. Plastic can be very boring if we’re not on the trout, so we shall see! And if you have to cast much, much more when trout fishing!!! I do want you to come back, though. We can do a wetland, sunset cruise, too!

  14. Oh, my goodness.Those photos tell the tale. I thought I remembered the fishing guys here talking about vibrio earlier this year. Sure enough – there were a couple of cases. One was a wade fisherman, and the other got into barnacles somehow.

    I saw that mention of spider bite up above. That can be even faster. I got bit by what we think was a brown recluse on a boat down in Port Aransas many years ago. It was just above my left knee. I started not feeling so good. I drove home, and by the time I got here, four hours later, my leg hurt so badly I couldn’t get up the stairs except on my butt. The next morning, I had red streaks all over – I was smart enough to get to the ER, and it was antibiotic city. Never had such pain in my life, and I still have a little hole in my leg where the flesh disappeared.

    It’s a rough world out there – I’m so glad you’re on the mend. And thanks for posting the photos. They’re a good resource along with the other information.

    1. Shoreacres, I hope to never have a spider bite–I’ve heard such awful stories like yours about them. Turns out, my buddy Don got on one his hand doing cleanup after Isaac, and having had one before, knew exactly what to do at first symptoms. I hesitated to post about my experience since it can potentially be bad publicity for fishing here in the hot months, but I listened to Steffi who encouraged me to go ahead and use the story/pics as an educational tool about yet one more experience of Life in the La. Wetlands! And you know me, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut anyway! Since I’m recovering, I’m hearing horror stories of how folks have died from this within a week by not seeking medical care fast enough. Very scary stuff, indeed! Today is last day of antibiotics, and I’m very glad to be alive!

  15. OMGOSH Wendy! When I said you are a strong woman, I meant it and you proved it! Geez…I am so glad you sought out medical attention when you did. I am also happy that you are on the mend and are finally feeling better. I hope your finger feels okay to fish too this weekend. I’ll be in GI Saturday with the bird club. I hope you catch the biggest fish!

    Thanks for all the info on this virus and for the pics to go along with it. Very, very informative! I am sharing the link on my FB page, Bayou Belle Photography, and personal page to help with the eduction (and a plug for you!)

    I hope you continue to heal and I know you’ll take all the necessary precautions from now on! Gonna have to take pics of your new get-up on your next trip with your matching gloves!

    So glad you are still here my friend! 🙂

    1. Darlene, thanks so much! I will see you tomorrow, but I won’t be fishing. I decided to stay home today to FORCE myself not to fish the rodeo, even though I was so looking forward to it. My finger just isn’t well enough. Heck, I went to the beauty shop to get my hair washed and blow dried today because the finger is just still not healed enough. I’m glad I’m here, too, my friend!!!

  16. Heavens sake. So glad you got treatment and your finger is healing.
    That stuff is vicious. Makes me feel like a wimp with wasp and ant stings that are still on me. Wear your gloves and fish Grand Isle because it is so exciting. Catching the big fish is the best medicine.

    Merry Ms. Macadamia

    1. Linda, I felt so badly when that wasp stung you. I had no idea there was a wasp nest up under the steps, but it’s gone now! And then the ants! I hope you’re all bite-free and all recovered by now! We had beautiful weather on Grand Isle on Saturday. There were hundreds of fisherwomen, and they raised $20,000 for Breast Cancer research. It was great having you on my boat, Linda! And I hope to see you again one day.

  17. B/W you are so lucky you have convencing friends like you do. In the early 90’s i had the pleasure of watching a friend loose his right hand to vibro, that prompted myself to write an awareness artical on vibro in a state publication for outdoor enthiusit, yes it does look like vibro to me.
    Personely i beleive it comes from / breeds in very contaminated water.
    My friend caught his from shrimp in a dirty saly barrel.

    1. Good Grief what a learning curve you went through eh? Now u have me concerned about even buying restaurant crab so that won’t happen now but im thrilled u bypassed something that could have become more then some lost days from home. I enjoy your posts and would love to visit sometime.God Bless you

      1. Don’t worry about buying crabs–just don’t handle them without tongs!!! Once they are boiled, they are no danger at all to anyone!! Well, at least as far as I know! I’m going fishing this morning, so we shall see how my finger holds up. IT’s still healing, but work must go on! Hope you get to come visit one day!

  18. As a pianist, this SCARES THE HELL OUTTA ME!
    SO glad you are OK now—–*WHEW* THANK GOD!

    1. Welcome to the bayou, Christine. My daughter is also a pianist, and it scared her, too! But just be sure you realize that the case I contracted was because of the direct exposure to the intestinal tract of the blue crabs I was breaking (bare handed) for fishing bait. I try to remember to wear gloves now when I do this, although yesterday I fished with dead shrimp, and forgot to wear my gloves. It’s just such a hard thing to do when fishing . . . . . thanks for stopping by!

  19. I am so sorry for you having gone through this, but I thank you so much for documenting it so clearly. I am doing my Master’s degree in microbiology and the topic of my thesis is Vibrio vulnificus. I would love to share this story and these pictures for my presentation, if that’s ok. I’m glad it didn’t progress further. Thanks again

  20. Bayou Woman: I am a retired R.N. and was the Wound Mgt. Nurse at a local hospital for 12 years. I saw many cases of this warm water infection. All had to have extensive surgical debridement and a graft. The care was long term and very painful to those infected. Good to know that you have concerned friends to “haul” you to the ER. It’s also good to know that you are OK and alive. Kathleen Cuneo

    1. Hi Kathleen. I’m pretty sure you and I know each other! I was joining the Board of Keep Terrebonne Beautiful just as you were getting off. It is so good to hear from you, and I would enjoy chatting with you some time in our fair city of Houma! Thanks so much for the comment, and for reminding me how very, very fortunate I am that I didn’t have surgery or lose my finger or hand or even life. Welcome to this blog, and I hope you come back often! If you need anything, you just let me know!