Julie Crosby, 44, from Manchester explains how a loving lick nearly killed her fella...
At first we thought it was the flu. So I sent my partner, David, 52, to bed with a Lemsip.
‘You’ll feel better for an early night,’ I told him, in April last year.
But, just minutes later, David cried out in agony.
‘My legs!’ he screamed. ‘They feel like they’re on fire!’
David’s the strong, silent type. In the 14 years we’d been together, I’d never heard him complain. He never grumbled about having a cold.
It’s the soldier in him. He’d been a paratrooper.
So, for him to be saying he was in pain…
‘I’m taking you to A&E,’ I said.
We got to Wythenshawe Hospital 20 minutes later.
David was sweating, his face ghostly pale, the corners of his mouth turning blue.
‘The pain’s everywhere,’ he winced in agony.
‘Has David come into contact with any chemicals?’ the doctor asked. ‘What’s he eaten recently?’
As the nurse lifted David’s top, I felt my legs buckle.
David’s tummy and chest were crisscrossed with red lines, and they were spreading under his skin.
‘Meningitis,’ I whispered.
David was in a bad way. I knew it.
So did the doctors. One pulled me aside.
‘We need to put David into a coma to help him fight it,’ she explained.
‘But if there’s anything you want to say to him, now’s the time.’
‘No!’ I cried. ‘It can’t be!’
David was conscious. Just.
‘I love you,’ I sobbed.
‘I love you, too,’ he said.
‘You need to fight this,’ I said to him – then, seconds later, he was under.
I felt lost. Couldn’t get my head around it.
David had been completely fine one minute and now he was in an induced coma, fighting for his life.
Tests showed he didn’t have meningitis at all.
‘You’ve got dogs, haven’t you?’ the doctor asked.
‘Yes,’ I gulped, confused. ‘Why?’
‘David’s got a rare bacterial infection – capnocytophaga,’ the doctor explained.
‘The bacteria is only found in dogs’ and cats’ mouths and saliva. Dogs aren’t affected by it, but people are.’
At some point in the last few days, David must’ve had a small nick or cut somewhere, which a dog must have licked, possibly one of our seven whippets – although it was impossible to say. And he’d contracted the virus.
We’re crazy about our dogs. We’d got our first, Charlie, in 2013. Then, we got Shelby.
To be honest, it was never our intention to breed them. Then Shelby was pregnant…
She had puppies. We found them homes, but kept a couple.
Soon, we had Peanut, Bridie, Michael, Mitzi and Pickles. They’re like kids for us.
But now, my head was spinning. It was possible that one had given David a life-threatening virus.
The doctor assured me the condition was rare, but David took a turn for the worse.
Huge blisters the size of golf balls appeared. And his skin reacted as if it’d been burned. Red raw, it flaked off in chunks.
Nurses scrubbed off the dead skin every day.
The skin around his left foot started to die and he lost his middle toe. All because a dog might have licked him…
Then, David’s kidneys started to fail. But, by some miracle, he fought back. And, six weeks later, he started to come out of his coma.
‘That’s the paratrooper in him,’ I told the nurses.
A week later, at home with the dogs, my phone rang.
‘There’s someone here who’d like a word,’ a nurse from David’s ward said.
Then, a croaky voice came down the line.
‘Babes, it’s me,’ the voice said. ‘I’m awake.’
I raced to the hospital and threw my arms around David.
‘God, I’ve missed you,’ I cried, but I knew he had a long road ahead.
His kidneys had packed up, so he’d need dialysis three times a week. He couldn’t go on the transplant list until he’d fully healed.
But the wounds on his feet and legs where the skin had come off were still open.
So he had to give up his job as an HGV driver, needed a wheelchair to get about.
In September, after five months in hospital, David was discharged. As soon as we got home, the dogs seemed pleased.
We didn’t know exactly where the infection had come from, so it wouldn’t be fair to blame our dogs.
The doctor said that it’s so rare, it’s unlikely to happen again. So we’re not getting rid of our pooches.
David’s recovery is still a work in progress.
It could be a year before he’s completely better. Then I’ll be tested to see if I’m a match to be a kidney donor.
But I know that David will get there. He’s my very own paratrooper, after all.