Antibiotic Resistant Ear Infection That Landed My Teen In Hospital

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If your kid has ear pain, get it checked out right away.  Parents, read our story.  We did everything right and our teen’s ear infection still turned into a 3-day emergency hospital stay.  

Even with our quick & thorough actions, our 16-year-old girl still had to be admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) for an ear infection that took on a life of its own.

Oh, this picture melts my heart. With her Daddy day 2 in the hospital. Released on day 3.

Here is our story along with a few nuggets of knowledge that I learned along the way.  Helpful to know in case you ever find yourself in a situation with a bug that is proving to be resistant.  Scary.  Unsettling.  Not to be messed with.  And it all started with a simple ear ache.

First and foremost, I must sing the praises of my beloved pediatric practice, TLC Pediatrics.  I must also commend Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH).  What a special place that is!

I will also share how we were able to get $300 eardrops reduced to $30.  That was awesome, especially since we had to buy these ear drops twice in 8 days.

What Happened:

Monday:

It all started on a Monday when my girl was having ear pain.  She didn’t mention it to me until the next day.

Parents – tell your kid to tell you if they ear pain at the first sign.

Tuesday:

Tuesday morning as we prepared to go to the oral surgeon to have her four wisdom teeth removed, she told me that her ear hurt.  THANK GOD she told me.

Parents – tell your kid to always mention if anything feels off the day of wisdom teeth removal or any kind of medical procedure that is scheduled.  Kids need to go into medical procedures healthy and strong. 

The oral surgeon promptly cancelled the procedure the minute I told him that she had ear pain.  So instead of driving to his office, we drove to my daughter’s pediatrician to have her ear checked.  She was diagnosed with swimmer’s ear, which didn’t surprise us since my girl had that two summers ago.  So off we went home with prescription ear drops, which is exactly what worked beautifully last time around.  The ear looked infected, but not too bad at this point.

Wednesday:

After a lot of tossing and turning through the night with multiple Advil requests (which I gave her every 4 hours), my daughter alerted me in the morning.  Her ear was really hurting now.  Hurting really bad she told me.  She had quiet tears.

We went right back to her pediatrician.

Our pediatrician couldn’t believe how much worse her ear got overnight!  So now we switched to the very expensive Ciprodex ear drops, which cost nearly $300.  I didn’t care at this point.  I just wanted this infection to die already!  Our wonderful pediatrician handed me the coupon below and told me to call the number on the card to possibly get the price down to $30.  It worked!

Parents – ask your pediatrician if they have coupons for reduced medication prices.

Our doc also told me that she was prescribing oral Cipro because we needed something stronger than Amoxicillin since the infection evolved so much overnight.  Cipro is very strong with some potential side effects that could be worrisome.  We discussed this and we both agreed that a drug this strong was needed.  An ear infection is too close to the brain for comfort so I did exactly what the doc told us to do.  She is an excellent doctor and I trust her 100%.

Both meds were started along with alternating Advil and Tylenol around the clock.  We were still having trouble managing the pain, but she did seem better.

An incredibly smart thing my pediatrician did was to require that we come in daily to have her ear checked and to do the ear wick procedure every day.  This procedure allowed the doc to administer the drops using a wick in the ear to ensure that the infection was directly receiving the antibiotic.

Thursday:

Back to our pediatrician for the daily check and the ear looked better.  The worrisome red swelling on the skin directly behind the ear, that our doctor watched so closely, was just about healed.  She did the ear wick procedure again before we left.  That was terrific and we were pleased.

But my Mama bear gut told me to tell the doctor that I was still uncomfortable with my daughter’s level of pain.  That just didn’t feel right to me.

Parents – always listen to what I call that Mama bear gut feeling.  Always go with your gut when it comes to your kid.

So, our doc agreed to give us a prescription for codeine.  She told us that she doesn’t like to give a prescription pain med, but we both could tell that my normally tough teen girl was struggling with a level of pain that was unbelievable.  I felt relief since Tylenol and Advil weren’t doing the trick.  Now we will get some sleep tonight.

We were on the road to recovery.

Or so we thought.

Even with two codeine every four hours, her pain was still really rough.  I just didn’t understand why we couldn’t get her pain managed.  Finally, at 1am she fell into a deep sleep and I, feeling relieved, joined her in slumber.

Friday:

She woke on Friday morning at 7am and told me that she was pain free. Hooray!

But then around 9am she told me that she was starting to feel a little pain again.  We decided to try one pain pill just to stay ahead of it.  She fell into a deep sleep again and I once again thought we were getting on the other side of this.  I was feeling better that she fell asleep, but I was still puzzled that she was still having pain after three days of aggressive oral and topical antibiotics.  Something didn’t feel right to me so I went back to look at my medication notes.  I decided that I would show these notes to her pediatrician at our check today.

Parents:  When taking care of your sick kid, keep careful notes of exactly what meds and pain medication are given at what time of day and night.

I must remind you again just how awesome it was that our doctor had made daily appointments to check her ear.  Because at noon, when I woke her to take her antibiotic on schedule, just 10 minutes later, she had excruciating pain.  Again.  This puzzled both my daughter and me and we were awfully glad that we were on our way to her doctor for the daily check.

By the time we arrived, just 10 minutes later, her pain had become almost unbearable, so I gave her a second pain pill and let our wonderful nurse, Michelle know that my Mama bear gut was feeling frightened, although I didn’t say this in front of my girl.  The doctor took one look in her ear, called her partner into the room to look and then they told us that they were going to have a quick meeting.  I knew by their expressions that the infection had come raging back.  Again.  Very unsettling as I now knew that this particular organism was indeed resisting antibiotics.

It was unbelievable.  We had done everything right.  We had taken her in at the first sign of an earache.  Our doctor treated it right away.  We returned the very next day when the ear was painful again.  We immediately started a stronger ear drop AND strong oral antibiotics.  We canceled everything, stayed home and kept her in bed.  I was in disbelief that this infection was so stubborn and strong.

Back in the treatment room, the docs soon returned and told us to go straight to the emergency room at Phoenix Children’s Hospital to be admitted.  I felt scared.  I also felt relieved.  Yes, this is exactly what needed to happen next.  Right now.

Friday Afternoon – Sunday Afternoon

At the ER our girl received a CAT scan to check to see if the infection had spread to the bone.  Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) was so wonderful, letting me stand right there by her side as she slid into the CAT machine.  I stood there wearing the big heavy protective apron while my sweet 16-year-old calmly clutched the stuffed toy chicken they gave her to keep (so sweet) and did exactly what she was told to do.

Time to wait.  As we anxiously waited for the results, I continued to wonder why we weren’t getting admitted and why my super sick girl wasn’t getting any pain meds or antibiotics delivered to her via IV, which is why we were sent to PCH in the first place.  My husband asked me about this, too.  I told him that he read my mind so I called my village.

Parents – it is so good to have a village.  Surround yourselves with a strong village of trusted family, friends and good doctors when you become a parent.

My amazing mother-in-law is so loving, caring, kind and she is a nurse and taught nursing at NMSU.  How lucky we are to have her in our strong village.  I told her my concerns and she advised me to call Michelle, my pediatrician’s nurse (who is also my friend and is part of our village) to discuss this with her.  She also told me that if I was told something different (as the hospital nurse practitioner told us upon arrival that we might be sent home if the CAT was normal) to calmly ask for a second opinion. How right she was with that advice!

Parents – never ever be afraid to ask for a second opinion, especially when it concerns your kid.

Michelle immediately told me to “put on my Mama bear hat” and to question why things weren’t moving as we had been told they would upon our arrival.  She texted me the name of the PCH Ear, Nose & Throat physician who advised us to bring our girl down to be admitted.  I put on my “Mama beat hat” and marched into the ER nurse station area to ask those questions.  Once I shared this PCH doc’s name, I received a quick apology and a fast follow up.

Parents – always write down and have with you doctor names and referrals.  I should have voiced that upon arrival, but I assumed the ER had all of that information from the phone call my pediatrician had made to PCH before we arrived.

We also got the fantastic news that the CAT scan was normal!  Joy!

But my girl was still in so much pain with quiet tears streaming down her face.  It hurt her to be touched and it hurt her to listen to noise.  A stronger pain med was given and she got relief!  OxyContin finally worked.  Finally.  Five days later she was getting significant pain relief.

Then we were admitted.  My daughter received a stronger antibiotic called Unasym, a steroid called Decadron and pain meds through an IV.  Now we were finally on the road to killing this stubborn, persistent and angry organism plaguing her ear.  At last I could catch my Mama breath as we settled into our hospital room.  I would stay with her the entire stay, which ended up being three days and two nights.

What a special place PCH is and I can’t say enough about the kind doctors, nurses, the nice cafeteria that have chefs who cook the food fresh for you while you wait, the nice room, the helpful and welcoming family lounge that was right across from our room.  The hospital iPad that hung on the wall for my daughter to use.  The cool tie dye hospital gown.  How accommodating the hospital is for the parents, too.  Parents are given a wrist band with special security codes and that became my hospital Mama uniform, along with the perfect ballcap I wore.  When I grabbed it at home that morning, I didn’t know that I would wear that the next three days in a children’s hospital!

No makeup and big bags under my tired eyes but this is a happy me in that ballcap cuz we had just been discharged from the hospital.  I wore it the entire hospital stay and it seemed very fitting to do so.

This couch next to my daughter’s hospital bed became my bed for the next two nights.

By the time we were discharged the awesome PCH ear, nose & throat physician came to see us daily with thorough checks and a good follow up plan to take home with us.  Two nights later we went home and my daughter was finally pain free after six long days and nights of constant discomfort and severe pain.

To be sure that this bacterial infection is truly done, my daughter is still taking Augmentin and Cipro ear drops for 3 more days,which amounts to a full 7-day treatment since her hospital release.  We must be sure that 100% of this bacteria has been eradicated.  Her hearing in the healing ear will sound muffled for 30 days, maybe longer, hopefully not.

I am also giving her a probiotic capsule daily to help replenish all of the good bacteria that the antibiotics also kill with the bad ones.  And did you know that folks are now told to not consume dairy when taking antibiotics as it is believed by the professional medical community that dairy can lessen the effectiveness of the antibiotic?  Good knowledge to have.

We returned to PCH for a follow-up visit with the ENT office and she has no permanent hearing loss.  Thankful for that!  I am also so thankful for our on-task pediatrician and for the wonderful Phoenix Children’s Hospital.  I am guessing many of you are wondering what caused this crazy infection.

What Caused This:

The short answer is that we may never know.  But her pediatrician and I have a theory and her doctor thinks this is what happened…

It began as swimmers ear and turned into a strong, resistant bacterial infection that kept reemerging despite strong treatment, both orally and in the infected ear.  It could have been swimming, so we had our pool tested to be sure that we didn’t need to shock our pool.  It checked out fine, thankfully.  And she hasn’t swam a lot this summer because we have been traveling.  So, we brainstormed some more.

Then my daughter mentioned hair dye.

A day before this infection started, she used a temporary hair dye product.  Hair dye in a box that is purchased at the store.  This could have been the culprit.  Her doc and I suspect that perhaps the hair dye box kit that was used had a strain of bacteria in it that became an explosive quick-growing infection in my girl’s ear.  Her doc told me today at her last follow-up visit that she feels pretty sure that this is what happened due to the timing of the infection and the severity of the bug itself.

We are not bashing store bought hair dye.  If you use it, be sure to protect the ears to ensure that the product does not go directly into the ears.  Good to know.

My girl also has been a lover of Q-tips and has been known to over swab.  Perhaps when the bacteria started to infect her ear, the over swabbing decreased the protective wax, which may have made it easier for the bacteria to grow so rapidly.  This may have repeatedly defeated the strong Cipro antibiotics.  How scary is that?!  Thank goodness the infection finally responded to the IV drugs given during the hospital stay.

Whatever the cause, to watch an infection resist the strong Cipro antibiotic (both in oral form and applied in the ear) several times through the week is very unsettling indeed.  I shudder to think how this infection could have even progressed further.

Had we not been so diligent with daily checks with her doc.

Had we not started right off the bat with a strong antibiotic regimen.

Had our girl not told us about her ear pain and proceeded with the wisdom teeth removal!

Had we not moved forward seeing our very good pediatrician daily and then followed her pediatric med team’s game plan to get her admitted to PCH just in time.

Ugh…thank goodness, thank goodness!

Better not to look back, I know.  But I do so I can share our story with you.

Just so other parents know that ear infections can turn very dangerous very quickly.  It is good to be able to share what we learned through this harrowing experience.  Most ear infections won’t evolve like this crazy one did, but just in case…remember this article.  And always go with your parental gut.  Get things checked out and go back and get checked again if things don’t seem right yet.  Sure glad we (us and our pediatrician) stayed on top of it.

It felt like it was us versus this evil ear infection and sometimes the infection kept score and was ahead.  I soon won’t forget this experience.

Whew.

Thankful.

That word has a whole new meaning to me after this.  To show our gratitude, my girl and I plan to soon volunteer at PCH to give back and to help the tough kids who are still there, along with their tough and weary parents.  Ironically, our son was also admitted to PCH when he was the same age as our girl, at 16 for a biopsy.  PCH was wonderful then and was wonderful again, this time with our girl.

My view from the family lounge that was across from my daughter’s hospital room. A special place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. TONYA NIEMIRA says:

    Thank you for sharing, I can only imagine how relieved you must feel to have this behind you.

  2. Rosanne Coloccia says:

    PCH is wonderful – and so is your Mama Bear instinct! So glad your sweet girl is feeling better!

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