The Serious Danger Of Hot Tubs

2 years ago, we purchased a hot tub. Amelia loved it, spent so much time in it for the first few weeks, as did we all. My mum was also very vigilant when cleaning it. At some point in April/May she developed an ear infection, she was floored with this. Couldn’t lift her head for days! But no big deal right? People get them all the time. The doctor prescribed her a course of Amoxicillin, which she completed as advised. About a week later her symptoms had subsided and she seemed her happy wee self again. She had however lost a lot of weight, and was complaining of dizziness now and again.

On the 11th of May I had an exam and then flew out to Marbella for my friends hen weekend the same day. Amelia stayed with my mum and dad. When I returned, her lethargy seemed to have returned and she was complaining of headaches and double vision. I honestly thought at this time that she was only saying these things as she didn’t want to leave my side and stay with her grans/dad so I could work etc. (She was going through a stage of telling fibs), as she seemed fine most other times and it only seemed to be when I wasn’t with her that she would complain of these symptoms.

The Serious Danger Of Hot Tubs
The Serious Danger Of Hot Tubs

Anyway, I took her to the doctor to be safe, where Amelia told them that she was only kidding and could see fine/didn’t have headaches anymore. (Here’s me sitting mortified thinking wee shite has just been at it!) She would go days without mentioning a thing. I was so wrong and still have guilt over this to this day. Then maybe a week or two later, she woke up with an upward turn in her left eye.

I called the opticians to make an appointment. I thought it could be related to her genetics, as problems with eyesight are common in her dads family and I wasn’t worried. When I explained what her eye looked like, and the fact the turn had appeared suddenly, along with the intermittent symptoms she had been complaining of, they wanted to see us within the hour. This is when my mind started to wander but I was still thinking she would just need an eyepatch and glasses. The dizziness could be related to this right?

We were in Specsavers for hours, while they tried to get to the bottom of the problem. They didn’t say much to us at the time, probably not to worry us. At the end of the visit they referred us to Hairmyers ophthalmology department for more tests as they were concerned but didn’t tell us what they were concerned about. So after more hours of tests at the hospital, watching various doctors/physicians enter the room and seeing worried facial expressions and body language.

I started to realise this was more serious than I first thought. My mum and dad were with me, and the doctor asked if they could mind Amelia while we had a chat privately about her concerns. I remember feeling sick and sweaty. So many things running through my head. Then she said it.

“Amelia has something growing on her brain. We’re not sure what this is yet, but it’s very serious and she needs a CT scan right away”, The world paused. My eyes filled and my vision blurred. I could tell the doctor was really worried. Which just intensified my anxiety more. She was only 5 years old.

We were then referred to Wishaw general hospital that same day for a CT Scan. We had to go immediately and were told to expect an overnight stay. I called Amelias dad in hysterics and he met me at Wishaw. We were in a trance the full journey, so much running through our minds.

She spent the night being observed in Wishaw and the CT scan results came the following day and confirmed her diagnosis. She had not one, but THREE puss filled abscesses on her cerebellum which were putting pressure on her optic nerve, hense the squint/dizziness/double vision etc. Caused by a bacterial infection which probably entered her brain through the ear (remember her ear infection a few weeks previous which we thought had cleared up?) She needed immediate treatment, but Wishaw was not equipped for this kind of condition.

We were told it was very rare and she needed specialist paediatric neurosurgeons to take over her case. We were even asked if student doctors/specialists could meet her and look over her notes as things like this don’t happen often so would be very beneficial for them to see.

That night, we were transferred for the 4th time in two days, by ambulance to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. On arrival, they sat her dad and me down, and explained that her condition was life threatening and that she must start IV antibiotics straight away. I thought she would be kept in for a week or two. I was wrong. The neurosurgeon explained she would be in for at least 8 weeks, with weekly MRI scans to monitor her progress.

We were told she more than likely caught a severe ear infection from the hot tub as the warm temperatures are breeding grounds for bacteria. When we thought it had cleared, the amoxicillin had just masked her symptoms for a few weeks as it wasn’t strong enough to kill this strain of bacteria. In the mean time the infection spread to her brain, probably over the course of 4-6 weeks, unnoticed until the pressure on her optic nerve showed visual signs.

We spent the next 8 weeks living on the neurology ward with the most amazing staff and volunteers. When you ask Amelia about her time at the hospital, she has nothing but happy memories and asks if she can go back. She doesn’t even mention the scary times. For this I’m so grateful ❤️

I just wanted to share this as it was the most frightening time of my life. Please, please be extra careful when treating your hot tubs/pools and make sure you do this as regularly as possible. Also make sure to be vigilant when it comes to ear infections, they can be serious too! I was lucky that the IV antibiotics she received over those few months were enough to combat this infection and that she narrowly avoided brain surgery. She fought it off at 5 years old and is fighting fit today ❤️ My wee warrior. Even though hot tubs now scare me and they’re banned from my house lol.

I hope by sharing our story it may raise enough awareness to save someone else’s life. If we hadn’t gone to the opticians that day we could’ve been in a totally different situation. I had no idea hot tubs could expose you to such harmful bacteria and I’m sure a lot of people are unaware of this.

Ps. Can I just express my gratitude to all of these institutions which helped my girl. They saved her life and in turn saved mine. I will be forever grateful to our NHS 💙 It was this experience that encouraged me to become a Biomedical Scientist and one day be part of this amazing service.

Kieran Higgins

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