‘The bite that ate away my flesh’
WARNING: Graphic images
WHEN Kaylah Branch woke to an itchy toe one morning before Christmas, she quickly dismissed it as a mosquito bite.
Being allergic to their saliva, often she would respond worse to a small bite than the average person.
"It was itchy … but I didn't think anything of it," Ms Branch, who works in construction, told news.com.au.
"My partner said he saw two bite marks on my little toe, but I didn't see that. It was nothing."
At the time, the now 26-year-old was working in a medical centre and didn't feel any need to raise the alarm when the bite started to look and feel worse.
"My stomach was feeling upset, but I didn't put two and two together," she said.
"As the days passed, my foot did start to feel worse but nothing bad enough that told me to go to hospital.
"On the Wednesday, I played three games of volleyball in the sand with bare feet. By the end, my little toe did look worse, but I thought perhaps it had just reacted to the sand."
Within hours of finishing her evening of sport, the condition of Ms Branch's "tiny bite" deteriorated.
"I spoke to a nurse and explained what had happened," Ms Branch said.
"The nurse didn't think much of it and said if it gets worse I should go to a doctor.
"Even though it was getting worse, I still thought I was just being dramatic. But things turned the next morning when I woke up. My foot was incredibly swollen and really red. By the time I went to leave work at the end of the day, walking was a complete nightmare."
Beginning to realise the bite wasn't simply a reaction to a mosquito, Ms Branch drove herself
to Prince Alfred Hospital in Melbourne to seek treatment. The carpark, she says, was full and so she drove home.
"I kept thinking to myself it wasn't a big deal, it was just my little toe and there are people out there with bigger issues than this," she said.
"But then the infection started tracking up my leg."
Her partner, Grieg, drove Ms Branch to an emergency waiting room where she was quickly prescribed penicillin for the growing infection.
"The doctor's weren't sure what the bite was, and were a little dismissive to start with, but when they saw it tracking I was in hospital for two days," she said.
"My toe started blistering and turning black, and then there was talk of amputation … but the reality of what was going on, and what might happen, didn't set in. The thought this bite, which I thought was just from a mozzie, had turned in to something much bigger was crazy."
Ms Branch said her toe soon swelled to triple its size, and the "throbbing pain" quickly escalated with the infection eating away at the flesh.
"They were pretty certain it was a white-tip spider bite," she said.
"My white blood count and heart rate was really high.
"The doctor's said if I did leave it longer, the infection would have spread … there would've been amputation.
"The venom was already in my bloodstream, and while I wouldn't have died, I would've lost my toe and part of my foot for sure."
Ms Branch said coming from a medical background meant that she was dismissive of her symptoms, and that approaching medical advice was a last resort.
According to Pink Hope founder Krystal Barter, Ms Branchs' approach to delaying or not seeking medical help at all is a growing concern among Australian women.
A phenomenon she's titled, 'Drama Queen Syndrome'.
Research commissioned by Ms Barter shows that more than 41 per cent of women surveyed agreed the fear of judgment from others would stop them from speaking up or pursuing about medical concerns, and one third of participants admitted this fear would explain why they have chosen not to visit a doctor when worrying something is wrong.
Ms Branch said her fear of being a drama queen, or taking medical attention away from others in need, were some of the reasons she didn't seek medical advice sooner.
"At the time of the bite, I was working in the medical industry, and it did make me more dismissive," she said. "My first instinct was to avoid the emergency room, because that's not where you go for a bite on your little toe. There's people with much bigger problems than that!
"But if I hadn't have gone when I did, even though it was just a little toe, I could be walking with a cane now."