Paul Gaylord, a retired man living in rural Oregon, recently shared details from his horrific, near-death experience after being infected in June 2013 with Yersinia pestis, also known as the plague.
Gaylord was infected when he tried to remove a mouse from the throat of a choking cat and was bitten. Within 48 hours he began to suffer flu-like symptoms. Soon his skin started to turn grey and the glands under his arms swelled to the size of lemons.
“I went to my job as usual, as a welder, but by mid-morning I started to feel very sick. It came on all of a sudden and I developed a high fever. At the emergency care clinic, they gave me a dose of antibiotics for cat-scratch fever,” said Gaylord, in a recent feature with The Guardian. “I quickly developed flu-like symptoms. I turned grey and my skin hurt. A few days later I was delirious and my wife took me back to the clinic. I was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and put in intensive care.”
Gaylord quickly deteriorated and spent nearly a month in a coma on life support, suffering a collapsed lung and requiring kidney dialysis. At one point his heart stopped beating.
“I was in a coma for 27 days, during which my hands and feet swelled up and began to turn black…My doctor told me I had developed all three stages of the plague: bubonic (the least lethal form, which infects the lymphatic system), pneumonic (which infects the lungs) and septicaemic (the bloodstream). Some people have survived bubonic plague, but not all three, apparently. Technically, I shouldn’t be here,” says Gaylord.
Gaylord has regained function of his kidneys and will not require life-long dialysis as had been expected, but has undergone several amputations to remove tissue killed by the infection.
“I still have my hands and part of my thumbs. They took off all the toes on my left foot, and about a third of my right foot is gone,” said Gaylord. “It’s hard to believe it happened to me, but rather than feel depressed, I’ve always felt positive and happy to be alive.”
The disease is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis that is spread through flea bites. An average of 11 cases of plague per year have occurred in the U.S. since 1976.
Read more of Paul Gaylord’s personal account at The Guardian: Experience: I caught the plague from my cat.