A ‘Simple Scratch’ Led to 55 Surgeries on One Woman’s Leg

By: Lauren Wurth | Published: Feb 09, 2024

One of the life lessons many of us grew up with is how little things and actions can easily lead to so much more. This idea was constantly drummed into our subconscious with idioms like “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Little drops of water make a mighty ocean.”

Despite these, however, we never would have believed it if anyone told us that a simple, seemingly harmless scratch can lead to over 50 surgeries. But the story of a U.K. mom of two, Michelle Milton, puts the debate to rest.

How It All Started

In 2019, Michelle Milton was on a fishing adventure with her brother, Martyn, when she lost her balance after slipping on some rocks. Part of the nylon fishing line she kept in her front pocket got stuck to her right thigh and resulted in what she called “a simple scratch” (via People).

A woman holding a fish rod; Michelle Milton went on a fishing trip on the day she sustained severe injuries

Source: Brett Sayles/Pexels

Sadly, she later discovered that the scratch wasn’t so simple after all as it got infected, and swollen, and landed her in Basildon University Hospital, Essex.

The CDC's Recommendation

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises people to “clean all minor cuts and injuries that break the skin (like blisters and scrapes) with soap and water,” to prevent them from getting worse.

A woman wrapping a man’s leg with bandage as the final step to caring for an injury

Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

For the National Health Service (NHS), the recommendation is to “clean the wound by rinsing it with bottled or tap water, or by using sterile wipes” before applying antiseptic and a bandage.

Antibiotics Resistance

We don’t know whether Milton performed any wound care immediately after the incident. But if she didn’t, it’s clear why the simple scratch got infected and led to bigger problems.

A hospital’s emergency unit; individuals with infected fish hook injuries are advised to see a doctor as soon as possible

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

When she arrived at the hospital four days after the injury, doctors told her that her wound wasn’t sensitive to antibiotics. This is what led to the 55 surgeries she would later undergo — 30 “washouts” or wound irrigations to sanitize the area, 21 debridements (to remove devitalized tissues), and four skin grafts.

An Agonizing Experience

40-year-old Milton said that she never imagined that such a simple scratch from a fishing line would damage her thigh so much. “I just want my leg off,” she said (via People).

A healthy Marissa Milton before her injury

Source: People/Instagram

“Every day is filled with agony, and I’ve begged them to take it off,” she said. “They just keep cutting away at my leg.”

A Wound That Wouldn't Heal

The mother of two explained that she was given some antibiotics when she first visited the emergency room. Doctors later decided to do an X-ray when they discovered that the wound was oozing pus. She was given antibiotics again and sent home.

Infection definition on page

Source: Canva

“They had no idea what was going on. The pain grew, and the infection kept spreading across my leg. They just [kept] discharging me and prescribing me antibiotics,” she said.


How the Procedures Began

Milton endured the pain for about four months before the doctors finally decided that a series of surgeries was necessary to help her get better. So they started with the washout to sanitize the open wound.

Doctors operating on a patient

Source: Vidal Balielo Jr/Pexels

Milton said that this procedure opened her injury wide. The next surgeries were performed over the next four years. “I can barely walk or sit down, there’s going to be nothing left of me,” she lamented.


The Infection Kept Spreading

The mom of two had her most recent surgery in October 2023. She then had a pump fitted to her leg to suck out the pus. Sadly, nothing seems to be working, and the doctors have told her that the infection is spreading.

Illustration of infection

Source: Canva

She may have to amputate her leg to prevent fatal complications if it doesn’t get better. “I don’t know how much more I can take. Nothing seems to work, none of the treatments help at all,” Milton said.


She Wants Her Leg Amputated

All Milton wants now is a permanent end to her ordeal, and if that means amputating the leg, she has come to terms with it already. Milton says she’s exhausted mentally and physically and craves to be with her family as soon as possible.

Close-up photo of a smiling amputee

Source: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

In her words: “I just want it off, I want to live my life. I haven’t been a mum in years, my mum’s been doing everything for my kids.”


She Misses Being a Mom

Even though Milton’s children are not so little anymore (her son is 20 years old and her daughter is 17), she wants an opportunity to be their mom again. What mother wouldn’t? It has been heartbreaking to learn that the hope that her situation will improve is almost nonexistent.

A patient listens with rapt attention as her doctor explains the results of her x-ray

Source: RDNE Stock Project/Pexels

“I’m sick of spending my life in hospital, I can’t believe a simple scratch has left me like this,” she said. Milton is still in the hospital awaiting further results. She wants to know if there’s a blood clot in her right leg.


Fishing Hook Injuries Are Highly Infectious

Milton’s story highlights the importance of taking the necessary preventive precautions during any activity. People should also be aware of the first aid measures to employ during an injury.

Fishing rods are generally infected with marine bacteria after some time in the water, so individuals are advised to sanitize them after each fishing trip to reduce the risk of infections

Source: Maël BALLAND/Pexels

For example, fishing hooks should always be sanitized after each trip. Sadly, however, My Health in Alberta, Canada, said, “A puncture from a fish hook is often dirty from marine bacteria. This increases the chance of a skin infection.”


We Need to Increase Awareness of the Dangers of Fish Hook Injuries

True to what our parents taught us, a little action in the right direction may be all we need to avoid complicated situations. As such, awareness of fish hook injury must be intensified.

Marissa Milton has spent the 4 past years in pain in her hospital bed and wishes to live a normal life soon

Source: People/Instagram

People should be made to understand how dangerously infectious such injuries are and that proper first aid and quick medical attention are necessary in such situations. We hope for a miracle for Milton and can’t wait to see her back with her family again.