London-based barrister Jonathon Hogg, 40, was on a five-month sabbatical from work to travel the world earlier this year. But on a flight from Doha to Cape Town, he says, he received a bite from a brown recluse spider that caused his leg to swell up and burst.
The event has left physical and psychological scars on Hogg and he plans to sue the airline, Qatar Airways. Here, he tells his story.
"That picture [of the wound] is one of those things you look back on and think, 'Jesus…'
"Can you imagine? They cut sections of my leg away, they cut around the venom because it melts your leg. They did it once and thought that was it. But I must have got bitten a couple of times and it started coming out elsewhere in the leg so they did it again and cut another chunk away. There was only a strip left so they thought they might as well cut all of it out and that’s what they did.
"I wasn’t prepared for how much… I came out of theatre and was all bandaged up and then a day later they take the bandage off, and I had to do a double take. I was saying: 'Where’s my leg gone!?' They said: 'Oh yeah, sorry, we had to cut it away.'
"They told me: 'If you’d have got bitten anywhere near a vein you’d be dead.' Because it just melts your veins.
[Beware: The following image shows the injury in graphic detail].
"I was on my way to South Africa to work on the ocean taking tourists to go and swim with great white sharks. I did two days working on the ocean, not knowing that it was melting away inside. Then on the third morning it burst.
"It was just like, 'Holy shit.' But I was still thinking, trying to be a man, 'Yeah, I’ll be alright, I’ll go out and work for the day and then I’ll go to hospital after.'
"Luckily the Africans said: 'That’s a spider bite and you’re going to hospital now, you’re not getting on a boat.'
"The surgeons said: 'If you’d have got on that boat you’d have lost your leg.' The infection was knee-to-ankle by the time I got to hospital.
"It’s called necrotic venom, it literally melts flesh and keeps going, so that’s why they had to cut around it to get it out.
"It was an absolute nightmare. I was supposed to be on a sabbatical from work and I ended up having four operations in two hospitals on two continents and two skin grafts. It was a life-changing thing.
"For the first couple of days it looked like a bruise and I was thinking, 'Is it a spider bite or something else?' I thought it would probably go away on its own. So I started taking ibuprofen. But then it didn’t get better, it was getting sorer and sorer and redder and redder.
"Once it bursts then you think, 'Shit, this is serious.'
"The moment you know you’re in trouble is when you’re lying on an accident and emergency bed in South Africa on your own and doctors walking past who have nothing to do with your case stop and go, 'Oh, dear god.'
"I was in there for a month. To get home, I was on crutches – with that wound – with four and half months’ worth of luggage. And having to get on a plane again... I’m basically going through treatment to try to get over it and get on a plane again.
"The only way I could get on the plane was if the cabin crew went and inspected the plane before I’d go anywhere near it. When I was on, the crew had to inspect the area and then periodically check it after that. I was on medication to get on, I was taking more while I was onboard and necking glasses of wine.
"I’ve been asked by work this week to go to New York in a few weeks and even just the thought of it brings me out in cold sweats, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.
"It’s my job, I can’t say no. But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it. Or if I am I’m going to have to be doped up to the eyeballs like B.A. Baracus: 'I ain’t gettin on no plane!'
"I do a lot of flying for my job, so it’s not good.
"I’m a rational person, and I would have said that fears and phobias before, I wouldn’t have read much into that. But it’s only when you go through something like that that you see – just the thought of a plane… My god.
"I had a skin graft at the end of August … so hopefully I should be able to play football and kickbox again. I was told that if I do kick someone and they block it, my leg could explode again.
"It made me philosophical about life. I could have died.
"The death thing I’m not frightened about, I can deal with that. It was more the leg. I was thinking, 'What about sports? How am I going to do this, how am I going to do that?' That freaks you out, especially if you’re on your own. It allows you time to think. A month is a long time in hospital.
"It’s been a life-changing event and a big change for the worse."
Responding to Hogg's claim, Qatar Airways said in a statement: "We have also not been advised of any legal proceedings regarding this incident. In the circumstances we cannot comment further but will, of course, investigate any further information which is brought to our attention formally.
“Qatar Airways takes the safety and security of our customers very seriously.”
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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