Peter Watts blogs from near-death experience with flesh-eating bacteria

Science fiction writer Peter Watts can't catch a break. After being brutally beaten without provocation by US customs guards last year and then charged with a felony, he's now contracted "flesh-eating bacteria" (that is, necrotising fasciitis) in his leg after a routine skin biopsy in a Toronto hospital. He came close to dying, and ended up having a huge piece of his calf removed, leaving his leg an "open canyon" with the muscles bare to the environment (and yes, Peter has posted pictures). He's in hospital now, and blogging it with a combination of scientific dispassion (he's got a PhD in biology) and auctorial vividness.
My doctor keeps jamming on his commitment to fork over the shots he took in surgery, the ones showing the necrotic tissue spreading across my leg. Fuck it; I've kept you waiting too long (only partially due to the above reason, granted; I'm also still comatose for a good chunk of the day), and I would be remiss in my educational mandate if I put this off any longer.

But I also seem to remember the occasional squeap from 'crawlers who implored me not to present these epic photos, protests that the mere sight of (let's be honest) such ultimate beefcake shots might provoke reactions too visceral for mere mortals to withstand while retaining their cookies. In deference to such candy-asses I will invoke, for the first time ever, this little "Behind the cut" option that hides the rest of the post from the squeamish.

Get well, Peter. We're all rooting for you. A word of caution: the photo above is not representative of the extreme gore in Peter's "Moving Pictures" post, which is not for the faint of stomach.

Flesh Eating Fest 11


  1. This guy has a fascination with the ugliest side of life and it seems to have a way of catching up with him. Character karma?

    1. I honestly didn’t expect someone to blame the victim for flesh-eating bacteria. Can’t say I saw that coming at all.

      1. Sorry, Boondocker, I’m not trying to blame the victim. I just find it odd that the writer who’s written the most psychologically brutal books I’ve ever read continues to have these brutal real-world experiences. It’s somewhat akin to PKD having weird “adventures” like 2-3-74, having his house broken into, the FBI/KGB correspondence, and his inexplicable diagnosis of Christopher’s hernia. Sorry, it’s early in the morning, I’m on Vicodin for my own post-op adventures, and all that nonsense about consciousness/attitude affecting quantum reality is bubbling up through the background of PBS Kids shows.

        1. Post-op adventures? Seems someone’s having a little karmic retribution himself…

          Thinking bad thoughts lately?

          1. Yes, simon, I’m having post-op adventures because a surgeon two years ago caused more damage than he fixed. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

        2. Counter-anecdote: Robert Munsch has coped with lifelong mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and a stroke that left him aphasic. He writes happy, silly children’s books. Karma?!?

          No, of course. Bad stuff happens. Good stuff undoubtedly happens to both of these authors, too, but it doesn’t get air-time.

          Anyway, I can accept your explanation that it was just an observation, but it was probably an observation better left unspoken. Karma involves judgment of morality, which is why folks are up in yo’ grill.

          (I can also identify with regrettable posts made for whatever reason, though. I’ve had a number of my own.)

          1. Thanks, Boondocker. I didn’t mean “karma” in any moral sense because I generally don’t judge morality, save for right-wing hypocrisy. I used “karma” as a shorthand for–I really don’t know.

            At any rate, if I could delete my posts from this thread, I most obviously would, and I DEEPLY apologize to all those I have offended through my thought-crime.

        3. OK hassenpfeffer, you claim you are on drugs, but you didn’t share them, and that is UNFORGIVABLE.

          Oh, and get well soon Dr. Watts!

    2. Cory, I know you put a very high value on honesty so I’m a little surprised at your generous definitions for “brutally” and “without provocation.” I agree that what happened to him was excessive, but thus removed from the initial incident and in a place of authority, one must be careful as to the words they choose. There were two sides to that incident. It is not the case that a couple of Americans found some bats and went looking for him because they didn’t like his latest book.

      1. Poor Peter Watts.

        I’m a little surprised at your generous definitions for “brutally” and “without provocation.” I agree that what happened to him was excessive, but thus removed from the initial incident and in a place of authority, one must be careful as to the words they choose. There were two sides to that incident.

        I think there was ample reason to use those adjectives, but for clarity’s sake- BOTH sides agree that:

        It was “brutal”: he was punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed, held and released into a winter storm without a jacket or a ride after public transportation had shut down. Nobody contests this. There is video documentation that was reviewed at his trial.

        There was effectively “no provocation”: Peter Watts did not immediately comply with instructions to lie on the ground, after having been struck repeatedly in the face, then received a beating in his car, then complied with instructions to get OUT of the car. At that point, when he was told to get on the ground, he asked “what is the problem?”, and for that he was maced, and eventually charged with “failure to comply with a lawful command”.

        Let me just repeat that: the only crime Peter Watts was found guilty of was failing to immediately lie down for a border guard who had already been beating him.

        You don’t have to use weak language just because there are two sides, especially when both sides have already had their day in court to establish fact.

        1. Thanks dood, you saved me some time there. Sometimes it pays to read to the bottom first.

          Peter: thanks for sharing these disgusting photos. I’d like to study them carefully but my colleagues’ stomach contents may end up on the floor in that case.

  2. Hole. Ee. Shit.

    So gross. And yet so interesting; the whole thing, from infection to treatment to rehabilitation is really, really neat. (My throat did seize up a little at the sight of the gauze being removed, though.)

    Nice to get a picture of the home-care nurse. Called Extra-Mural nurses in my home province, they’re the unsung heroes of health-care, doing the dirty jobs in people’s (often dirtier) homes.

    I hope Peter gets back to full function.

  3. He will be ok, the V.A.C. system that appears on the photo is very important, but also antibiotic therapy according to the bacteria growing (Streptococcus pyogenes, but could also grow some Salmonella sp), and also maybe he needs some debridement on the operating room, I have seen some similar wounds caused by compartamental syndrome that needed extensive fasciotomy after snake biting, but with the appropriate treatment responded well, the tissue started to grow after a few weeks almost filling the entire original cavity on a few months. Of course he will have weakness on that leg, but he will survive and will be ok.

  4. I love the reference to terminator when he wiggles his toes…

    The first couple of pictures I was just like, Holy SHIT…WOW.

    But that one where she’s “stuffing” the gauze into the “canyon” between the muscle and skin/meat with that q-tip poker thing…OH GAWD that’s looks PAINFUL…. I think my testicles are hiding in my body right now.

    1. Yes I had to do that work during my medical internship, but it is obvious that we had to premedicate the patient with analgesics before the procedure, usually an opioid.

  5. Well, you know, when people accidentally get life-threatening infections as the result of routine medical procedures, it’s usually because there’s something wrong with their moral character. It’s very wise of hassenpfeffer to suggest this.

    1. Patrick, please don’t patronize me; see my second post for a somewhat longer explanation. I bear no ill will to Dr. Watts; I just found the situation–odd, and insufficiently explained my drugged train of thought.

    1. Dear bacteria,

      You are not, in fact, on top of the food chain.

      XOXOXOXO -Cows

      (fun fact: cows eat grass to feed bacteria, which are then digested.)

  6. Just a completely stupid question (I’m not a Doctor): can Phage therapy be useful in this case or not ?
    I’ve seen a long time ago a documentary call “KILLER CURE”.
    the results of this kind of medecine looks impressive (I say “Look”, because , again , i’m not a scientist). I don’t know why this kind of technic is not more used , or even tried, in Europe or in the US.

    1. It’s a good question (really I believe there are no stupid questions), some of the reason not may be similar to resistance to use of leeches, the yuck factor, it’s untraditional nature, and difficulty obtaining funds for research as there’s no patentable product, as there is for conventional antibiotics. Bacteriophage should not be able to change into a mammal eating bacteria, but new therapies like this would always rasie questions. Phage is still commonly used in molecular biology, so it’s not like the organisms can’t easily modified/spliced. There has been some extensive novel use of biological therapeutics used here:

  7. Just before anybody jumps in with a comment about public health care, from Peter Watts’ own words in one of the comment threads:

    “I got the biopsy taken at a private clinic, not one of those socialized ones. It was the private system that got me sick. The public system got me better.

    Didn’t see that one coming, didja?

    That said, though, it’s not like I don’t have any complaints about Canadian health care. I mean, seriously: what genius came up with the idea of cardboard urinals as a cost-saving measure?”

    (technically, this may also mean he didn’t get the infection at a ‘hospital’, as stated in the headline)

  8. Fantastic pics! Waiting for more. I have a morbid fascination in watching such things while eating lunch. Hope you get better asap.

    1. Well, pus is always sign of INFECTION apart from erythema (red color) and the central ulcer, if you have fever or feel your leg is augmenting volume (inflammated or oedema) or feel heat on the affected area. Have you visited some tropical country recently?
      You shoud visit a doctor as soon as possible.
      My advice: What the hell are you waiting to visit at least a Dermatologist?

  9. The US government takes revenge?

    But really, it does sound like the hospital gave it to him. Hospitals have become very dangerous places.

  10. OK, they beat him at the border? They weakened his immune system enough that flesh eating bacteria would have a chance to roost?

    If that’s not EUGENICS in action against intelligent people, I don’t know what is.

    We don’t have to be Hitler-style eugenicists; we are SMART and can do it DEMOCRATICALLY. But we need to be weeding out the losers before it’s too late and they take all the resources, kill all the people with any hope, and drown the planet in their spent cartridges and nuclear waste.

      1. Well, Paranoia 1.0 is more cyberpunk than biopunk, but if you like more biopunk you should see Ultraviolet:

        1. Both sound awesome! Can’t wait to see em.

          On a more serious note, the intelligent < 1% need to band together and fight off the ignorant > 99%. The fact that we haven’t done that yet and continue to get beaten down possibly proves that we aren’t so intelligent after all… sad……. but I’m ready when you are. Just say the word when it’s time to join. Oh wait, I’m intelligent, I should be organizing this thing myself. Yawn, is there anything else good on Youtube?

  11. Okay, between the cyborg collies and this I WANT my unicorn chaser! (Maybe with some cyborg elements on the side- a uniborg, perhaps?)

  12. I’m just left thinking, if they can get rid of all the bacteria, this would be a great case for the new skin gun.

  13. Get Well Soon, Mr. Watts. I re-read Blindsight every year. I hope this inspires another great novel!

    1. Yes those also are good treatment options.
      To tell you the truth in my country (I live in a poor country, and believe me it’s a miracle to have the V.A.C system here at least), I have never seen the Maggot therapy being used (maybe on private hospitals).
      I have some colleagues that studied in Cuba and learnt the treatment with honey on the wound (with good results).

      1. If I recall correctly honey and silver staples were used by the romans to patch up their troops.

  14. That photo essay was probably the most interesting thing I will see this week, and I usually spend lots of time looking for interesting things. Thank you for posting it.

  15. I just love how, as I was scrolling down quickly, the pic with his nurse in it looked like an attractive young person about to eat something, mmmm something meaty, looks yummy… oops.

    1. Well I was prepared for grossness, but I didn’t find it gross at all. The wounds are all cleaned up in the photos.

      I was surprised however how much leg of man resembles leg of lamb.

  16. I’m a doctor and i can tell you that there are few things that stike fear into our hearts as much as necrotising fasciitis. It’s so agressive that surgery is the only option.
    Vac therapy comes after the bacteria has been cut away to promote wound healing.
    I’m from the UK and cant speak for anywhere else but we make extensive use of maggots and honny in wound care. phage therapy is still unproven

  17. i think i just realised just how desensitized the internet has made me.
    Well, ill probably make a good coroner or something one day.

  18. To my shame I now realise that I clicked thru on news stories of this dude’s treatment by customs goons, read all about it, and totaly failed to connect him with the awesome “Rifters” series which I’d read the previous year.
    I love the way his main reaction is basically – “awesome, blog-fodder!” :)

  19. Those were so cool! Seriously, those were the most interesting pictures I’ve seen in a while. I’ve seen photos of a man’s wrist/forearm area recovering from a similar injury (minor cut got infected, infection wasn’t treated properly at first), but those weren’t quite on this scale. The vac system is pretty nifty, too.

    I may have a skewed standard of “interesting” when it comes to injury photos, but that’s probably because I work at a law firm that handles catastrophic injury and major medical malpractice cases, and have pictures like this show up on my desk every so often, usually without warning.

    It’s amazing what people can recover from, though.

  20. … wow. I read the link synopsis right after dinner, and decided to wait a couple of hours before following. Best idea ever.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be thanking every inch of my skin for its continued, non-digested coverage of my internal components.

  21. That is seriously horrid, and bad luck. I hope he makes a good recovery.

    The thread is tl;dr but I trust the wound infection hasn’t attracted bacteria apologists to comment in the same way that border police apologists were out in show on the last mishap.

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