© Stefan Voitl

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a pressure ulcer can be life-threatening? Our colleague Wolfgang Illek is quadriplegic and knows why.

While others were enjoying the best sunbathing weather of summer 2008, I had to lie on my stomach for seven long weeks. It all started when we returned from our holiday. The trip home from Span took hours – long enough for me to incur a decubitus in my coccyx region.

The term “decubitus” – also known as a pressure ulcer – describes an injury to the skin and the underlying tissue. Such a pressure ulcer is created when both are exposed to constant pressure for a longer period of time. This leads to circulatory problems; thus, the cells are no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen and nutrients. As a result, the affected cells are damaged or destroyed completely. As a quadriplegic, I must be extremely careful in this respect. I sit most of the time, can’t move my arms properly, and am incapable of simply changing my body position. Apart from all that, I don’t even feel when an open area of skin begins to form. As soon as I noticed my wound, I went to hospital to take care of it. The subsequent healing process felt like it took forever. While temperatures soared to 31 degrees Celsius in the shade, I was lying in bed waiting for my skin to recover.

Ultimately, I made a full recovery, but that outcome is not self-evident. After all, pressure ulcers are classified in four different degrees of severity. A decubitus can range from relatively harmless skin redness to death of the injured tissue. The latter can lead to wounds that are deep enough to expose bones, tendons, and muscles. It’s an invitation to infections that can be fatal. Christopher Reeve, the famous actor, is a sad example. He died as a result of incurring a decubitus.