You May Die Badly
Here is a painting done in 1809 of a person dying of tetanus. Painting done by his doctor. The position is called opistothonus.
What happens if you don't get a Tetanus shot after getting cut with rusty metal?
Maybe nothing. But you could get tetanus, and once you get it, even if they manage to save you, you may still wish you had died. Dying of tetanus may be the most painful way to die on the planet.
Why does he look like this? Your muscles ‘fire’ to contract, i.e., shorten. Then a chemical in your muscles is released to relax your muscles. What the tetanus toxin does is to prevent that chemical from being released, so your muscles fire, contract, and NEVER LET GO.
Back muscles are stronger than stomach muscles, so you arch your back.
If you are in really good shape, too bad, because you leg muscles can contract so strongly that they will BREAK. YOUR. THIGH. BONES, the strongest bones in your body.
Imagine a ‘Charley Horse’ in every muscle in your body, 24 hours a day, for days on end. And there is almost nothing that can be done to spare you. Eventually, your diaphragm contacts, and never lets go, so you quit breathing.
Getting to this blissful stage often takes 3 days. 3 days of the worst pain imaginable.
(BTW, we know the chemical that’s released, and can give it to you, but then, you stop breathing, which presents another set of problems)
Personally, I think the vaccine is the way to go, but hey, to you anti-vaxxers out there, it’s your call. Just don’t do this to your kids, please.
BTW, the bacteria that causes tetanus, Clostridium tetani, is a common soil living bacteria. It’s in the ground everywhere, but is especially active around farms. It’s NOT rust that causes tetanus, but a rusty nail indicates it’s likely been in contact with the soil for a period of time, and thus likely has C. tetani on it.
C. tetani is an anaerobic bacteria, meaning Oxygen is poisonous to it. If you get a scratch, tetanus is possible but unlikely, because of the Oxygen in the atmosphere. But a puncture, like from a nail, creates an oxygen-free atmosphere deep in the wound, just perfect for C. Tetani to grow and thrive.
Tetanus can be ‘treated’ today, but 2/3 of patients still die, and those that survive typically spend 6–10 WEEKS in the hospital, mostly on a ventilator, and most of the time in a induced coma, followed by 4–6 months in rehab. Personally, I think getting the vaccine is easier.
BTW, there is a variation of this disease called infantile tetanus. New borns can get it from, for example, non-sterile scissors used to cut their umbilical cord. I will spare you the pictures.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
In 2018, a kid on a farm in Oregon fell and got a cut on his head. A cut, not a puncture. But farms are thriving in C. tetani.
His mom washed it out, then sewed it up herself (note that she is not a medical professional).
About a week later, kid started getting sick, and rapidly went downhill. They took the kid to the ER, where they diagnosed tetanus.
LOTS of anti-toxin was administered, but it was so late, the kid developed full-blown tetanus. Kids recover faster, so he only spent 59 days in the hospital, about 45 of them in an induced coma. Then rehab for a month.
But here is the kicker. As the kid was being discharged from the rehab facility, the doctors tried to vaccinate him, and his mother REFUSED any and all vaccines.
If I was the kid, I would have stuck my fist in her mouth, rolled up my sleeve, and told the doctor, “Give me everything you’ve got!”
The bill was over 800,000, not sure who is paying, but I doubt it’s the mom.
And you wonder why medical care is expensive: A Rs25 shot versus over 800,000 hospital bill.
PS The tetanus immunization is good for 10 years. Is YOURS up to date?
, former 45 years in photograph