‘It Was Agony’: Ozzy Osbourne Explains Staph Infection That Derailed TourRolling Stone — Kory Grow
Ozzy Osbourne knew he had a problem when he saw that his right thumb had swollen to “the size of a fuckin’ lightbulb.” After a Salt Lake City gig earlier this month, he had trouble putting on a thumb ring he regularly wears. The digit got larger overnight until it was 10 times bigger than usual. “I freaked out,” he says. He showed it to his wife and manager, Sharon, and she took him to the emergency room, where he learned he’d contracted a potentially deadly staph infection. Ozzy subsequently postponed four shows and focused on his treatment.
He’s feeling mostly better now, and postponed shows in California and Las Vegas, which are part of his ongoing No More Tours 2 Tour, are now scheduled to take place next July after a run of dates in Oceania and Japan. (Tickets for the original shows will still be honored and refunds are available to those who can’t make the new dates.)
Until the tour picks up again early next year, Osbourne is just trying to get back to his regular routines and make sense of what happened. When he went to the ER, he was feeling normal; he didn’t have a temperature or other ailments. He just had a giant thumb. “I didn’t feel sick, so I was cracking jokes,” he says. “The doctor said, ‘I don’t know if you realize, Mr. Osbourne, this is a very serious problem you have.’ Sharon said, ‘Would you stop fucking making jokes?'” He laughs. “So I said, ‘Well, it’s my hand.'” The thing was, nobody was laughing. “They’re all extremely, deadly serious about it,” he says. “I judge it based on the expression and the body language of the doctor. If he comes in with a really solemn face, I go, ‘Oh, OK. My time to go is up.'” He laughs.
After examining him, the doctors realized he didn’t have just one staph infection but three individual ones in his thumb – and one had spread to his middle finger. A staph infection occurs when otherwise normal germs on a person’s skin find a way into a person’s bloodstream, at which point they could turn deadly if not treated. Jaws actor Roy Scheider and former secretary of state Alexander Haig both died of them. After the doctors explained what happened to Ozzy, he grasped the gravity of the situation and underwent surgery in his hand.
First, the doctors froze his thumb. Then they went in. “You put your thumb in front of your face on your right hand, they went in by the side of the nail on the left side for the flesh under the nail,” he says. “They cut all this stuff out. Even with the numbing stuff, it was agony. It wasn’t pus, but it was the stage after pus, when it gets in the blood and goes in your body and fucking kills you. It may sound fucked up what I’m saying to you, but he was really concerned about checking my blood.”
At one point, he asked how he could have gotten it. “The doctor said to me, ‘Can you remember talking to someone and shaking hands?'” Osbourne recalls. “Well, I do that meet and greet at the gig and I must shake fucking 200 hands a day. He said, ‘That explains it.'”
They put him on drip and pill antibiotics, which knocked him out. “I could hardly move,” he says. “I really had no energy.” The thing that “got [him] out of the blues” was eating ice cream, he says. (He even posted a picture of him doing just that to social media while under doctors’ care.) After spending a little less than a week in the hospital, he was sent home with a special soap for his hand and was told to soak it twice a day for about 10 days. “I said to Sharon, ‘What the fuck am I gonna do for the gig?'” he recalls, before they postponed the first show. “Then the doctor said, ‘You must be fucking crazy. You get another staph infection, and you could die.’ He said, ‘One’s enough. You’ve got three individual ones.'”
Once he made it home, he realized he had a whole other set of problems. “I haven’t been able to do anything,” he says. “I’m right-handed. You can’t wipe your own ass. And I didn’t have many fucking volunteers who would do it for me.” Osbourne laughs.
He started visiting with his specialist three times a week (he’s now down to one visit a week). Asked when he started to feel more like himself again, he laughs. “I don’t think that’s possible,” he says. “To be honest with you, I didn’t feel that bad all along. I said to the doctor at one point, ‘When can I work out?’ He said, ‘You can do whatever you like, but I don’t advise you to for at least 10 days.’ I tried working out for two minutes and I thought I was gonna fuckin’ die, because the antibiotic knocks the wind out of your sails big-time. So I went, ‘You know what? I’ll let the doctor be the doctor and I’ll be the patient.’ So now compared to what I was like, I feel about 85 to 90 percent better. So I’m well on the mend.”
Now he’s just looking forward to getting back onstage. “I was really looking forward to doing the Hollywood Bowl,” he says. “I’m going to make those shows up next year. It could have been a lot worse. I could have been dead.”