12/02/2015 02:25 EST | Updated 12/02/2016 05:12 EST

Flesh-Eating Disease Didn't Take Away My Will To Live

Burdett Photography

Have you ever wondered what kind of person you would be if you were thrust into a situation where it was a matter of survival -- if you were a passenger on an ill-fated sinking ship or part of a motley group battling flesh-eating intruders? I'm convinced that these stories about survival are so compelling because they inform us exactly who we are, both as humans and as individuals.

I always thought that if I were faced with impossibly adverse circumstances that I would be a fighter right up until the bloody death. I would go out raging against the enemy until I was victorious or until I couldn't possibly fight another second. Last year I found out that who I thought I would be was exactly the person I was.

In late March of 2014, I was curled up at one corner of my bed for days. I was sick. I thought I had the flu, but it was strange because I never got sick, at least not for this long. I couldn't eat. I wasn't throwing up but I had diarrhea and all I wanted to do was sleep. On the fourth day of my illness, my left arm begin to swell. At the time it didn't even strike me as peculiar because I was so delirious with sickness from not eating for days. Thank goodness my ex-husband was keeping an eye on me because he insisted on taking me into the emergency room at Barrie's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Within an hour of being in the emergency room the doctors told me that I had necrotizing fasciitis -- flesh-eating disease -- and that the bacteria was spreading rapidly. At this time I thought that they would simply give me antibiotics, my arm would stop swelling and the infection would clear from my body. But they told me they would have to amputate my arm. By this time my hand was turning a disturbing black colour. I remember lying on the gurney outside of the operating room while my surgeon looked into my eyes and told me that I would definitely lose my left arm and that I might even die. After he left all I could do was look up at the ceiling tiles and pray to God that I would survive. Erin, my ex-husband, told me that no matter what happened, we would get through this. His words would be a source of strength that will pull me through the next two weeks.

During the operation I had also gone into cardiac arrest because my body was so toxic with the infection.

I didn't wake up from the operation until 11 days later. The doctors had to keep me sedated so that my body, toxic with bacteria, could stabilize. During the first few days after the operation the doctors and the critical care staff didn't even know if I was going to live or die. Erin told me that at this time there was a troubling dark patch on my neck that was not receding. I wasn't getting worse, but I wasn't getting any better either. By the second day after the surgery, the doctors thought that I might live.

Of course, I don't remember any of this. After I woke up 11 days later, the day-to-day progress of my infection and illness was slowly revealed to me. I was still on a lot of pain killers and some of the drugs that they were giving me produced the most nightmarish hallucinations. I eventually realized that beneath the bandages my left arm, shoulder, breast, and most of the surrounding flash on my upper left side, front and back, had been removed. During the operation I had also gone into cardiac arrest because my body was so toxic with the infection.

After the initial operation, I still had to face another surgery. Two weeks after I woke up, Easter weekend of 2014, I had a skin graft transfer in which the flesh on both of my thighs was sliced off to cover my upper left side. I had been able to walk a little bit prior to my second surgery. I actually had to learn how to walk again because my muscles have atrophied so severely and my amputations were so drastic. But after the skin graft surgery, my thighs were constantly searing with pain and I was back to square one with my walking progress.

I fought the enemy and I was victorious.

It was in between these two surgeries that my dear and long time friend Rod Carley came to see me. It was mid-April and he talked about me teaching my usually scheduled theatre class at Canadore College in July. He also talked about doing King Lear. He wanted me as part of the cast. Every day I fought as hard as I could, I walked as far as I could, I did as many tasks for myself as I was able -- clumsy as they were.

I fought the enemy and I was victorious. I managed to leave the hospital on April 30 -many months before the doctors ever thought possible. I went home and continued to get stronger, with the help of my family and my incredible mother who looked after my daughter and me for the next month. I walked and worked out until my heart muscles repaired themselves. By July, I was teaching at the college and by the following April we had opened King Lear in North Bay.

There were tears in my eyes on opening night when David Fox, who was playing Lear, popped open a celebratory bottle of champagne. It had been less than a year since I had been rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair and here I was standing strong and playing the feisty Gonerill of King Lear. Don't ever let anyone say that miracles don't exist because they certainly do. I am still here and I am victorious.


Photo by Anthony Leclair


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