When I was a child, my mother was given a t-shirt by a friend that displayed a print of a cow on its back. Under the cow was written, “Really, I’m fine…” The gift was an homage to my mother’s merciless habit of downplaying her lupus and the struggles that resulted from it. She wore it proudly.
This past July 4th holiday, I witnessed a likeness in behavior from Noelle. Frankly, the day just plain sucked. A man with whom I’d been in love broke up with me that morning and I was devastated. Always looking out for my best interests, Noey kept me appropriately inebriated in an attempt to lessen the blow. She listened to my sob stories, and when I crawled in bed, she sat by my side and rubbed my head until I fell asleep.
Throughout the day, Noey commented (never complained) that her left foot was bothering her. She thought she might have bruised it unknowingly or been bitten by a bug when she was gardening in the front yard. By the time I went to sleep that night, Noey had her foot elevated and was icing it in an attempt to reduce the significant swelling.
Around 4:00am on Friday, July 5th, Noelle barreled into my bedroom like a bull seeing red. She was the color of school paste and, with panting breath, she explained that she’d been sick for several hours and her foot was in excruciating pain. It had morphed into a crimson football and Noey said the feeling was pure torture. In less than 10 minutes, she and I gathered her essentials and fled to the emergency room. She could barely walk and was crying tears of agony. It was heartbreaking and terrifying to observe.
From the second we arrived at the hospital, there was concerned confusion as to what exactly was happening to her, and as the doctors’ investigation heightened, Noey’s life force seemed to lessen. The infection, still undetermined, was spreading throughout her body, and a strong fear that she might not pull through was rapidly becoming conversation. I sat in a chair in Noey’s emergency room cubicle, watched my best friend fight for her life, and there was nothing I could do to help her.
Wisely, the orthopedic doctor sent Noey into surgery as this condition needed aggressive action. Thank God for his decisiveness; it not only meant that Noey’s life was saved but that she avoided amputation. We learned after her surgery that she contracted necrotizing fasciitis, known more commonly as flesh-eating disease. The infection was killing her soft tissue and the damage was severe. Noey has been through several hospitalizations and surgeries as a result, and the point of origin for the disease is still not known. She’s recovering but still has a lengthy road of healing and therapy ahead of her. Her guardian angels really pulled overtime on this one; the survival rate, according to the interwebs, for necrotizing fasciitis is only 26.6%.
It goes without saying that this has been a trying time for Noey. Her strength has been remarkable; I’m not certain how this hasn’t broken her. I venture to guess that her unwavering sense of humor has helped (she now refers to her “acid foot” with a motherly affection). A private person, she’s managed the public attention and support that comes with rare disease cases with impressive professionalism. Having to be separated from Q while she recovers seems to bring her the most sadness. Not knowing how this happened brings the most frustration.
Similar to my mother, Noey’s “Really, I’m fine…” attitude leaves me speechless. She told me her first day in the hospital that she’s thankful to be the one who incurred the injury, not me or Q. She said she couldn’t live with herself if it happened to us. Hearing this was a punch to the gut; I couldn’t comprehend how someone in the face of such adversity could have the most positive, selfless spirit.
In that moment, the pain of the years of watching my mother suffer from a disease she, like Noey, didn’t have an answer for came flooding back, and haunted me for the days following. I was disgusted by what felt like a selfishness in not being ill on my part; I felt ashamed of my own skin.
I felt unrest in every cell of my body. Very quickly, that unrest turned to anger and panic. They ate at me until I decided to break the cycle and leave for Albuquerque.
More to come.