A little over ten years ago I contracted the flesh eating bacteria, the same disease that Aimee Copeland and a couple other people around the country happen to be recovering from right now. Suffice it to say, my experience was nothing short of a living nightmare. Fortunately, I came through on the other side with all my limbs – and life – intact. I write this not to make any comparison to what Aimee, or anyone else is going through today, but as a reminder of what it took to make me gain some perspective that made me into a much healthier, happier person.
Before you read any further, you should know…I’m not dishing any tough workouts or writing about good-for-you foods in this post. Nothing will circle back directly to fitness directly…but this post has everything to do with why it’s important to me, and why it should be for you.
For those of you new to my blog, I make no claims to having been a lifelong healthy person. In fact, I’m nothing short of a reformed couch potato with a fitness bug who got a second chance. If I had never gotten sick those years ago, I don’t think I’d be taking the time to write about how important it is to appreciate your health, or how quickly your life can turn on dime if you’re not taking care of yourself.
Medically termed necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh eating bacteria – from what I’ve been told by the doctors who worked on me – is a bacterium that mutates inside the host. In my case, I contracted it through a paper cut on the middle finger of my left hand – right over the knuckle. It just wouldn’t heal. Then one day I wasn’t feeling right, and the rest is history. The bacteria that wormed its way into my finger was strep – the very same bacteria that you and I come into contact with many times each and every day.
To make a long story short, I was able to get by with a few surgeries and the removal of gangrenous tissue along the left side of my body. I was scheduled for surgery to have my left arm removed, but miraculously, it wasn’t necessary after all.
Lessons in Gratitude
I remember my mom coming into my hospital room a couple days after I was out of intensive care. She worked in the same hospital and made regular visits to check on me. My youngest sister was there visiting when my mom came in sounding particularly chipper. In retrospect, I know she was just trying to keep a brave face and make me feel better, but at that moment I was really angry that she was happy and I was lying in a bed unable to get my body under control. At the time, I had surgery-related fluid retention that swelled the left side of my body, I also had no use of my left arm, and – not that this means a thing now – hadn’t washed my hair in close to three weeks.
So, in comes my mom with a tray of food, hoping I’ll eat something and my sister on-hand to wash my horribly knotted hair. Suddenly I shouted, “I would never be here if it weren’t for you!” You see, I got sick just before Christmas and was home for a few days. My mom insisted I wait to go into the hospital until after the holidays so I would ‘get better care.’ As it turns out, my mother’s hesitation to bring me into the hospital was probably the best thing that could have happened. Deep down, I believe she knew I was gravely ill, but wanted me to see a surgeon she knew and trusted. It was a Hail Mary play and she went with her gut. Her instincts paid off. This incredible surgeon was able to diagnose me within five minutes. Had I seen another surgeon who might have taken the “wait and see” approach, or perhaps made a trip into a different hospital closer to my parents’ home, I might not be here at all. Full disclosure: another patient was seen at the same hospital on the same day with same condition and did not make it. Bottom line: my mom’s decisions for me to be admitted through outpatient care, not ER and to request a surgeon who she knew would be on duty worked.
Nonetheless, I watched as my mom’s eyes were washed over with tears. Without saying a word, she left the room crying. All my sister could say was, “Nice going, Traci. You made Mom cry.” My sister went after her to ask her to come back. Amazingly, she did. I think I said I was sorry (at least I hope). I felt terrible almost immediately, but couldn’t even give her a hug.
A few weeks later, l went back home to Minneapolis, which is where I lived at the time. Things started to return to normal. Several months later I was nearly fully recovered and started running thanks to the persuasion of a friend who convinced me to run a 10K. In no way did I have a “woe is me” attitude, but I kind of felt like what happened wasn’t a big deal, and if it happened again, I’d be just fine. My new hobby was running, so I continued running mid-distance races, between 5 and 10 kilometers. My left arm atrophied significantly, but I was now able to raise my hand over my head with no pain – something I thought would never be able to do after the surgeries.
You’d think I ‘d have learned gratitude by recognizing the quick decisions of the doctors who worked on me, the nurses who were at my side every time I moved (literally), my amazing family who had me on prayer chains each and every day, or simply by leaving the hospital with my life. Yes, I was grateful for all of those things, but still didn’t have the gratitude I needed in my life.
Then one day, about a year after I was sick, I decided to run the Walter Payton Sweetness 10K in Aurora, Illinois. By this time, I had moved to Chicago, living on the north side. Aurora was a long drive from my house, and I still have no idea why I choose to run that race over any number of races that were miles closer. The race started at 7:00am. I arrived about 30-minutes before the start, which for me is late. I felt flustered and quickly made my way to my pace group.
As I stood there thinking about me, me, me, a man lined up to my left side and a woman lined up to my right side. Neither of them seemed to know each other as there was no eye contact or conversation…just me in the middle. As I gazed up from their feet, I caught a quick glimpse at both of them. I was astounded to see that neither of them had a left arm. That was my moment of gratitude.
These two people, who are still nameless to me, will forever be etched in my memory as the swift kick in the butt I needed to start seeing life in a different light. I don’t know if I would have been mentally strong enough to pick up a hobby like running had I lost my arm, but here were these two people lined up next to me (who subsequently outran me, easily) who were probably just there because they enjoyed running or maybe liked to race.
What’s more, those two people kind of forced me to become a little introspective with why it was that I got sick in the first place.
Maybe I wasn’t doing everything I could to be healthy?
Eating right, moving more and just living healthier is so easy for most of us to do, yet we’re inclined to make sacrifices or excuses (I’ll start tomorrow).
It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever contract the flesh eating bacteria. But some day something will happen to you. Maybe you’ll break a bone, maybe you’ll get a nasty sinus infection, maybe you’ll develop something much direr (I hope not). Regardless, you’ll wish you were healthier. Do something now to be healthier tomorrow. There is no better feeling than knowing you’ve done your best today to prevent what could be coming your way in the future. Even if it’s not preventable, there is nothing better than feeling good today. Nothing.
Very rarely are posts ever about me…I promise. In fact, they’re usually kind of cool, useful and always healthy. Check me out on Facebook for some yummy-but-healthy recipes and exercise tips. I might even throw out a contest or two. You never know! See you there. Traci