Bestselling author Susan Donovan had a successful career, great kids, health, and a lovely little house -- until she got bitch-slapped by a rare infection that should have killed her. After three months in Shock Trauma, twenty surgeries, and the amputation of her left leg above the knee, she has had to learn to love her life and herself again. It hasn't been easy, but it has been interesting.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The One-Legged Goddess of Romance
This blog is a love story.
It’s not the kind
of love story I usually write, where everything makes sense and a thoroughly
happy ending is guaranteed. No one’s life is like that, which is why romance
novels – and their “happily ever afters” – generate more than a billion dollars
in sales each year. We all need a break
from the real world, a world where really bad shit happens to basically good
people for no reason at all.
This blog will be
about how I’m learning to love myself again. I promise to keep the self-pity to
a minimum here, as I strive to do in my day-to-day life, but I’m not making any
promises when it comes to rage, sadness, hilarious absurdity, serendipity,
ridiculousness, frustration, or joy. That shit is just going to come out
without a filter in this blog. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing it? If you wanted to read quality fiction, you
would read one of my novels. (Which I highly recommend, by the way.) But this shit?
This shit is real.
Let’s start in in
the fall of 2011. I was minding my own business. I stepped off the metaphorical
curb and got hit by a metaphorical bus. This bus had a fancy medical name:
necrotizing fasciitis. It wasn’t a term I’d heard of until the night of
December 4, 2011, when I lay on an exam table in my local emergency room, just
about dead, mumbling, “What happened to me?”
One of the
biggest, baddest mo-fos of the infectious disease world happened to me. At the
time, I had no way of knowing I had just been slammed by a headline-grabbing
disease that would mutilate my body and leave tread marks across the perfect
little life I’d created for myself. I had contracted what was commonly referred to as "flesh-eating bacteria,"and it tried its best to kill me.
Corolla, NC October 2011
Corolla, NC 2012
And none of it
made any sense. I was healthy, happy, and quite full of myself in the fall of
2011. I’d written two books and a novella that year. I’d traveled the world.
I’d been working out with a personal trainer and was stronger than I’d ever
been in my life. I was finally emerging from the dark post-divorce years and
was dating a hottie twelve years my junior. I lived in a pretty little house
with my wonderful teenagers and goofy dogs and believed that life was what I
made it – and life was wonderful.
So what if I
hadn’t been feeling so great for about a week? I was a little rundown. A little
stressed. I knew I didn’t need to see my family doctor because it was probably a
virus and it would go away on its own, the way it always did for me, a chick
who was fit and cute and talented and successful and dating a young hottie and
Beneath the flesh-eating bus I went, thrown by fate, or God, or karma, or the
laissez-faire randomness of the universe. Take your pick. Regardless, I should
have died. Almost two years later, I am still recovering, but I will never
again be that woman who stepped off the curb and into the path of this disease.
one has been able to figure out why I got ill, which is probably the most
maddening part of it all. There wasn’t a cut or scrape to be found on my body, but
strep bacteria had somehow wedged itself deep inside the flesh, bone, and
muscle of my left leg, destroying everything in it’s path. On that night in
December, I was helicoptered from my small town hospital to University of
Maryland Shock Trauma, already in septic shock. My blood pressure tanked and my
fever soared. My kidneys stopped functioning. I couldn’t breathe on my own. My
heart went haywire. Doctors said they’d never seen lab results like mine in a
patient who was still alive. When my brother pressed him, one surgeon said I had
a fifteen percent chance of survival, but admitted that was a generous guess.
He advised my family to prepare for my death and added that – if by some
miracle I survived – I would likely suffer severe brain damage.
And speaking of
odds, the doctors said that the chances of a healthy, strong, young(ish) woman
such as myself getting this disease out of nowhere was about as likely as a
person being hit by a train, struck by lightning, and contracting HIV in the
I’m alive and back at my laptop. But the real miracle is that I’m healthy. My
kidneys are normal. My brain works (well, my kids might challenge that . . .)
My heart is fine, though I now sport a precautionary defibrillator/pacemaker
that makes airport security more fun than ever. But I am healthy only because I
chose to amputate the diseased leg instead of take all the risks associated
with trying to save it. It’s a reality I’ll live with every minute of every day
for the rest of my life. It was the right decision, no question, but it still
seems like a bad dream sometimes. I wake up every morning surprised to find
only one set of toes peeking back at me, and it takes a moment to reacquaint
myself with the facts: I was hospitalized for three months, endured about
twenty surgical procedures, and really shouldn’t be breathing. This blog will
tell the story of my journey from near-death back to life, how a bestselling
romance author more accustomed to whipping up happy endings for fictional
characters has to find the courage to create one for herself in the real world,
a world very different from the one she’s always known.