|Dick Noll's Survivor Story|
my husband and I both survivors, however Dick was the one infected with
NF. It began on April 28, 2005, and we've recently celebrated a year of
recovery by visiting the ICU unit at Ohio State Medical Center to share
our miracle story which is what Dick's first ICU nurse, Christina said
would be the best way for us to say "Thanks" for all the hard
work the nurses, staff and doctors do to save lives and help patients
recover, and support families of those who do not.
My mother had to have a CT Scan on the morning of April 28. I convinced Dick to take the day off from work and go with me to take mom. She was on oxygen 24-7 and things always went easier with two of us taking her. So Dick stayed home to go with us to the clinic. I was immediately glad that he had stayed home, as when he went to get the car out of the barn, it had a flat tire. Dick quickly changed the flat and we proceeded to take mom for her scan. That afternoon, when we got home, Dick worked to repair the flat tire. Our truck had been giving us difficulty and so Dick also decided to do some repair, namely changing transmission fluid, to the truck.
When I got home from work at 8:15 that night, Dick was just finishing the work on the truck and as he stretched he said that he could tell that he hadn't done this (physical work) through the winter, his shoulder was sore. The evening was damp, and I suggested that he come inside and take a bath and get warm. Which he did. After that his entire body began to ache and he and I thought he was coming down with the flu. Something that Dick rarely got. Not that this is recommended, but in 25 years Dick had not seen a doctor, had accrued over 2600 hours of sick time at work, and generally recovered from anything, cold, flu, etc. within 24 hours. On Friday morning, it didn't surprise me when he got up and went to work. I was surprised when I got home from work and found out that he had come home early due to "the flu bug." I gave him some hot soup for supper and he ate it. He just sat around for the evening on the couch, still thinking he had the flu.
On Saturday morning, Dick woke up, saying he felt a little better and ate a little breakfast (he didn't have his usual appetite, but hey, he had the flu, nobody does, right?) We had tickets for a concert Saturday night and friends were coming for dinner, I asked Dick if we should cancel and he said "No." At noon, he even volunteered to do dishes. When he drew the hot dish water he began to have chills. He stopped washing dishes and went into our gas-powered fire place and pivoted in front of the fire trying to get warm. He went back in to lie down on the couch and spent most of the afternoon sleeping. He still did not want to cancel the evening plans. At supper, he managed to eat a bowl of vegetable soup, we had a good visit with our friends, and left for the concert. His fever escalated some while at the concert and when we got home, he took some over the counter medications and went to bed. In the middle of the night he woke up with diahrea and went down to the couch to spend the rest of the night near the bathroom.
On Sunday, Dick stayed home from church. It was late when I got home, due to a meeting following worship. When I got home, Dick sat up and ate some soup. Took some more over the counter meds and we talked for a few hours. He still was feeling just over-all achiness and the diahrea had subsided. We were still thinking flu, but agreed that if he didn't feel better by Monday afternoon, we'd need to get him to the doctor's. Dick's fever would elevate, but then he'd break into a sweat and it would drop. He'd feel better and get up to do something (he can't stand to be idle) and his fever would elevate again. Again, a common occurance with the flu.
On Monday morning, Dick said he was feeling somewhat better, but was going to stay home one more day just to recuperate more. He kissed me good-bye and sent me on to work to have a good day. What I found when I got home on Monday, May 2, was devastating. His left leg was swollen and blisters were formed all around the calf of his leg. Dick said that around ten a.m. he began feeling agitated and couldn't stay in one place for more than ten minutes at a time. He would go from the couch to our bed, he'd walk around, but the pain was too much. Seeing the blisters, he thought that he must have burned himself on Saturday when he had stood in front of the fireplace and he thought that infection must have set in. I took him to our area general hospital. When asked his pain level on a scale of 1-10 he said it was a 15 (and Dick never feels pain).
He shared his story of having stood in front of the fireplace and the doctor agreed that he thought it looked like a possible burn but questioned about whether Dick's pants had been burnt or singed. They hadn't been. He also began the medical questions, was Dick diabetic? To our knowledge he wasn't. They took a urine sample, they needed to catheter to get it, the urine was brown. The kidneys were beginning to shut down. The doctor said that since the "burn" was completely around the circumference of the leg, he would need to send Dick to the Ohio State University Medical Center's burn unit. We were in the hospital's ER from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. before they finally were ready for the transport.
We got to the OSU ER at 12:00 a.m. and Dick was pretty comfortable due to the two shots of morphine and the dicaden that the doctor had given him earlier. He was able to answer all of the doctors' questions and would drift off to sleep. Finally, at 4:00 a.m. they took him to a room in the hospital. At 5:00 a.m. I asked the nurse what was ordered on Dick and he said that at 10:00 a.m. he would have an x-ray and ultra sound. I told Dick I loved him and would be back shortly, I was going home to shower and would be back. My brother, who had made the trip to OSU with me, took me to my mom's where our son had taken my car from the initial ER visit. Mom insisted I rest for a while before going home to shower. When I finally got home I listened to my answering machine ... the doctor needed me to call him as soon as I heard the message.
I called, and what the doctor had to say was basically this: That during the hour surgeons would be evaluating my husband and that if their initial thoughts were affirmed that they would diagnose Dick with Necrotizing Fasciitis and would need to remove his left leg in order to save his life. Did I have someone who could drive me to the hospital and I would need to get there as soon as possible. They wanted my cell phone number in case they needed to talk to me before I could get there. I gave it to the doctor. Upon hanging up the phone, I read Psalm 121, "I look to the hills from where does my help come? It comes from the Lord who created all things.
I then called my brother to take me back to the hospital and packed several items into a bag to take with me. Before my brother arrived, I received another phone call, this time from the surgeon, he affirmed NF and explained the urgency to operate and amputate the left leg. He said that Dick had been responsive up to the point when they told him what they needed to do and then he became incoherent. I gave my permission for the doctor to do the surgery and wished him God's blessings. Before my brother and I got to the hospital, I received another call from the anesthesiologist. They were prepping Dick for surgery and he needed to know if Dick was allergic to any medications. To my knowledge, no. I was directed to go to the medical ICU unit waiting room, that Dick's surgery would be in progress by the time I got there and the surgeons would find me there.
When the surgeon talked with me at 2:00 that Tuesday afternoon, he was not very positive regarding Dick's prognosis. They had removed his left leg at the hip. It was up to Dick and God as to whether he'd recover or not. He was filled with a lot of fluids, he'd need dialysis, he was on a breathing tube, and vitals were very week. Oh and also, during the surgery they had discovered a rash on the right shin, and had drawn a circle (2 inches larger than the area) around the rash. Hopefully the antibiotics he was being given through IV would stop the spreading of the rash, but if not, they would have to operate and might possibly have to amputate the right leg as well.
I was allowed to go to Dick to visit him. He was so swollen where he was retaining water, it hardly looked like him. His ICU nurse was so comforting and reassuring that he'd have the best care possible. She had gone onto the web and downloaded the NNFF fact sheet, printed it off for me. She said that I'd be bombarded with questions and that this fact sheet would answer about 85% of all questions and was written in the most easy to understand language. Throughout the evening, I watched the rash on the right leg. It was spreading. Before I left ICU that evening I signed a DNR on Dick's behalf. We had discussed our feelings often, but had not signed DNRs or made out Living Wills (we now have done so).
On Wednesday morning at 6:00 a.m. when the hospital called me to let me know how Dick's night had gone, they informed me that surgery would be necessary and I should get to the hospital ASAP. My son and I got a ride to the hospital with our pastor and when we were at Dick's side the surgical team was there to greet us. They were getting ready to take Dick into surgery. His right leg was blistering just like the left had done. The speed of this disease is incredible.
At this point I told Dick (although he was unconscious) that if the gates to heaven were open and he wanted to go through them, then he should run for them, I would understand. But, I also told him that if he wanted to give it a good fight, then I'd be right by his side. I gave him a kiss and sent him along with the surgeon with whom I prayed and asked God's hands to guide hers.
Two hours later, Dick was back from surgery. The right leg amputated just above the knee. There was a wound-vac attached to expedite healing. His left wound had two draining sacks and was left open for healing to occur. I'm sure how many additional trips to the OR for debridement and closing of the left wound, I think it was four or five. On one trip to the OR, the surgeons were unable to do anything as Dick's blood pressure had dropped dangerously low and they brought him back to the ICU room without any treatment. One night in ICU, Dick experienced a heart attack, which follow-up ekg's and stress tests have shown no damage to the heart organ. He was on continuous dialysis for two days, then went to every-other day 3-4 hour dialysis, which eventually tapered down to as needed. Dick's kidneys recovered completely.
Dick was in the ICU a total of seventeen days. He was removed from the respirator on the evening of the fifteenth day and was eating ice cream on the sixteenth day. His first question was "what happened?" The doctors had told me that they'd be there with me when I tried to explain it to him; that wasn't necessary. I was able to convey it all to him, saying that every decision I made was guided by God. Dick assured me that God and I had done a good job! Due to the extent of Dick's unconsciousness, he awakened pain free and continues free of pain, except for some phantom feelings which he describes as annoyances rather than pain. He barely remembered the ambulance transport from the one hospital to OSU, but remembered well the concert we had attended.
He spent another week in the hospital and was transferred to Dodd Hall Rehabilitation. His total stay from arrival in the ER to going home was 45 days. During Dick's stay at the hospital, I stayed at my mom's apartment. She had cancer and was unable to go to the hospital, she was feeling useless, and by my staying with her I could assure her that she was providing me a respite and I could assure myself that she wasn't over-worrying about things.
When we realized we were coming home, we weren't sure how things would work out. We live in an old two-story farm house built in 1875 and our bedroom was on the second floor. We always parked our vehicles in the barn and walked through the barnyard and yard to the house. We had no ramp and had two steps to get up to get into the house. Our church, community, co-workers and friends came through for us. In the course of four days, they had laid a new drive way, poured a concrete parking pad, installed a ramp, cleaned our house, moved our bedroom downstairs, moving our dining room furniture upstairs, purchased us a portable dishwasher, connected the house to city water rather than our well water, put in a handicapped commode and installed a new bathtub/shower in the bathroom. Through the efforts of one dear friend, and a minor misfortune, our story made the local news and a dear, dear women gave us the money to purchase a new van, because Dick was going back to work, the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation paid for the adaptations to the vehicle and God continues to bless us daily.
Here we are a year later, Dick is working full-time at his job in Physics at OSU where he has worked for 32 years. His goal is to work 35 years before retirement. He wasn't a good candidate for prosthesis due to bi-lateral amputations and both being above knee. At 59 years of age, he has been an inspiration for many, he never gave up the fight and continues to see life as he always has, a challenge.
He and I have given several talks on NF and our survival story. We welcome other opportunities to share our good news, that we have survived and that there is hope. Dick said in an interview for the local news, "I haven't wondered why this happened, but, if by getting the word out there that this (NF) is a possibility for anyone, and it saves one person, then maybe that's why!"
We've been blessed that Dick's recovery has been quick compared to most survivor's stories. We've been blessed in that I can write this story as a survivor rather than writing it as a dedication. We were blessed that we had people praying for and supporting us, giving us the strength we needed...strength to face each day, rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made. Each night our prayers included all for whom this disease has affected, that they may find comfort according to God's will.
Copyright © 1997-2003 National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation (NNFF)
All Rights Reserved.
August 22, 2006