Doug Ward

I recently spent 10 days in the hospital with NF. During my recovery, I have been learning more about NF through the NNFF website. (It's very helpful. Thank you!) Here's my survivor story. On the night of March 31, 2009, after a long day at work, I started to have chills. I thought that I was coming down with the flu and went to bed early. When I woke up the next morning after a restless night, I no longer had chills, but my right hand was swelled up. It looked as if I were having an allergic reaction to a very bad bee sting. There was also a line of redness going up my right arm to the shoulder. I had a class scheduled for noon on April 1--I am a mathematics professor at Miami University. I managed to give my lecture gripping the chalk holder with my thumb and index finger, which weren't affected by the swelling. I told my students that I would be in my office until 5 and invited them to stop by if they had homework questions. As the afternoon went on, I felt worse and worse and couldn't get any work done. At five I staggered home from campus and fell into bed. My wife arrived home from work a few minutes later, saw what condition I was in, and insisted we head to the emergency room immediately. I knew she was right. At the emergency room, I remember feeling a lot of pain in the hand. I moved it around continually, trying in vain to find a comfortable position for it. When I was taken to a hospital room that night, I was given some morphine for the pain along with the antibiotics. On April 2 I felt less pain, and the redness in my arm was quickly starting to fade as the antibiotics took effect. But my hand was not getting better. In particular, the little finger was starting to turn purple, and there was some discoloration in the ring finger too. A conscientious nurse, alarmed at the appearance of the little finger, called in our family doctor that evening to take a look. When he saw the finger, he contacted an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon took action immediately. He made several incisions to remove the infection, then packed the hand with antibiotics. This was the first of five times over the course of a week that I was put under general anesthesia so that the surgeon could remove infection and repack the hand. After the second round of surgery, it was clear that the little finger would have to be removed. The finger was removed in the third round, but by the fourth round, the ring finger seemed to be out of danger. The hand was sewn up in the fifth round, and I was released from the hospital on April 11. The long hospital stay was quite an ordeal. With an IV attached to my left arm and my right hand wrapped up and elevated, it was difficult to get comfortable or sleep much. But family and friends were very encouraging, and the nurses were extremely helpful. Over the month since my release from the hospital, life has been gradually returning to normal, and my right hand is becoming more and more useful. I started teaching again on April 22. On May 13 there's still some swelling in the remaining fingers, especially the ring finger, but my rehabilitation program is progressing steadily. I'm not absolutely sure why the infection hit or how it got started. The entry point seems to have been a small spot of poison ivy that had arisen between the ring finger and little finger. I have sensitive skin, and irritation caused by chalk dust may have helped the infection get started. I have read that people using steroid medication are more susceptible to this type of infection, and certainly the medication I occasionally use for seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic skin condition, contains steroids. But in any case, I have been extremely fortunate to survive the infection with only the loss of a little finger. I am still alive because my wife insisted we go to the hospital promptly, and because the nurses and doctors acted decisively to deal with the infection before it had progressed too far. For over a month now, my prayers have typically begun with the words, "Thank you for saving my life." When I look at my right hand, I think of God's deliverance and mercy.