Warning: Graphic images below
I lifted another box and sighed in frustration.
"Unpacking never ends," I said to my husband, Alister.
He nodded in agreement.
We'd just moved to a new house with our three kids: Finley, seven, Orson, five, and Winston, three, and it was taking us forever to get everything into place.
I'd noticed my hands had gotten scratched and cut in the process, but I didn't pay much attention until I saw the bottom of my right ring finger was all swollen and red.
Must have got it caught on something, I thought.
But when the swelling increased and the pain got worse, Alister stepped in.
"You need a doctor," he said.
I thought he was just overreacting, but a doctor took one look at my finger and declared that it was infected.
The intravenous antibiotics made no difference.
The pain was still extreme and my whole right hand swelled up so badly that I had to spend the night in hospital.
"You'll be home by morning," a nurse soothed.
When I woke up in the night, I took one look at my right hand and screamed.
"It looks like an inflated balloon!" I cried.
My hand had doubled in size and the swelling had travelled up my arm, too.
I was worried my hand might actually explode!
Doctors were also concerned and arranged for immediate surgery to try to reduce the swelling.
During the op, an incision was made from my hand up to my elbow.
They also tested my skin to find any reason for this infection.
I woke up expecting to hear that everything was better, but my arm was still swollen.
Not even doctors could tell me why.
Over the next two days, I went under the knife twice so they could do more tests.
Then a surgeon came in to speak with me.
"Clare, I'm sorry," he began, "you have necrotising fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that's often referred to as a flesh-eating bug."
My mouth dropped open hearing the words.
"So it's eating my arm?" I cried.
How could I have a living thing inside me, feasting upon my body like a meal?
My blood ran cold when the doctor explained I'd need emergency surgery to cut out the dead tissue and stop the infection from spreading.
When I broke the news to him, Alister wrapped me in hug as I began to howl.
I was too young to die and couldn't bear the thought of never seeing my kids again.
That night, I penned a letter to them.
I love you so much. Be good for your Papa, I wrote as I choked back tears.
Being wheeled away for the operation was terrifying.
I might wake up without a hand, an arm or worse, I might never wake up at all.
But when I came to, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as I glimpsed my right arm still there.
Staring at the huge black stitches in my hand, I listened attentively as I was told I'd need more procedures to wash it out and keep it clean.
Then, I'd require a skin graft to cover the area where the dead skin had been removed.
I took a closer look at my ravaged hand.
"I look like the victim of a shark attack!" I joked to Alister.
We both laughed. What else could we do?
Being in intensive care was grim.
I barely got to see my kids as we didn't want to scare them.
But Alister was with me every moment he could be, cheering me up when all I felt like doing was crying.
Two weeks later, I had another operation.
Skin from my right inner thigh was used to cover the flesh removed from my hand and arm, making my fingers looked webbed like a duck's foot.
It was so odd to see the freckles that had once dotted my leg now part of my hand.
The flesh-eating bug had certainly altered my appearance, but being with my family far outweighed any vanity I had.
I simply felt lucky just to be alive.
It also meant starting over again.
I had to learn to write with my left hand.
The spidery scrawl was barely legible at first, but with time and practise I got better.
I went on to have intensive physiotherapy to stimulate movement in my right hand, followed by more surgery to separate my webbed fingers.
My right hand was still much larger than the left, so this year I underwent liposuction to reduce the size.
Back home, I cherished every moment with the kids.
"Mama, we're so glad you're still here," Winston told me.
His words choked me up. It's true, I could have easily died.
Scarily, doctors still couldn't figure out how I'd got infected.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it had happened when I'd banged my finger while moving.
"How could something so small be so deadly?" I asked Alister in shock.
"You're here now, and that's all that matters," he said.
We took the kids to the park, and I was even able to push them on the swings.
Recently, I've even returned to driving.
Getting behind the wheel is a great feeling after months of having no freedom.
Now, I'm determined to regain more movement.
My dream is to be able to pick my children up properly again and hug them without being in pain.
There's no denying I've got a long road ahead of me but with my hubby, our kids and family members by my side, I know that I'll make it through.
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