Dolores (Dee) Redfearn is the author of “Paper Cut,” the first essay featured in the current issue (Vol. 80.1) of the North Dakota Quarterly. Her essay is about her struggle with necrotizing fasciitis, which she defines in the essay as “an insidiously advancing soft-tissue infection of the flesh-eating kind,” that stemmed from a mere paper cut and almost caused the amputation of one of her fingers.
The following is an interview with Dee about her essay and a more in-depth look at her struggle with NF.
I think one of the elements of “Paper Cut” that drew me to it was the use of the date and time as a way of breaking down the events. Did you or anyone close to you keep a journal or anything during this time that helped you to retell it in story form, or did you write it from memory?
I did not keep a journal. I was too busy living the experience to think of anything else but how to get through the night. Being in the moment is all I could do which, as I reflect, is the best way for a writer to be. I had to rely on memory and medical records that were released to me from Star Hand Clinic after the fact.
The way that you write takes the grotesque subject and makes it incredibly more interesting and also a lot easier for someone with a weak stomach to enjoy. Was this a conscious effort, or were you just trying to retell your horror story?
I was just telling a story. What you read was my voice, no conscious effort to introduce a comic element. I am however, (so I’ve been told) a natural story teller. Serious demonic subjects cannot be construed to be comical. The out-of-the-blue comments may well have been induced by drugs. I have no idea. But I do know that I wouldn’t dare try to inject comedy, for sure it would sound fake.
One of my favorite passages from the story is when you introduce the conversation with the infectious disease specialist and you give the reader a peek into what you were thinking; “Should I eat more garlic? Wear an amulet? How can I keep life-threatening bacteria at bay?” Was this done in an effort to make the subject more comical and/or relatable (because in my opinion, it definitely does) or was it simply a recounting of your thoughts at the time?
I don’t believe I made a conscious effort to set the tone of how the piece turned out. I did think about how to keep tension. But if you were to ask me specifically how I did it, if indeed I did for the reader, I couldn’t say.
At the end of the story, you question whether or not you made the right decision to not amputate. Are you happy with what you chose? Do you still see yourself as “one of the lucky ones”?
Yes, at the end of my story I question as to whether I made the right decision to not amputate. I wondered this after my fourth and little fingers rendered themselves immobile after all the bandages were removed. Not to be able to consciously move them was frightening. There is a club of NF survivors who chose prosthetics. They are photographed online with their prosthetic digits smiling and holding up glasses of wine. So yes, I sat for a while in physical therapy wondering. Now, after the fact, I feel I definitely made the right decision for me, for all the reasons I mentioned in the essay. And most definitely I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The synchronicity of events lead me to often wonder if it was fate or chance that had my girlfriend insist I stop at Saint Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital that happens to have the best hand clinic with the one of the top hand surgeons; I happen to believe I am a lucky lady.
The subject of “Paper Cut” would be something incredibly hard to make up. Have you had any other huge events in your life that have influenced your writing?
I write whatever is at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes subjects or experiences linger a long time. I mean really stew in my mind while I walk, stare, or whatever, before I write one word. Also clips or headlines or human interest stories from newspapers jog an idea.
Can you describe your writing process with something like “Paper Cut”?
I can’t describe the process for writing “Paper Cut” except write and rewrite. It didn’t flow until I decided on a timeline as a form. It was difficult for me to write. To decide on a form that would lend itself to retaining the tension that could best relate the actual experience took several rewrites, but I suppose that’s just a writer’s process.
Are you working on anything currently?
Yes, I am working on something different for me. I have put my collection of stories on the back burner to work on a non-fiction book about a small town female journalist who dares to uncover the truth about one of the most ruthless political bosses of the ’50s and lives to win a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a challenge but exciting to wake up for.
I believe we as writers are what we write whether fiction or non-fiction.