Joanna Schroeder examines what makes America so fascinated with Aimee Copeland and Necrotizing Fasciitis.
So here’s the deal, in case you have been under a rock the last week: This lovely and vibrant young 24 year-old woman, Aimee Copeland, was riding a homemade zip line and fell into a rocky section of the Little Tallapoosa River. She showed signs of infection, which eventually was discovered to be flesh-eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis. She was given chances of survival at “slim to none” but is since doing better. She’s lost a leg and will lose her hands to amputations.
But you probably know all that. Because we, as Americans and as human beings, are completely fascinating and obsessed with Aimee Copeland. It’s awesome that she’s such a survivor. I guess she’s been talking to her family even through her breathing tube, which was just removed to put in a trach tube. If you have ever known someone with a respirator tube down their throat, talking through it is no simple task. Learning to talk with a trach is easier, but still a challenge. Girl’s got spunk.
So what’s the deal? Why are we so fascinated? A person being so ravaged by flesh-eating bacteria is extremely rare. Is that it? The rarity? Shouldn’t we be more worried about car accidents, which are the single largest killer of young people in our country? Or does all of this play into our giant, overwhelming fear of the obscure and nearly-impossible dangers in life?
My intellectual reaction to something like this is, “Wow, this is rare, I’m going to try not to worry, and hope for the best for this girl’s health”… But what my heart said was, “This is a HUGE deal! This is the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever heard of! I must protect myself!”
So I posted a message on my sister’s Facebook wall (she, too, is in her mid-20s) saying, “I best not be hearing about you zip-lining over brackish waters.” It was a joke… Sort of. Not a joke about Aimee Copeland but about my terror at this nearly-impossible risk. And I put a fresh bottle of hand-sanitizer in my bag.
So why do we obsess on the incredibly rare, freakish and frightening stories?
It seems to me that we find comfort in learning more about scary things. We want to master them. We feel some control over our universe when obsess. We feel a sense of protection against necrotizing fasciitis when we type “girl with flesh eating bacteria” into Google and read an update on her condition. It is incredibly illogical, and yet it is somehow deeply human.
In reality, we know that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in young people. We know in our minds that instead of tweeting, Googling, and water-cooler-chatting about Aimee Copeland we should spend our energy trying to prevent people from doing proven dangerous things like driving while texting, distracted or exhausted. We know we should be changing the diets of young people so that massive numbers of them don’t die young due to Diabetes and other related diseases…
But it isn’t quite as thrilling, is it? Deep inside of us is a dirty little secret that there is a bit of a thrill in thinking about the horrific, the obscure, and the nearly-impossible.
Fact is, it’s human. And as this AP story explains, Aimee Copeland is reported to feel bolstered and honored that the entire nation is pouring out its concern and prayers for her.
So maybe there’s something good about our morbid fascination after all.
What do you think? Why do human beings so enjoy the thrill of the scary, horrific and the obscure?
Photo courtesy of the Copeland family