This story is over 5 years old.


My Favorite Disease, Noma

Brace yourselves. A lot of you will probably hate the photos you’re about to see in this article, but they’re not meant to make you feel sad and scared; they’re meant to make you understand something cool about your stupid face.

Fusobacterium, one special ingredient in Noma.

Brace yourselves. A lot of readers will probably hate the photos in this article, but they’re not meant to make you feel sad and scared, they’re meant to make you understand something cool about your stupid face.

One day I started thinking about hospitals, and how if we didn’t have them, we’d see a bunch of crazy shit straight up lounging right in front of us all day long. Then I felt kind of sad. How am I supposed to have an accurate perception of my life’s meaning if I don’t know how fucked up other people’s lives are?


That realization prompted me to start googling diseases in my spare time. There are just so many amazing things that can go wrong with the human body! Your dick can rot off; your ass can explode; your lungs can fill up with so much mucus that you literally die. From the MUCUS. But nothing—nothing in the world—is quite as spiritually riveting as a disease that can eat your face off. I’m talking, of course, about this fucking gem:


Noma, or Cancrum oris, is a gangrenous infection that pretty much only affects young children with poor hygiene and bad nutrition. In case you didn’t get the gist of what I was trying to convey through all of those italicized words, this disease is super fucked up and totally unnecessary! Maybe that’s the best part of the disease—if you’re a child who has food and water, you’re pretty much guaranteed not to get it. (Oof, I didn’t mean for that to sound so liberal.)

Let’s take a closer look at the disease!!!!!!!!!!

As you can see, Noma starts off around the mouth as a tiny ulcer on the gums. Then that ulcer quickly spreads to the mucus membrane of the lips and cheeks. Within just a few days, the gangrene will have eaten through muscle and flesh. As it spreads, a scab will begin to form, which eventually falls off and leaves a gaping hole in the middle of some poor kid’s face.

When I first saw these pictures, it made my body feel heavy. It also made me want to vomit. But now I look at them and think, This exists. This exists just as much as my mother exists and public transit exists—and apples, the solar system, triangles, and beach towels. Why do I have to treat scary diseases differently than anything else? I shouldn’t avoid something because it makes me want to puke and die. I should embrace it! Just like criminal lawyers and child pornography, plumbers and human feces, the cast of Jersey Shore and AIDS. I guess what I’m trying to say is that learning about the mechanics of things that kill us can be really fun and exciting, even though the end product makes people squeamish.


Oh, here’s a fun fact: Most people with Noma are between the ages of one and six. Sometimes even infants get it and their lips fall off and then they can’t breast-feed. Wait, why did that seem like an important fact at first? It’s not like the right to breast-feed is any more fundamental than the right to access clean water and fresh food. So what? Their mothers just have to, like, squeeze tit juice into the backs of their throats like a water gun? They’re probably still better off than any other kid with Noma who has lips because they don’t have the ability to intellectualize the whole experience.

As humans, we have this annoying tendency to seek out images of people’s faces. It’s like our thing, we just loooove looking at proportional eyes-nose-lips combos. So I guess what I find so interesting about NOMA is that it makes me acknowledge this through absence, and that, in turn, makes me want to spend way less time on Facebook and more time reading about bacteria.

In fact, it would actually be cool if someday I got to hang out at some of the hospitals in Africa that specialize in Noma treatments, like Noma Children's Hospital in Nigeria. Hell, I’d even be into spending time with a charitable organization like Facing Africa. But not because I, like, care or anything… Nope, totally don’t care. At all.

If you’d like to donate some cash moneys to Facing Africa or the Noma Children’s Hospital, click the links above.