Future News & Features Editor
When Audra Hughes, the director of the EOU production of “The Yellow Boat,” returned to Eastern Oregon University after spring break, many people noticed how tired she looked.
Few people, however, knew she had survived a life-threatening disease over spring break.
“It was a marathon of hell,” Hughes said, who had to be taken to several hospitals before being flown to the University of Utah, “and I had no idea what the hell was going on.”
Hughes went home after winter term thinking about her play. However, she also felt feverish. Her doctor, believing that Hughes had bronchitis, gave her antibiotics, but more symptoms appeared.
“When I woke up the next morning, there were some blisters in my mouth,” Hughes said. “They were really painful.”
Two days after receiving the antibiotics, Hughes woke up with red eyes and more blisters in her throat. Unable to swallow and barely able to breathe, Hughes was taken to the nearest hospital’s emergency room.
A doctor told Hughes, who could barely walk or speak, that her symptoms matched those of a rare but dangerous disease called Steven-Johnson Syndrome.
Steven-Johnson Syndrome, a serious skin disorder that affects only two to six out of a million people per year, starts with flu-like symptoms, but eventually creates blisters and rashes as the disease destroys the victim’s flesh.
Like the protagonist of her play production, Hughes ended up in a hospital bed fighting for her life.
“The Yellow Boat,” written by David Saar, focuses on a creative eight-year-old boy named Benjamin who accidentally receives AIDS from a blood transfusion; although the rest of his short life is spent in a hospital, he stays optimistic and draws colorful pictures.
Hughes, more terrified than optimistic, came close to losing one of her rash-covered legs to the disease (Steven-Johnson Syndrome); doctors even told her that her life was at risk.
“It got super-scary when the doctors would come in and ask if I had a living will,” Hughes said. “What was I supposed to do? Think of whom to leave the show to?”
Despite her circumstances, Hughes barely considered the possibility of not directing the play; she even contemplated having a video monitor set up at the hospital in order to direct the play from hundreds of miles away.
“If she wants something done, she’ll get it done,” Jeanie Nickel, a friend of Hughes and an actor in the play, said. “I literally think it would take death to stop her.”
After a week-long stay at the hospital, Hughes recovered from the disease and returned to EOU. Hughes still feels tired and weak, preferring to take elevators instead of stairs, but she believes that the disease could have been much worse.
Hughes now has a stronger perspective on “The Yellow Boat.” Although she didn’t have the same disease as Benjamin, her near-death experience has affected how she treats the play.
“Being in the hospital almost made me dread directing this play because I now know what it’s like (to feel like dying),” Hughes said. “It’s going to be very emotional. During the first read-through of the play, we all ended up crying.”
Despite the emotional weight of the play, Hughes is thankful that she is alive, let alone able to direct the play.
“(The disease) just made everything more important and more of a blessing to me,” Hughes said.
“The Yellow Boat” runs from June 6 to 8 at EOU’s Schwarz Theatre. Tickets are five dollars and can be reserved by calling the EOU box office at 541-962-3757.