bruises self-heal: the body in retrograde

content notes: overdose, emergency rooms, ambulances, vomit, brief mention of weight loss

There’s something about being in emergency rooms that always feels experimental to me. I don’t know how long I’ll be there. I don’t know how they’ll treat me. I don’t know how many other people will be there, or what I’ll be witness to, or if I’ll have an allergic reaction to somebody else’s perfume. I don’t know if I’ll cry or if somebody else will cry. I don’t know if I’ll have a panic attack.

Last week, I went to Toronto Island. I hadn’t been there since last Summer, and my day felt cut short when my hip joints spasmed and I fell again. I spent three hours sitting in the grass, reading, taking pills and more pills, unable to stand. I felt angry when people asked me if I wanted to go back. “I can’t.”

marandaelizabethhospitallegs
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s legs dangling over the edge of a blue-sheeted hospital bed. They’re wearing a black dress, purple- & black-striped footless tights, and a hospital bracelet. Their lavender cane is resting beside them, along with their purple backpack.]

But this Summer, after being given prescriptions for Cymbalta and Oxy-Codone, I began to experience a remission. It took me three weeks to even think of the word remission – it was that far away as a possibility, not even a part of my dreamscape. I’m still in pain, but I can walk more, I’ve had less headaches, less nightmares, and less sleep paralysis, and I have less anxiety and depression, too.

I don’t make a lot of impulsive decisions these days – booking a WheelTrans ride the day before going somewhere is about as impulsive as it gets. After booking my ride, I realized it would be the first day of Mercury Retrograde, but I decided to go for it anyway, to rebel against common astrological knowledge and go somewhere. I often feel like my body is in retrograde, but that day, I was playing with the boundaries of my body as well as the boundaries of Mercury.

marandaelizabetherfire
[image description: a burned out, empty firepit with bits of charcoal and a found piece of paper that says, “ER” in bold black letters. There are two pinecones nearby.]

Sometimes WheelTrans drivers are talkative, other times they are silent (you can guess which one I prefer). Sometimes they show up twenty minutes early, sometimes they show up forty minutes late. I keep a chair outside by my door, somewhere to sit and read while I wait for another unpredictable ride. The week before, my chair had been stolen. I’d written my initials, my address, and DON’T TOUCH ME in purple Sharpie on it, but I know nothing is ever enough.

On the way to the Island, the driver told me that his friends advised him not to take the job with WheelTrans because “disabled people are miserable.” Sometimes when drivers talk to me, I think they’re just trying to be kind, and I smile but offer short answers; other times, I think, emotional labour emotional labour emotional labour boundaries boundaries gimme back my token shut up stop looking at me. Once, a driver started a fight with another driver while I was stuck inside. Often, they try to buckle my seatbelt for me without asking first. One driver spent fifteen minutes stuck in a traffic jam, staring at my tattoos (and scars) and asking if they were permanent and how much money I’d spent on them.

The man who drove me to the ferry docks was delighted to find out that not all disabled people are miserable, and that he actually likes his job, and prefers driving a WheelTrans bus to driving a streetcar. He told me the streetcars on my street will be accessible soon, and I didn’t have it in me to explain to him that, no, they won’t be accessible to everybody, and they won’t be accessible to me, because some of us need more than a ground-level, stairs/barrier-free entrance to enter a space, to use a service. I also wanted to say that it’s totally okay to be disabled and miserable because we’ve got lotsa reasons to be miserable (inaccessible transit among them). But also, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to be outside, alone.

He brought me to a private entrance at the docks, where I was able to enter the ferry without paying the $7.50 fare! Mercury Retrograde was working in my favour. So I looked out the window for the ten minute ride, let my hair blow messy in the wind, and after stepping onto the Island, took an obligatory selfie with the CN Tower and city skyline behind me. Then I wandered off.

marandaelizabethfarawayrock
[image description: Maranda’s hand holding onto a rock from the furthest place they’ve walked this year. The rock is pale pinkish-coral with a translucent salty stripe through it. Their nails are painted deep violet. The shore and the beach are visible in the background. Black pen ink is smeared on their thumb.]

Wandering is not something I’ve been able to do for a long time. Before my chronic pain condition became what it became, walking and wandering, either to bookstores or with no destination in mind, were my favourite activity. But eventually, I couldn’t carry books, and then I couldn’t walk at all. I spent Winter housebound, and most of Spring, too. I lost twenty pounds. When I started taking new meds, I wasn’t expecting much of them. I was so desperate, I started taking flower remedies on the same day. I bought them at a witchcraft store around the corner from a hospital after crying in another doctor’s office as she told me there was nothing she could do for me.

On the same day, I canceled my WheelTrans ride home because I felt like trying to walk. And although it took a long time, and several breaks to rest, and several pills, I did walk home – it was the furthest distance I’d walked all year, a distance that was no big deal when I first moved to the city, but was an impossibility within a couple years. For most of Spring, I hadn’t even been able to cross the street to go to the park. I wanted a wheelchair, but I don’t live in an accessible building. I stayed in bed.

*

The first place I went to on the Island was the haunted lighthouse. The first light-keeper, John Paul Rademuller disappeared in 1815, and later, part of a human skeleton was found nearby. There’s a small altar devoted to him at the base of the lighthouse, to which I added a burning hot pink candle and some found stones. Self-heal, one of my favourite plants, grows in abundance on the Island, and circles the lighthouse – I picked quite a bit, pressed it in my diary, and will use some of it in future art projects (I’ve been painting!).

marandaelizabethlighthousealtar
[image description: an altar on the ground, with charred pieces of driftwood, the name and dates of the lightkeeper, scattered rocks, an empty bottle, and a burning hot pink candle.]

I brought crystals with me, of course: a fluorite worry-stone from my longest inpatient hospitalization, a citrine point, an amethyst point, a witch’s finger, a honey calcite teardrop, a rose quartz point, and a squirrel-shaped amethyst. I sat under the lighthouse for two hours before daring myself to walk to the beach.

marandaelizabethcrystalshand
[image description: Maranda’s left hand filled with the aforementioned crystals, a sprig of self-heal, a purple flower, on the ground below.]

As I headed onward, I found a $10 bill on the ground. More strange luck!

I played on the edge of the water, gathering stones, rinsing the sand from them, and placing them on a ledge to dry. The first rock I picked up marks the furthest I’ve been able to walk this year. I took the rock home and placed it on a newly installed floating shelf, which I found on the sidewalk up the road, more good luck, more city magic. On my way back to the ferry docks, I found a bushel of self-heal tied with aquamarine yarn, vintage images of the Island, and a bird’s wing.

marandaelizabethfloatingshelfartetc
<image description: A floating shelf on the wall. The walls are painted multiple shades of purple. On the shelf are a bunch of paintings, crystals, rocks, art supplies, a tiny blue vase with sprigs of rosemary, a plastic Care Bears cloud car, etc. On the wall above are pictures of Hello Kitty, Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, art prints by pals, etc.]

Last Winter, I went to the emergency room. It was late-November. I’d swallowed 20 Seroquel around noon. I swallowed them so I could make a decision. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to live or wanted to die, so I told myself that if I swallowed a bunch of pills, I’d find out – either my body would want more, and I’d take them and go to bed, or my body would reject them, and I’d go to the hospital and get my stomach pumped. My body accepted the pills, but my mind rejected them – it felt wrong somehow. I set down my glass of water and decided to take the streetcar to CAMH. I calmly packed my backpack. I brought three books and two notebooks because I didn’t know how long I’d be gone for, plus my toothbrush and my meds and maybe an extra pair of socks. I don’t remember. In my early-20’s, I used to keep post-its stuck to my bathroom mirror with lists of essentials for emergency rooms, and I would feel both embarrassed when I left them out when people stayed over, and annoyed that they didn’t ask me what the notes were about.

Disabled people are miserable.

I knew that the reasons I wanted to die, or the reasons I felt that living was impossible, were not something that anybody at the hospital could help me with. The less my body was able to do, the more isolated I felt. It would snow soon. The city felt like it was receding, becoming further and further away from me, and my life and imagination felt like they were narrowing down to nothing. I didn’t want to be here.

marandaelizabethhospitalbreacelets
[image description: Maranda’s left hand and wrist, with three plastic hospital bracelets: two white ones from the emergency room, and the aforementioned purple bracelet with black stars. They’re holding a deep violet, heart-shaped amethyst in their open palm.]

In my diary, I wrote: The suicide attempt rate among social assistance recipients is 18 times higher than among higher income individuals.

In my diary I wrote a quote: “Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” – Lucille Clifton

In my diary, I wrote another quote: “Fuck it, I choose myself, now or never.” – Chani Nicholas, Libra horoscope

I didn’t write all these things on the same day, but an overdose doesn’t happen all in one day, nor does a recovery, nor does a remission.

I got higher and higher on the streetcar as the meds began to take effect, and I remember laughing, but I don’t know why. In the CAMH ER, I approached the receptionist behind the desk.

“Oh, you changed your hair,” she said. “It looks great!”

“Thanks!” I handed her my health card and she gave me a clipboard with forms to fill out. I felt quite dizzy now.

marandaelizabethselfhealselfie
[image description: A self-heal selfie! Maranda Elizabeth is standing in front of the red door of the haunted lighthouse, holding onto a sprig of self-heal. They’re wearing bright fuchsia lipstick and pigtails. Their purple backpack straps are visible. They’re looking into the unknown distance. Their eyes are hazel.]

I check the clock between each encounter with staff when I can, just to see how long each step of the process takes. I almost never take names, though I always tell myself I will (actually, it took me two or three visits to remind myself to take names, take titles). I couldn’t read because I was passing out. I told the receptionist I’d overdosed again, and she called a nurse to bring me to another room. I’ve had my stomach pumped, and I’ve drunk charcoal, and I’ve been in comas – I once had a CT scan to see whether or not I was brain dead, but obviously I wasn’t conscious for it – so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to hook me up to something (saline?) and revive me, but instead they brought me to interview after interview, where I repeated the same answers to the same questions.

They wanted to know what triggered me, what brought me here, why I took all those pills. My reasons are frustrating because they can’t respond productively to them: “I’m not sure” or “cumulative trauma” or “poverty” or “loneliness.” “Resurfaced memories.” “A book I was reading.” “A dream I had.” “I’m afraid that everybody who hasn’t left me already is gonna leave me soon.”

I also told the nurses that the last time I was at CAMH, a nurse on the inpatient ward had tried to confiscate my cane because she thought that either I or another patient (or inmate, or client, or or or, whatever you prefer…) would use it as a weapon. I told her this had been traumatic for me, and that it could not happen again. They gave me a purple bracelet to wear alongside my hospital bracelet, denoting that I was using a mobility aid, and that it was real and could not be taken away from me. I didn’t know until then that such a bracelet could be issued. And it was purple!

As I responded to a nurse who asked me to describe my current feelings, another nurse entered the room and announced, “But you look badass!” I wondered if she’d had too much caffeine that shift, but/and I felt a real affinity for her, and was glad she’d arrived at just that moment.

Paramedics arrived, too. I was told that they didn’t have the medical equipment to treat overdoses in the CAMH ER (?!), that they’d have to bring me to another hospital. The paramedics brought a stretcher. I insisted I didn’t need it. I rested my backpack on the stretcher and walked with them instead. The badass nurse followed me.

marandaelizabethsmokyquartzdonttouch
[image description: Maranda’s hand touching a giiiant smoky quartz crystal that probably weighs 1,000 pounds. The quartz crystal is clear but cloudy, with black and grey shades and remnants that looks like smoke. There’s a sign in the background with a symbol indicating Do Not Touch.]

They brought me to an ambulance. I’d never been quite conscious in an ambulance before, nor had I been in an ambulance without laying on a stretcher, needles in my flesh, eyes closed, disoriented.

I was still disoriented, but I was able to sit up. Soft Cell’s Tainted Love was on the radio. My back was faced to the driver’s seat, so I watched everything curve and disappear backward from the window on the backdoor. I knew the street should be familiar, but I felt lost (later I realized it was a short ride: South down Spadina, West on Dundas to Bathurst). The nurse and paramedic in the back talked to me to keep me conscious. I don’t remember what they asked or what I answered, but I think I talked about how novel it was to be awake in the ambulance, to look out the window. I remember asking them if I’d be billed for the ambulance ride, and feeling disappointed when they said yes. After every ambulance ride I’ve had, a $45 bill has arrived in the mail two weeks later. I’ve never paid it. This bill never arrived.

At the next hospital, the paramedics left me behind, but the nurse stayed with me. Two cops were instructed to accompany me. I was much hazier now. They asked me what happened, and I said, “But I hate cops.”

As I sat in the waiting room, they watched me. Each time I talked to another receptionist, another nurse, they came with me. They asked me more questions. The badass nurse kept telling me she was sorry, and that she was glad I’d come to CAMH even though they couldn’t do much. After I was registered, she left. The cops stayed.

More interviews. I was given a bed. Blood was drawn. I fell in and out of sleep. As one nurse trained another in how to draw blood, I had to keep telling him to please stop using my leg as an arm rest. One of the doctors told me she wished CAMH would spend more money on beds and less money on branding and marketing (me too – also, classes in active listening or something, my gosh).

There was nothing anybody could do. I was discharged that night. I came home at midnight. I didn’t read any of my books. I didn’t write anything. I went to my regularly scheduled appointments the next day and didn’t say anything about it.

*

While I was under the light house, my left leg, and then my right, and then my back, fell under a spell of painful sensations that felt like a bunch of burrs and pins and needles were trying to escape from underneath my skin. I thought, “Oh, it’s just ghosts. I’m used to this.” It persisted for half an hour, and scratching made it feel worse, but leaving it alone felt terrible, too. I’d sprayed bug spray on my exposed skin and black dress, a natural homemade spray that smelled so good I wanted to drink it, and kept writing through the pain. I didn’t write about the pain, and I didn’t tell anybody about it either, because I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to not be real, or not be worth worrying about.

The next day, I visited crystals at the Royal Ontario Museum. I hadn’t been there for two and a half years because my body couldn’t do it, although sometimes if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d go into to gift shop and find another chunk of amethyst to bring home. I’ve re-named my apartment Amethyst Cathedral. At the entrance to the exhibit, I felt as though I were reuniting with an old friend. I wanted to hug the amethyst. I wanted to ask it questions.

marandaelizabethamethystfriend
[image description: Maranda standing beside a very large amethyst crystal, befriending & reuniting. They’re wearing a black dress, purple backpack, and pigtails. They’re holding onto their lavender cane, which has stickers of moons on it. The amethyst is very bright, and the museum lights have made their pale white skin glow beyond ghostly.]

Inside the exhibit, I took my photo with an amethyst cathedral. I didn’t realize until I looked at the photo later that it looked like a hermit carrying a lantern. I knew I was listening when I held onto it, but I didn’t notice its lantern. Now I feel like it’s become another friend of mine.

A few days later, I noticed mysterious bruises growing around the bug bites from the Island. I panicked. I googled. I knew there had been warnings about ticks carrying Lyme disease on the Island, but I thought I would notice them if they showed up. I had in fact thought about the ticks while experiencing the ghost fingernails scratching my legs and back under the lighthouse, but ghosts made more sense to me than bugs – they felt safer.

Before the bruises, I had another migraine. It only lasted three hours, but it was excruciating, and since I was too sick to get out of bed, I puked all over my floor. Multiple times. I then became delirious, and heard poems being recited to me, but I couldn’t write them down because my body was too weak and my head felt like it was being crushed with heavy metal clamps secured around my eyes, which I couldn’t open. I could see pages turning in front of me, but couldn’t hold onto them.

When I began to come to, when I was able to open my eyes and lift my head, I saw that my vomit had swirled to form a moat around my bed, and my bed now felt like a castle. I hadn’t eaten that day, so my puke was just coffee and bile, but there was a lot of it. None of this was unusual to me, except that I had taken one Tylenol 3 and 2 Teva-Sumatriptan, and I couldn’t feel them doing anything. I was shivering and sweating.

The bruises seemed strange to me. I bruise easily. I’ve had all kinds of mysterious bruises appearing on my legs since Winter, and my doctor doesn’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, so I tell myself that they are from the ghosts, too. Sometimes I think they’re fingerprints from a long time ago. But the most recent bruises freaked me out, so I went to the ER. I thought I better get antibiotics ASAP, just in case.

I wondered if I was being paranoid. I wondered if I was confusing Lyme symptoms with fibromyalgia symptoms, since they’re so similar. I wondered if I was bored and my borderline blood just needed another excuse to go hang out at the hospital for a bit. I took my time choosing a book to bring with me for the waiting room. I went. It wasn’t walking distance a few months ago, but it has been this Summer.

marandaelizabethcrystalsselfheal
[image description: a small crystal grid on the ground under the lighthouse. The crystals listed earlier are circling a self-heal plant, with the squirrel-shaped amethyst on top. Maranda’s left hand holds onto a small bottle of Saint Dymphna oil, pale minty green with plant bits floating inside.]

There’s no privacy in emergency rooms. Open doors, walls made of curtains, chairs squished too close together. When the intake nurse asked me if I take any meds, I gave her my long list, and when she asked what they were for (or what, specifically, the Seroquel is for), I said, “Borderline personality disorder and complex-PTSD” without thinking, and then neglected to mention fibromyalgia because sometimes my memory blanks out in those situations. I knew she was probably asking me what exact symptoms the Seroquel was for, but I didn’t feel like getting into specifics – while I was unashamed to name my diagnoses in front of twenty people, the symptoms I’m managing are pretty much unrelated to bug bites. I think. When the man she’d spoken to before me told her that he used to be a cop but now the cops were hunting him, and no, he didn’t need to see a psychiatrist, several people in the ER laughed at him and made no attempt to conceal it. But those are the guys I tend to feel an affinity with. In that waiting room, despite only being there with bug bites and bruises, I wanted it to be clear that I was on the crazy side, not the laughing-at-the-crazy side.

There was a note pinned to the bulletin board behind the intake nurse: “STAFF: DO NOT SNOOP THROUGH PATIENTS’ FILES.” I listened to the ways the staff invalidated multiple patients, no matter what they were there for. When an adult woman announced that she was looking for a wheelchair for her mother, a nurse admonished her to use a quieter voice. At least three staff asked me if I’d banged my leg recently. One nurse kept her foot outside of the room as she asked me about my symptoms, and kept trying to step out before I’d completed my sentence. Two paramedics discussed just exactly how much cream they’d like in their coffee while a man on the stretcher they were pushing moaned and moaned.

I took notes this time, because I was conscious, because I’d taken a Xanax, because nobody was telling me to calm down or confiscating my stuff or telling me they couldn’t help me. I signed my name on a clipboard at 4:13. I was registered by 4:40. I was given a plastic bracelet at 5:00. I was seen at 5:40. I was discharged at 6:10.

A Code White (actual or potential violent or out of control person) was called while I was in the waiting room, and then called off. I’d almost brought the novel Code White by Debra Anderson with me, but had chosen A View from the Bed: And Other Observations by Jenny Diski instead. I read the first 45 pages.

The doctor asked me if my cane was new. It was resting against the bed I was sitting on. He picked it up and moved it out of his way. I took it from his hand. I didn’t want to have the “Do Not Touch My Cane, Ever” conversation. I said, “No, it’s not new, it’s for an unrelated chronic pain condition, I’ve had it for two and a half years.” He insisted the bug bites couldn’t be from a tick.

The last time I’d been in the ER for a non-mental-health-related ailment was about a year and a half ago, when I fainted while I was alone and thought I had had a seizure. I fell, lost my vision, bruised my hips and arm, and my mouth tasted like metal. It happened while my twin was in a med study, undergoing a CT-scan that she was warned might cause seizures. The doctor in the ER told me that nothing in my exams or blood work showed anything that could have caused fainting or seizures, and that my intuition that it was just another weird twin thing was his best guess, too.

marandaelizabethamethysthermitlantern
[image description: Maranda wearing the same outfit described earlier, standing beside an amethyst cathedral. The crystal is approximately five feet tall, but it is on a podium, so it’s towering over them. The shape of the amethyst cathedral is extremely and eerily reminiscent of the silhouette of a cloaked hermit holding onto a lantern.]

The doctor decided it must have been a different kind of bug that bit me, and gave me a prescription for antihistamines instead of antibiotics. I educated him on areas of the city where Lyme-carrying ticks have been found, as well as common early symptoms, and the fact that not every bruise is a bulls-eye, but mine had definitely formed around bites. I didn’t tell anybody about my other mysterious bruises because I wanted them to believe me. I told the doctor I was experiencing my first remission in seven years, and I refuse to let a tick bring me back down. And then I left. I found a dead butterfly and pressed it into my diary.

I recently had bruises tattooed on me, but I didn’t tell anybody at the hospital about that either.

On my way out, a woman using crutches emerged through the sliding door exit and exclaimed at the man she was with: “I TOLD YOU IT WAS REAL. I TOLD YOU I WASN’T LYING. I BROKE MY FUCKING COLLARBONE.”

Bruisingly Yours,
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P.S.: My annual P.O. Box fee is due! It costs $202.27, and so far, I’ve been given about $40 from readers to help me pay to keep it another year. My P.O. Box is a very good, but unfortunately very expensive, friend of mine. Having a P.O. Box ensures that I can send and receive mail uninterrupted despite perpetually unstable living situations, as well as keep the creeps away from my doorstep. When I moved to Toronto a few years ago, postal workers were kind enough to arrange for me to have a mailbox with a number I love! If you’re fond of my zines, my writing, and me, please consider offering a contribution to help me out, or ordering some zines at schoolformaps.etsy.com. Information on how-to-contribute can be found below the following image.

marandaelizabethpoboxdue
[image description: Maranda’s left hand holding onto a receipt stating that their annual P.O. Box rental fee is due as of September 2016.]

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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