Non-fiction Wednesday

I wrote this for a medical magazine but they said they didn’t need anymore content!

 

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Cars moved and people walked the streets outside my hospital room window perfectly oblivious to the fact that my entire world had been altered. I closed the curtains to my window on the children’s floor of East Georgia Regional Medical Center. Two days ago I had been forced into a campus security vehicle and driven from Georgia Southern University to the local hospital ER. I now considered this room with its pastel paint and rainbow curtains, a prison.

 

I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t happening and the events of the last two days had been a bad dream. Soon I would open my eyes and find that my body wasn’t rebelling against me and I was in fact normal. But then, I couldn’t deny the physical evidence. My palms were dry and the skin cracked no matter how much lotion I applied. I had lost so much weight my hip bones protruded and my normally round butt was pancake flat. Every time I washed my hair, or simply ran my fingers through, it fell out in clumps. I craved sugar all the time and even though I stuffed myself with sweets I didn’t gain the weight back . I had also developed an incredible thirst that was never quenched no matter how much I drank. This was perhaps the most disrupting symptom. My mouth was always devoid of any moisture even though I drank all day long. Every night either the terrible thirst or urge to go to the bathroom forced me awake so that I never felt fully rested. The constant need to relieve myself also made it impossible to sit through an entire psychology lecture. I walked around in a mental fog most of the time with only brief moments of clarity right after an exercise. I was later told that these were all the classic warning signs of my new condition.

Sitting on the hospital bed I fingered my Psychology of Gender textbook. There was an exam the day they rushed me to the hospital and my husband Eric brought my book so I could study for the make-up test. I had been even more foggy than usual that morning. Instead of going to class, I went to the health center and they gave me the diagnosis. “I can’t believe you drove all the way from Savannah in your condition!” The nurse who pricked my finger said. The word “diabetes,” was only slightly familiar to me. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. Eric once told me about a cousin of his who’d developed diabetes as a child.

         “Jesse used to be thin, but ever since she got diabetes she gained weight. She most likely won’t live very long because people with diabetes usually don’t.”

 

Of course these words had been said from one perfectly healthy person to another. That statement was all I knew of diabetes, that it made athletic people fat.

The nurse at the GSU Health Center pricked my finger twice because the reading was so abnormally high. The first time it said 567 and the second 564. This result sent the staff into an uproar proclaiming I needed to be rushed to the ER. With a blood sugar that high, they deemed me unable to drive myself. “I want to go home,” I told them. They ignored my request. I lived at least forty-five minutes from campus and they all agreed I needed emergency medical attention. They wouldn’t even let me walk to the waiting police car on my own. I was twenty-three years old and being pushed in a wheelchair like an invalid.

 

“No more sweets for you baby,” Nurse Janice said cheerfully. She come in to check my vitals and interupted my brooding. It turned out that this particular nurse was also diabetic and she tried to give me diet tips. In a nice way, she told me that everything with flavor was something I could no longer eat. I wondered if I would starve to death on this new diet? I certainly wasn’t going to gain any weight back.

 

Before Janice left she told me that a Diabetes Educator would be coming to visit. I took out a pad and paper and began to write down all the questions I could think to ask. I was looking forward to this visit because it was one of the requirements for my release. I tried to think of thoughtful questions but all I wrote down were stupid things like, “Is it still okay to drink alcohol?” Everything I worried about seemed meaningless when written down. I had diet questions but there were bigger things on my mind that I was afraid to say aloud. I had heard horror stories about diabetics with feet or even leg amputations. I was an avid jogger, or at least I had been.

 

The Diabetes Educator came night around nine o’ clock. She was a slight woman with bright red hair and glasses. She was more helpful than the doctor had been, and much more sympathetic. We talked for an hour and she gave me free blood sugar monitoring equipment and nutritional books. Her name was Ms. Duncan and she answered all the questions except for the one about alcohol. “You shouldn’t drink any alcohol,” was her answer.

 

I felt better after meeting with Ms. Duncan but it only lasted until they borught me my next completely tasteless “diabetic suitable,” hospital meal. It was enough to make me want to give up on life. The tray contained two paper thin slices of turkey with some snot colored gravy, a dinner roll as big as my thumb and a smell of canned carrots without a speck of seasoning. And for desert, sugar free jello!

 

Each meager hospital meal was accompanied by an inch long needle in the arm, thigh or stomach. They told me I would be insulin dependent for life and that giving myself regular injections was something I’d have to learn. I’d always had a healthy fear of needles and as a child it took more than one full grown adult to hold me down so a shot could be delivered. By day two of my current hospital stay I’d been stuck more times than in my entire life combined.

 

In addition to the insulin shots, a nurse came in at least four to five times a day to prick one of my fingers and check sugar levels. This was also something I’d have learn and demonstrate to the doctor before being released. When my nurse came in she handed the glucometer to me and even though it was only a finger stick, I handed it back to her every time. It wasn’t only the needle but the sight of blood, especially mine, that I couldn’t stand to see. I had to prick my finger then squeeze on it until the blood drop was fat enough for the meter to read. My nurse referred to that as “milking,” a statement that made me want to vomit inside my mouth.

“I just want to be normal,” I remembered saying to my doctor.

 

Dr. Gerges responded coldly by saying it was just something I would have to live with. No sympathy, no concern, I was just one of many miserable patients she had to see that day. After starting to leave for the night she turned back to me with her emotionless expression. “You’re young, maybe they’ll find a cure before you get too old.” I bet she was really thinking, “maybe they’ll find a cure before your feet get gangrene and have to be lopped off.” I hated Dr. Gerges for her terrible bedside manner. Logic told me that she hadn’t given me type 1 diabetes, but the fact remained that she was healthy and I was not. I hated her as I irrationally hated all of the medical staff at that moment.

 

On my last day they forced me to admnister the insulin dose myself by refusing to let me eat beforehand. I had the choice of either stabbing my thigh, buttocks or abdomen. The trick was to pinch a piece of fat and stab into it. The problem was I didn’t have much fat left anywhere. I decided to try my thigh. I was handed a needle, that seemed more like a harpoon. I was instructed to do it in one quick stab. I couldn’t even look at the needle before when I’d been given the shot and now I had to look because I had to aim it. I pinched a pale piece of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The medicinal smell of alcohol stung my nose as I used a swab to cleanse the spot I’d chosen. The needle was poised above my mound of skin and I started to push it towards the target, then stopped. I started and then stopped once again before I could push it in. I moaned in misery. This Nurse, her name was Hilde, was sympathetic and offered words of encouragement. I sucked in a breath and jabbed the needle into my thigh still holding my breath as I depressed the plunger. When it was over I still couldn’t believe I’d done that to myself. I wondered how I would ever get used to it.

 

Stabbing myself turned to be the first of a series of repetitions I would have to perform daily in order to live. I had to accept that I would never again eat a meal without having to first stab some part of my body. Food would need to be carefully measured to make sure I was taking the correct dose of insulin with my meal and also carefully planned so that I ate in four hour intervals. Either my thigh stomach or butt would always have an ugly black bruise from a misplaced needle stick. It was true that my life was never going to be the same, but it wasn’t over. Looking in the mirror that last day at the hospital, I did not like the hollow sickly face I saw with its thinning hair. I vowed to do everything possible to stay healthy and learn as much as possible about my illness. I would read up on the latest research and maybe even participate in walk-a-thons to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. I decided that if I had to be a person living with an incurable illness I wouldn’t be defined by that alone, and I wouldn’t let it win.

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In 2014 I participated in my first fundraising event for the American Diabetes Association as a “Red Strider.” I am currently participating in a year long research study which focuses on type 1 diabetics and the effects of a new pill on blood sugar levels. I feel proud to be contributing to the current body of knowledge about this illness and encouraged that I may one day be able to give the needle up for good!

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The Night Always Returns Pt (2)

The conclusion to my short story posted last week!

 

***

Dr. Pettigrew had various degrees on the wall behind her and a shelf full of psychology books to prove she was qualified to analyze and make decisions about what drug cocktail to try on people.  She had even been published a few times in Psychology Today. She wore a pinstriped suit jacket and skirt combo. Her salt and pepper hair touched her shoulders and curled under forming the perfect shape of a “Peggy Sue” Halloween wig. Sometimes I wanted to yank on it to see if it would come off. She held a pen in her hand but there was also one behind her ear as if she’d forgotten she put it there. Her official title was “Director of Mental Health” although most considered her to be nothing more than a glorified drug dealer.  She always asked the same questions every session and didn’t seem to care about having a real conversation.

“Lets start out with something simple,” she began. “How have you been lately?”

“Okay. I know this one. Fine.” I don’t like this woman. It’s obvious that she doesn’t give a shit about her patients; she’s going through the motions.

Dr. Pettigrew began writing things in my file and it was obvious she’d written more than just “fine.”

“Have you been sleeping through the night?”

“Yes!” Hardly. I answered that way too quick.

            “Do you feel drowsy at all during the day?”

“Not that I’ve noticed.”

“Do you have trouble concentrating?”

“Well it doesn’t take that much brain power to concentrate on TV, and that’s mostly all I’m doing these days. Oh and karaoke. I realize I have a decent singing voice.”

“Do you always do that?” Her painted red lips thinned into an angry line causing the color to bleed into the creases of her smoker’s mouth.

I was so mesmerized by those wrinkle lines I hadn’t realized she’d asked me a question. “Do what? Sorry?”

“Do you always deflect with humor? You hardly ever just answer a question. Everything is a joke with you.” She waited for an answer and then sighed and continued to scribble. “Any feelings of anxiety or nervousness?”

“No.” Of course! Wouldn’t you be nervous if a whispering cloud of death descended on your head every night?

“How are you doing with the Clozaril?”

“It’s good.”

“Really? Last time we spoke you told me you hated it. In fact you said, ‘I have no energy and it’s making me fat.’ Have you adjusted?”

“I guess. It’s not bothering me anymore.”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed and the entire shape of her face changed from patronizing to amused. She looked like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland flashing me all of her teeth. I could have counted them.

My skin reacted to the change in mood and my arms became covered in gooseflesh. The temperature seemed to drop five degrees in an instant. I’m not sure what I said to tip her off but that look in her eyes made all my body hair stand up.

“When did you stop taking the Clozaril?” Dr. Pettigrew’s tone was expectant. She’d caught me and now she took pleasure in my fear. .

“I’m not psychotic. I know what that drug is for and I don’t need it. There are real lunatics out there who think they know the president, who cry hysterically one minute and think they can conquer the world the next. I’m not like them. That drug isn’t going to help me!”

“It’s designed to help patients who suffer with auditory and visual hallucinations. You’re telling me that isn’t you?”

This is what she’d been waiting for. All these weeks she’d been biding her time and now she was forcing me to say it out loud. “I had them before I came to Whitetail. These last few weeks things have become clearer to me. I know the stuff I saw before wasn’t real.”

“So whatever you saw last night wasn’t real?”

I shot to my feet. Every instinct told me to turn and run. “Who told you that?”

“No one had to tell me, Avery. It’s obvious by those bags under your eyes. Your face is too pale; you’re irritable and clearly paranoid. I’m guessing you haven’t been sleeping through the night for weeks.”

“Bullshit! It was Jen, had to be. Or maybe Paige. I know that twat doesn’t like me.”

“Avery, sit down and stop swearing. Now.”

“Maybe I don’t feel like sitting down. I’m an adult you can’t make me sit down or tell me what the fuck to say!”

“Actually, I can do both.” She never raised her voice or swore but when Dr. Pettigrew became very calm, I knew something bad was about to happen.

The doctor must have had a panic button under her desk because two male orderlies burst into the room and grabbed me. I yelped as one man twisted my arm behind my back and marched me down the hall. It was a bad idea to fight. It gave them a reason to pump me full of sedatives. But I couldn’t control myself. All the pent up anger and fear I’d carried for so long exploded out of me. I finally had something physical to fight. I screamed at the two men that held me and would have used my fingernails if my arms had been free. No one had to tell me where I was headed, but I wasn’t going to make it easy.

Patients lined the hallway to watch as I struggled, cursed and kicked every step of the way. Some of the female patients cried.

A skinny black man in his pajamas shouted at the orderlies and waved a scrawny fist. “You can’t treat people this way!”

Paige was also present for my march of shame. She stood there with her head bowed and her hands covering her face. She might have been crying or laughing. It was impossible to tell. I was about to yell something at her but one of them men holding me wrenched my arm even harder and my threat turned into a cry of pain.

Dr. Pettigrew stepped out into the hallway to try and corral the other residents before they became volatile. “Everything is fine. Avery is going to take some much-needed rest in isolation. I need you all to go back to the yard or the community room.”

That was the last thing I heard before they pushed me into an empty room and strapped my arms down to the bed. It was soundproof so I could scream until my voice died and no one would come. I’d tested that theory my first week at Whitetail. Nurse Gabby came in with a large needle full of something foul to knock me out. I whimpered and struggled with my restraints but it was no use. I could do nothing to stop her.

I looked at the woman with tears in my eyes. I hoped she would take pity. “Please. Don’t give that to me. It’ll just make everything worse.”

Her brow furrowed in concern. She genuinely wanted to help and stroked the top of my head as if comforting a child. “After what I just saw outside, I’d say this is exactly what you need. You’ll feel more like your old self after you sleep. Just a little pinch now.”

I began to feel all the tense muscles in my shoulders release. I became warm all over as the drug dulled my fevered mind. “Will you stay with me?”

“You know I can’t, dear. I’ve got rounds to make.”

“Can you stay until I fall asleep?” I couldn’t move my arm but I opened my palm and mercifully put her hand in mine. Her touch was comforting.

Nurse Gabby looked over her right shoulder at the security camera. Someone was watching us. “Only for a minute. Until you’re asleep.”

When I next opened my eyes it was obscenely dark. My nurse was gone and her kind words had been replaced by a hundred whispering voices. It took a minute to orient myself but I soon remembered I’d been locked in an isolation room. I was alone, and very much not alone. I could feel the presence of it more than actually see it. The only window to the outside world was the one in the door and there was no light coming in through it. It gave me the horrible feeling that light no longer existed. Despite this, I could still see the nightmare. It was blacker than the darkest shadow and it floated above me, waiting. I wanted to make the sign of the cross but my arms were firmly flattened to the mattress. Did they leave on the restraints? No. It wasn’t anything as simple as that. It held me down. A wheezing sound escaped from somewhere in the center of the shadow. It was laughing at me. It had always been in my room waiting for me to go to sleep, for when I was the most vulnerable. The night always returned and with it my nightmare.

I held my breath and tensed every muscle in my body waiting for vicious claws or teeth to tear my flesh. It didn’t happen. The whispering grew louder around me and I felt my body press into the mattress so hard it hurt. A warm wet pool expanded beneath me. When it was inches from my face I had the sensation of something sitting directly on my chest. It was so heavy I couldn’t breathe and I wondered how much it would hurt when my chest caved in. Inside my head I screamed in terror. I wanted to turn my head away but couldn’t move. I had no control over any part of my body, not even my eyes. It forced me to stare. There was no face to focus on but something shifted and I heard sounds both deep and high pitched at the same time like multiple beings speaking at once. I was thankful I didn’t understand the horrible language.

I couldn’t open my mouth to pray but made a request inside my head, “Please God, let it be over soon.” The inky black miasma expanded like a cloud until it covered the length of my body. At least the years of torment would finally end. I felt tiny pricks all over my skin like tiny needles stabbing everywhere at once. It finally released my mouth and I screamed with my entire body. I was sure it was the last sound I’d ever make. Something ice-cold filled my gaping mouth and expanded within me. I stopped screaming.

***

Paige painted her fingernails silver and hummed along while listening to Green Day on her itunes.  She had the volume turned up in an attempt to drown out the birdsong outside. Wildlife had returned with a vengeance. Black birds this time. I have to admit I like them better. Today it seemed every black bird in existence congregated in the Oak tree right outside our window. An additional flock of them circled the air right above the tree protesting the lack of space to perch. I closed the curtains so Paige wouldn’t notice how many had gathered. It would only upset her to see the evidence.

“You’ve been coming around a lot more lately,” I told her.

“Yeah. You know, you’ve been a lot less annoying to me these past two days. I think I’ll stick around a little longer.”

“Thank you.”

Paige laughed. “Something is just different about you. It’s like the feeling I used to get like a thousand fire ants were biting me at once when I talked to you, I don’t get that anymore.

“Hmm. Jen never seemed annoyed by me.”

“Jen’s lame. Say, you got any glitter polish on you?”

“Sure. I’ve got some right here.” I retrieved a small green bottle from the top drawer of the dresser but handed Paige a silver glittery polish with tiny stars floating inside. I allowed my hand to linger over Paige’s enjoying the brief contact. “You’ve got nice skin, Paige.”

“Thanks, dude.”

“I’ve got someone I want you to meet.” You know, since we’re friends now.”

“No shit? You’re finally getting a visitor? Jen is going to be so jealous that I got to meet them. Who is it?”

“It’s a surprise. They can’t come until tonight.”

“But don’t visiting hours end at five o’clock? Did you get special permission or something?”

“You could say that. You’re going to be so excited. In fact, you might even piss yourself.”

 

 

 

 

The Night Always Returns Pt (1)

This is part 1 of an contest entry for Writers Digest Popular Fiction Awards 2015.  I didn’t win anything so I’m publishing my story here.  It’s too long to post the entire story in one entry so I’m breaking it up into two posts!  I’m sorry Writers Digest didn’t like my story, but hey, it was my first attempt!

 

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I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. The filmy t-shirt I wore clung to me as if I’d just walked out of a rainstorm. “God, please keep me safe,” I whispered into the air above the bed. I made the sign of a cross with my fingers. I wasn’t a practicing Christian but I always fell back on Bible verses when scared, or in this case, in the presence of pure evil.

A bedside lamp clicked on across the room. The illumination helped to clear the cobwebs from my head. My roommate Jen looked at me with eyes only halfway open. “Is it still here, Avery?”

“No. It’s gone.” My heartbeat so loud I was sure everyone in the ward could hear it. The black miasma that had floated above my head moments before, and held my arms against the mattress, was gone now. Like always, it had left no evidence of its existence, except my fear.

“That’s the third time this week, you know.   I don’t think this is going away on it’s own. You should probably tell Dr. Pettigrew. Maybe she can help.”

“No!” I jumped to my feet. “It doesn’t help to tell anyone, believe me.”

“You have to do something. Look at you! Your hair’s so sweaty it bled blue dye onto my shirt!”

I looked down to see dark blue stains dotting the collar of the shirt I’d borrowed from Jen. All my clothes were dirty because I hadn’t done laundry in over a week. Blue stains dotted the material in every spot where my sweaty hair had touched it. My sheets had stains, too. They should know better than to give white sheets to mental patients. “Sorry about the shirt, Jen. But hey, who likes Muse anyway? It was only a matter of time before Paige saw this shirt and cut it to pieces.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

A knock on the door stopped any further discussion of music preferences and I had just enough time to dive back under the covers before Nurse Tina’s round face appeared in the doorway. I arranged myself in a way that the woman couldn’t see the dirty pillowcase and sheets.

“Girls, it’s 2:45 AM. Why is that light on?”

I’m twenty-four years old and Nurse Tina always makes me feel like a guilty toddler. I feel no shame in being afraid of the big brutish woman. “Sorry!” I said. Although she couldn’t physically harm patients Tina could give out punishments and the isolation room was one of her favorites. I was terrified of that place.

The large woman looked around the room, fixed both of us with her most evil pig-faced stare and turned to leave.

“Miss Tina?” Jen asked in the smallest voice possible.

She looked down at her watch and tapped her toe on the floor. “What is it, Jenny?”

“Would it be okay if we left the lamp on? Just for tonight, I mean.”

Nurse Tina rolled her eyes and let out a huge expanse of air. “No.” She emphasized her point with a hateful yank of the lamp string. “And if I hear one more sound out of this room tonight there will be consequences. Got it?”

“Got it!” we said in unison.

I listened to her heavy footfalls until she was a safe distance away. “Why’d you do that?” I whispered and tried to sound mad at the same time. It was hard to make a whisper sound menacing.

“Well, you know, you usually sleep easier with the light on.” Jen made the Catholic cross sign over her chest despite that she’d been raised Methodist and had zero knowledge of Catholicism. “I wish we had a Bible. Maybe I’ll check one out from the library tomorrow.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t make a difference. I’ve tried sleeping with one before and it never helps. I think it’s because I don’t believe it will. At this point I’m not sure if anything can help me.”

I couldn’t see Jen’s face in the dark but I knew she pitied me.   I could feel her concern from across the room and it almost made me cry. Someone finally cared. In this cool still night with the moon hiding behind the Great Smokey Mountains, I could cry and no one would see. No one would think me crazy. It’s better if we don’t talk about it anymore. Talking about it makes it stronger.” I had no actual proof of that but talking about my nightmare was how I earned a nice mountain vacation at Whitetail Mental Health.

“Ok. But did you ever think that maybe the thing is back because you’re not taking the meds?”

Jen, who was also sometimes Paige, was a good friend but she was completely batshit. She had personality disorders they hadn’t named yet and even she thought I was hallucinating. If I could choose between schizophrenia and nightly torment from some spawn of hell, I’d gladly choose the former and take my pills. I didn’t fit neatly into a category, and antipsychotic drugs couldn’t cure my problem. “I’m still taking the meds,” I lied.

“Whatever you say, Avery. We’d better go to sleep before Stay-Puffed Tina comes back.”

If I weren’t so depressed about my situation I would have laughed at that comment. I was tired but too afraid to close my eyes again.   I knew that I could only stay awake so long. Eventually, I would sleep and the nightmare would come for me. I lay awake and watched the small shadows of feet walking by our bedroom door until dawn.

***

The next morning I was roused from sleep when a white-hot beam of sunshine stabbed me in the face. I recoiled in horror as Nurse Gabby pulled back the curtains. I opened one eye to see that the wall clock read 7:00. I must have dozed off for an hour. A grunt of disapproval from the other side of the room confirmed Jen was also awake, and not happy about it.

Nurse Gabby was humming a Taylor Swift song and pulling back the curtains. “Good morning, sleepyheads. Breakfast in fifteen. Oh and Avery, you’ve got Dr. Pettigrew afterward.”

Great. As if the sun bouncing off theses obscene yellow walls isn’t enough to cause a headache. Whoever painted the bedroom walls canary yellow probably thought they were doing the residents a favor by using a cheerful color. People in mental institutions are often depressed, which in my opinion is even more reason not to surround us with the most garish wall paint imaginable.

I sat up and wiped sleep from my eyes. “I didn’t think I had a counseling session until Tuesday.”

“I’m not sure kid, just delivering the message. You’re supposed to report to her office right after breakfast. Oh and you may want to grab a shower first so there’s still some hot water!”

Nurse Gabby was the polar opposite of Titanic Tina. She was young, slender and hadn’t been in the mental health field long enough to become bitter. No one had told her most of her charges had no hope of improving and she treated them like they were regular people worthy of her respect.

“Thanks for reminding me.”

When she left I noticed the room was uncharacteristically quiet. By this time of day a chorus of mockingbirds are giving me their daily serenade.  I looked out the window and didn’t see a single bird. It’s still too early in the year for migration. Strange.

            “Hey you got anymore black eyeliner? I just hate the way my face looks without it.”

Obviously, Jen was still sleeping. Paige was the only one that ever wore eyeliner.