Stickers and Beeping

I am patient and polite with the experts because my life is quite literally in their hands, under their stickers, compressed into a luminescent, zigzag display in a darkened room that only they can read.

Why can’t I breathe? I’m sure that’s something I can normally do.

Dark, black, bad. An evil courses through my bloodstream, drags part of me out through the small of my back. This isn’t what falling asleep normally feels like. 

You need to get up now. It has to be right now. Something burns yellowish and grey at the edges of me. You are going to die here, if you don’t do something right now. 

Paramedic #1, Lucky, holds a long, fine needle plugged into a white plastic port. It punches through the skin and slides into a bruising vein. Shzoom, shzoom. It doesn’t feel like the ambulance is moving but it must be. The traffic sounds morph around us while the stretcher’s chrome bars double and triple beside me, trembling. 

“Can you try,” Lucky asks politely, “and stay conscious for me, please?”

I wasn’t aware I hadn’t been staying conscious.

“Yeah? Okay.”

Two stars sit embedded in smog, winking astigmatically at each other across a looming cloud. We wait outside glass double-doors by the intercom. A paper note beside it declares that the BELL BUTTON BROKEN BUT OK WORKS. Laughter is tricky, but I manage it. Cold air settles on burning skin. When the doors whoosh open, the paramedics wheel me in.    

We wait in a corridor outside triage for a long time. Seven square stickers with plastic hooks connect me to a beeping machine. Chest, abdomen, back. Men I don’t know have to put their hands under my clothes, all so little coloured lines can zigzag up and down. 

Paramedic #2, Manny, asks me if I’m having trouble breathing. I am. He puts a grey clip on my finger to get my heartrate and wraps a blood pressure machine around my arm. He waits for it to be done, gets a funny look on his face and leaves very calmly in a way that makes me think perhaps he isn’t very calm.

Lucky murmurs, “Hypotensive…and what do you take the agomelatine for?”

“It’s for anxiety.”

“Are you anxious right now?”

“Wh- kind of, I guess.”

Someone with the word RESUS on his shirt talks to Manny and I wonder what he’s doing here. I’m not being resuscitated.

It dawns on me that they’re waiting here in case I need to be resuscitated.

I feel a bit more alert, and quietly think about LED lights and turtles in Victoria Park until a doctor comes. She tells Manny and Lucky to put another line in, and that I can go to the next room once that’s done. They nod and fetch the equipment. 

“Do you know what you’re allergic to?” I’d forgotten she was there. 

“Um, no, I have known idiopathic anaphylaxis,” I say, trying not to think about how oxy-fucking-moronic that sounds. “I just go into anaphylactic shock sometimes. They think it’s a combined stress trigger.”

She’s not convinced and asks about everything I’ve eaten, drunk, whether I’ve gone anywhere new, washed my clothes in something different?

No. No, no and no.

My GP’s chair squeaks on its way to her short desk. She asks if I’ve been stressed lately. 

“Like, aside from a simmering awareness of my own mortality?”

So many days I am patient and polite with the experts, because my life is quite literally in their hands, under their stickers, compressed into a luminescent, zigzag display in a darkened room that only they can read. Today, I don’t like how this doctor is looking at me, like this is somehow my fault.

I’m weary of watching my feet push a wrapper around a greasy, tiled floor while I try not to vomit in public. I’m done with professionals patronising my lived experience and done with this ugly, killing thing resting namelessly in my autoimmune system. As nurses wheel me from room to room, I toss around “idiopathic anaphylaxis” and “suspected MCAS”, but none of these terms mean anything in particular except for “essentially untreatable with the information available”.

Now, I hear beeping everywhere: bus bells, open fridge doors, Skype’s trilling ringtone. I feel phantom stickers on my breast, lower back, collarbones, belly. It’s never the same places. After each hospital visit, I sit at the bottom of my shower searching for them, peeling them off. Hot water runs down my back; it makes the scabs sting.

You have to get up now. It has to be right now.

But the water keeps on running down my back.  

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