I was tortured by people I was told to trust. I lay on the floor, my legs had given way underneath me on the way back to my room. The last thought I had was getting back there and now, it was the entirety of my thoughts – like a broken record. “Got to. Got to get back. Got to get back to my room.”
The wisest course of action would have been to stay where I was and recover completely. But no logic remained. My brain had been shattered. The broken record was stuck on whatever my last thought had been. “Got to. Got to get back. Got to get back to my room.”
So, I crawled.
I gained ten metres before everything stopped. There was no violent seizure. Just nothing. I lay there in nothing until the muscles in my arms twinged and I continued my crawl. “Got to. Got to get back. Got to get back to my room.”
A fellow inmate saw me and sat with me while I crawled.
“Are you hungry?” She asked, “Looks like you’ll miss dinner.”
I nodded. The bridge between what I wanted to say and the ability to say it had collapsed long before I had.
“I’ll get you some sandwiches and some biscuits when I go to dinner.”
I nodded again and she disappeared.
I had gained seven metres before I fell back into nothing. Others walked by. A nurse came directly towards me. Refusing to eat dinner was a capital crime. Her shoes looked angry.
I lay there unable to move or speak.
“Stop this silliness and get up.”
She grabbed an arm and pulled. I was dead weight so she let go. It fell awkwardly and stayed twisted. I winced inwardly in pain. Immediately, the muscles started to tighten from having been activated.
The shoes walked away and twice as many returned. I struggled to count to four. Yes, four shoes, two people.
They discussed me as though I could not hear them.
“She’s just playing silly buggers. Refusing to go to dinner.” said a male nurse.
“Well, we can’t let her think this is acceptable behaviour. I’m going to put a note in her file.” Two of the shoes left.
My arm was screaming in pain, but the hallway stayed silent. My new friend returned and hesitated a few feet behind the nurse. I heard the crumpling of plastic as she stuffed the sandwiches quickly into the pockets of her hoodie. She came closer and squatted down to look into my eyes.
“One for yes, two for no. Are you ok?”
I blinked twice.
I blinked once.
She lifted my arm. The pain of contracted muscles remained, but I ignored it. When she let go the arm stayed in place, mid air. She laughed and I rolled my eyes at her. She repositioned my arm and laughed again. The nurse was not impressed.
The muscles of both arms began to contract until the pain showed through in tears. My arms were moving, but not under my direction. They scrunched tighter, smaller.
“Look, you’re moving. C’mon, up you get.”
My upper half was in pain for one reason, and the lower half for another. My leg muscles had not been used for an hour. They lay behind me like useless ornaments. The pins and needles from lack of use began behind my knees.
All of a sudden my arms were freed. The one that had been stuck in mid air collapsed to the carpeted floor. I sighed. The relief distracted from the tingling in my legs. My bicep twitched, then my fingers. I tried to move them and they obeyed me.
I turned my head and smiled, with my eyes, at my friend. I was giddy and my mind clouded.
“Do you want your biscuits?”
I shook my head and flicked my face to indicate that it was numb. I must have looked like I had had an overdose of Botox. My room was not far. Just five metres further. The record began again: “Got to. Got to get back. Got to get back to my room.”
I crawled. It was harder now. Every time I seeped into nothingness, I would be drained of what little strength I had and the time it would take to finally come good would grow exponentially.
“Give me those biscuits,” the nurse ordered.
He held them infront of my face, like someone would to a dog. He jangled them and crinkled their plastic wrapper.
“C’mon. Little further now. Almost there.”
He opened the biscuits and ate one and held the other out to me. The logic part of my mind had been torn away with my speech. If I had been logical, I would not have tried to crawl. All that exercise, all that heat, triggered unseen seizure after seizure, damaging delicate connections in my brain.
At the time, I thought it was hilarious. Biscuits. Ha! I’m a racehorse, galloping to the finish line. Yee hah.
Yet in reality, I was being goaded into hurting myself more and more. Taunted into crawling that final few metres to my room.
“Who wants a cookie?”
Everything stopped. My eyes glazed over and my head landed on the carpet. I’d fallen into nothingness once more. I could still hear everyone talking around me, but I could no longer be a part of it. I was cut off.
My friend laid down on the carpet next to me.
“Not you too.” said the male nurse.
“You all good? One for yes, twice for no.”
I blinked once. I was as well as could be expected. The nurse gave up and walked away leaving me at the door to my room. A few more metres and then somehow get up onto the bed.
My new friend talked about what she’d had for dinner. Which nurse was her favourite. The meds they made her take and the group therapy sessions for us to talk it out.
“You’re a very good listener when you’re like this. Are you plasticy?”
She lifted an arm and it fell back to where it was.
She laughed about me becoming poseable, then complained about the food, except for dessert. She often sneaked two helpings. The garden was pretty, she liked the fountain.
The hospital manager came towards us and instructed my new friend to leave and in the future not to encourage this kind of behaviour.
Outnumbered, he went on to berate me for causing such a disturbance in his hospital. Refusing to eat meals was not tolerated.
I suddenly remembered – that’s where I had been heading before I collapsed. I had been on my way to the dining hall, but then I’d felt hot and tired and decided it best to get back to my room ASAP.
My muscles began to stiffen, unnoticed, on the carpet.
The lecture continued. My doctor would be informed of my non-compliance and would see me tomorrow.
The pain grew. I preferred this type of pain, at least I knew it had an end, although the pain would become worse before that end came. The force of the contracting muscles multiplied until it was greater than the friction of the carpet and my arms jumped a centimetre tighter.
Meanwhile, the hospital manager discussed me with the male nurse. “She can hear you. She can hear every word. Her doctor has diagnosed her as conversion disorder. Converting her feelings into physical symptoms.”
“What about the tumour she’s always on about?”
“Benign and not a tumour. It’s a birthmark on her brain. Most people have one or two. It has nothing to do with this. Something traumatic has happened to her and this is how she has chosen to deal with it.”
‘Chosen,’ I thought and scoffed. ‘I would never choose this torture’. I closed my eyes to fight the final seconds of intense pain. Then everything melted away. A cloud of fog immediately entered my mind. “Got to. Got to get back. Got to get back to my room.”
My hands finally obeyed and I dragged myself around the doorway and into my room. The vinyl resin floor offered less resistance and I slid towards my bed. The nurse and hospital manager watched on from the door.
I couldn’t heave myself up onto my bed. I was too exhausted. The men came towards me and gruffly lifted my dead weight. I closed my eyes and I fell asleep.
Afterword (April 2015)
That was seven years ago, when I was first misdiagnosed. That benign tumour, wasn’t a tumour and I knew that – but try saying “cavernous haemangioma” ten times fast – and who, but me and medical professionals understood that term?
Once it was removed, the doctors upgraded the mass to an “arterio-venous-malformation” or AVM – a classification much worse than a birthmark on the brain, but not as bad as an aneurysm.
Arteries and veins are meant to intersect via a vast network of tiny pathways called capiliaries and this lowers blood pressure. An AVM has large tunnels instead which get tangled up, creating a nest, which expands over time. It then pinches shut surrounding functional capillaries causing a myriad of problems depending on location.
Without brain surgery, my AVM would have continued to grow and my symptoms would have become even worse. Now that it is gone, I just have to wait for the scar tissue to heal. And that… takes a long time.