Miracles

In which I consider the nature of hope

This is the gap filled by gods.

Or if not gods, then magic.

Or if not magic, then convincingly futuristic sounding “medicine”.

Or if not futuristic medicine, then convincingly ancient sounding “medicine”.

This is the gap that bleeds hope.

It exists in our minds alone. The world gives little care for concepts like ‘unfairness’ or ‘undeserving’.

The world just is. And sometimes we cannot trace our patterns of meaning over its contours.

The gap is vulnerable. It wants to be filled. Like a child it reaches for anything that comes into its vicinity.

And there are always those with a shark’s sense for blood.

They will circle when hope cries out, carefully brewed oil of snake or poisoned apple in hand. They wear a mask of utmost sympathy, and speak with the zeal of one with absolute fact at their back.

And what can hope do but reach for a taste?

Charms, crystals, prayers, herbs, mysterious energy reading machines – just a little more, just a little longer, one more day-month-year. The cure lies just around the corner.

‘Lies’ being the operative word.

The gap hungers, whimpers, so tired of the ache of hoping yet never quite fulfilling.

Yet if we let gods, magic, mysticism, or alternative medicines pass us by, what balm can soothe the gap?

I fill my gap with my own absolute insignificance.

With the scale of this planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. With the incredible statistical feat of my existence. With the duration of my life against the age of the Sun. With the breathtaking beauty of a world that will continue to rotate uncaring and unaware of the motes that scatter its surface.

It is here that I find comfort. Meaning in the absolute meaningless of space. For all that humanity builds or destroys, our wars, our discoveries, our loves and joys, those we laud or despise, we are but a blink. Everything we know and discover is incredible, and yet utterly insignificant against all that we do not know.

My gap overflows. 

And though this may not find cures or solutions, there is a peace that comes with perspective. Yes, I am insignificant. But how wonderful it is to have the capacity to think that thought. 

How lucky I am to have my blink of existence.

Iceberg

In which I had to go out

Chalk sketch of a lion by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

I went to choir on Thursday.*


* Actual process:

1. Wake up and scan through body. 

Is there cramping? [Y/N]

Will this cramping escalate and prevent you from going? [Y/N]

If “Y”, message choir director. Experience extreme guilt. Skip to step 9.

If “N”, eat, then take painkillers. 

2. Are you still cramping or has cramping started since this morning? [Y/N]

Will you have to take (more) painkillers? [Y/N]

If “Y”, half an hour before taking them, eat to line stomach in order to avoid gastritis.

3. Are you still cramping? [Y/N]

If “Y”, eat, take painkillers around an hour before getting on the bus.

4. Make sure you bring a vomit bag, tissues, water, more painkillers. 

5. Select the bus seat least likely to induce cramp of the ones available. Do not get on the bus if there is no seat. 

Sit bolt upright and as still as you can. 

Simultaneously attempt to spread out and wedge yourself securely.

Manspread without upsetting the person next to you.

Try to relax.

6. While in choir, hydrate, relax, and roll shoulders.

Sing.

7. Are you still cramping? [Y/N]

If “Y”, during the mid-practice break take more painkillers. 

8. Is the cramp getting worse? [Y/N]

If “Y”, get off the bus early and walk the rest of the way home. 

9. Is the cramp still bad? [Y/N]

If “Y”, move pillows and duvet to the floor.

Eat to line stomach.

Take painkillers.

Apply ibuprofen gel.

Apply ice packs.

Move plastic bin within arm’s reach.

10. Leave food and water on the floor nearby in case you need to take more painkillers in four hours’ time. 

11. Attempt to sleep on the floor. 

12. If cramping escalates, wake in four hours, eat, take painkillers. 

13. Apply hope protocol.

Pills

In which I experience a difference of opinion

Pencil sketch of a Chinese lion by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

‘I never take pills,’ she says, with a look of constipated pain at the very thought.

We were in the bomb shelter of the GP, walls so plastered in paper notices that it’s beginning to look like a serial killer den.

She chose the seat next to me – ignoring the holy rule that thou shalt always attempt to leave a gap between you and any other occupant (a rule obeyed throughout the land in public toilets and transport services).

She also ignored my headphones and the ‘Vacant’ sign I keep plastered across my forehead when I venture out into the world.

It wasn’t entirely clear why she thought it was a good idea to advocate against pills to someone seeking medical assistance, who would surely statistically be more likely to be taking pills than your average person. Loneliness? Evangelical calling? Verbal diarrhoea?

My non-committal ‘hm’ has no effect.

‘I like to only put natural things in my system, you know what they say -‘ cue gurgling laugh, ‘- you’ve got to treat your body like a temple!’

I feel marginally affronted. I do treat my body like a temple. It’s just one of those temples with giant plates of milk on the floor surrounded by hordes and hordes of rats. Or one of those abandoned ones that’s all dusty statues, cracked floors, and inadvisable man traps.

Oh, and pills. Lots and lots of pills.

I tune back in.

‘… And I get this fantastic health tonic from that Chinese acupuncture place by the station, you know the one?’

I do know the one. It has a real focus in its window displays on curing male genital droop. 

‘It tastes foul of course,’ she continues, ‘but it’s just fantastic for skin!’ 

She runs eager eyes over my face in the hope of finding a skin condition at which to advertise. It’s one of the few times I’m cheerful about the ‘invisible’ part of invisible illness. She bucks back up, undaunted.

‘And it’s all natural of course. No pills. And you know, the Chinese are very smart and wise.’

Ah the sweet, sweet taste of reductionist racism. I find it amusing that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in China are busy turning liquid medicine into nice white pills in order to increase their reputability. Here, the more eye of newt people can see staring back at them, the better.

‘And I just think that people really shouldn’t take so many! It can’t be good for the body, you know?’

At this point, my tolerance gauge blows a gasket. 

I finally turn to look at her and weigh my words.

You don’t take pills because you are well. I’m really pleased for you. That’s really lucky.

People who are not well sometimes have to take pills. Pills can help them manage their illness.

Pills do not generally cause their illness in the first place. Sometimes they have side effects, but these have to be measured against the impact of the illness.

I open my mouth to speak –

– Her name gets called.

‘It’s just ridiculous how long it takes to get a Pill check here, isn’t it?!’ She scoops up a pale pink bag and heads down the corridor.

When she walks past five minutes later, she wags a prescription slip in my direction as a goodbye.

Exit, pursued by a scowl.

S.H.A.M.E

In which we journey to a future far, far (and hopefully further) away

Pencil sketch of a cat by Isla Kennedy, Medically Unexplained

They brought in S.H.A.M.E four years ago.

It stands for System for Health and Monitoring Efficiency, and it took the government years of bullying, bribes and blackmail to force companies into implementation. It was going to ‘transform productivity’, ‘improve stakeholder engagement’, and had to be ‘actioned immediately’.

Workers are pretty damn engaged. But mostly because they’re scared shitless.

It works like this: sickness and absence stats, start and finish times, and hours spent on productive tasks are all monitored by a national system that ties data to your National Insurance number and Health Service number. Everyone – from the CEO to the handyman – has to wear a digitised display badge with stats and rankings, and it emits an ear-piercing bleep every time your numbers slip. Teams get rewarded or punished based on collective performances. Productivity is the only thing that matters.

Once your stats drop too low, you can’t work for a company in the same tier any more – you have to move down to a lower tier company. Less pay, same badges. The sleep at the factory kind of deal with no-break shifts, no daylight, and no real money.

If your stats slip too far, there are no jobs. No one can take on a dud in case they have to fork out for rehabilitation training. S.H.A.M.E Central Services take the offender somewhere for a few weeks and drill into them that they need to be less shit. Then they get their badge numbers bumped up just enough so they can work in the lowest tier. “Rehabilitation” costs way more than most people can afford, and more than most companies want to pay.

No badge means no money and no health services.

The government says that measures are in place for S.H.A.M.E to work for everyone. It says that those with a confirmed diagnosis receive an allotment of extra points on their badge. It says that you can get a badge with larger font displays. Or with digi-braille. It says that anyone who’s fallen out the bottom has chosen to ‘not be part of a successful system’.

The government says a lot of things.

They’re launching S.H.A.M.E in America now, and half of Europe is a S.H.A.M.E zone. Apparently the UK’s been an astounding success case.

It’s like they can’t even see all those people sleeping on the streets.

And so it goes

In which I venture forth

I emerge from my chrysalis. It’s daylight and the sheets have transformed into a hitherto undiscovered substance during my time inside them.

The chrysalis stage involves me, the floor, and the bathroom. I usually stop bothering to eat solids after a while so I can promote myself to vomiting in the sink instead of the toilet (pro-tip). Plus it’s hard to appreciate the colour of bile in a loo.

The final chitterings of cramp have quieted down, prompting the cracking of the sheet walls. A twitched curtain gives a blinding indication that the weather (rather selfishly) has stopped providing an excuse for extended pupation.

My butterfly transformation equates to having a shower, my hair no longer being scraped into a grease-sheened lopsided lump, and my skin making First Contact with Not Pyjamas.

It turns out my nine-ish days of sleep-vom-don’t-bother-rinsing-repeat has led me to forget how temperature relates to my wardrobe (I’ve been meaning to make a Dummies Guide to the coats I own and the temperature bands they function in). Still, I understand that a healthy glow is desirable?

In the words of Pratchett, I am glowing like a pig.

I find myself faintly surprised that the outside world actually looks familiar. It feels like the rest of the world should surely have undergone some sort of metamorphosis as well, but there’s the same old pavement with the same old malformed Lucozade bottle and faded ruin of a Quavers packet.

Home, sweet home.

Life outside my chrysalis scrapes the ears and eyes, but also contains delights such as non-frozen or tinned foodstuffs, and other people – some of whom I actually like. (I might not be deemed the most social of butterflies).

There are queues to stand in, the Tube to be delayed on, inconvenient misunderstandings to have with pharmacies, piles of ignored messages to respond to, and those oh-so-delightfully crunchy sheets to wash.

Today is a good day. It might not be long before my butterfly self catches alight but, on the plus side, a caterpillar always crawls from the ashes.