Trigger Warning: illness, death, body dysmorphia
Anyone who is anyone who has ever romanticised illness always seems to start by describing the peculiar smell a hospital has, or how pasty hospital food runs down your throat sicklier than you could imagine. Its easier to flow through those metaphors because if you’re lucky, most of you would only ever be on the outside, looking in.
If you have a bad cough they put an ice-cream stick on your tongue. If you have scabies, you’d probably get a stinging serum to rub on your palms.
But what happens when you get something more insidious, more inexplicable. That’s when they diagnose a whole life to you. And nothing is ever the same.
Even my story starts with the strange stench of ammonia and Dettol hitting my nostrils exactly as I approached the entrance. I go through the admin procedure and get a doctor assigned to investigate the biological deviance my body had decided to fester. My limbs are failing. There is chatter around me, but I can’t place its context between nervous conversation and the occasional sob.
I’m on some type of a gurney now in the doctor’s room. While I lie flat on my back, five doctors hover over me, someone is taking my blood pressure, another is hammering at my knees for reflexes – all of them are talking to me at the same time.
They are talking at me though. I’m nervous. They throw grave sounding medical terms around, ones I have come to recognise from excessively googling my symptoms. I’m convinced I might die. Someone is still holding on to my ankle while emphatically yanking at it as they speak.
I don’t want to say that I am disassociating, because I’m not. I’m very aware, of being questioned and touched over and over and told to turn around and walk a bit and turn around and explain if there’s any pain when I’m being touched. I must get an x-ray done and I’m told to change into a gown with bare skin underneath because they need to scan my chest for a tumour. And there are no tumours, thankfully, but there are my breasts clearly visible in the x-ray being passed around to four doctors – although no one cares.
And then there are the blood tests and urine tests and the ultrasounds and the MRI where claustrophobia chokes me, but the doctor is annoyed because any struggle is messing up the scan and he just wants to get done with his job. Everyone’s just doing their job. This is an assembly line and I’m the project. With deteriorating limbs.
A failed project.
When I’m on the gurney or on the ultrasound bed or standing braless in an oversized gown in front of an x-ray machine, I’m not a person.
People are looking at my reports before the look in my eyes, asking me what hurts before they ask what my name is and I’m exhausted. When you’re patient zero with the big confusing illness there is some inexplicable understanding that you’re not a human being anymore; or maybe that you’re still human, you’ve just stopped being and that’s your problem. You’re just the vessel of disease they need to diagnose. Cold scalpels and rubber gloves that prod through you are careful but not mindful.
It’s the dehumanising realness of hospitalisation that makes illness lose its romance, maybe even its tragedy. Hospitals become a chore. Most people who hate hospitals are not germaphobes. They are usually people who detest not being a dignified, living person once you enter a sanatorium.
They skip these parts when anyone who is anyone writes about being sick. I don’t blame them. There are only so many words you can use to make sense of what seems more like a death sentence.
Rhea Dangwal is a 21-year-old independent writer and journalist, who writes mostly on feminism, sexuality and gender. Find more of there work here