Thursday, June 6, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Bitten

So I know you're all desperately waiting to hear how I passed the rest of my time in hospital, however I stumbled upon this flash fiction challenge at terribleminds, and having wanting to get back into writing something other than a report card, was excited to take it on.

The challenge: choose three words from the list and incorporate them into your story. I decided on Moon, Scorpion, and Epidemic.

Here is my first story in over 15 years. Enjoy.....

The Bitten
The sun languishes slowly over the old farmhouse, the brilliant reds and oranges bouncing off the silo and hitting the great oak tree. In the distance the low hum of honeybees returning to their hive after a long day of work rumble. A warm breeze tickles the yellow daisies that line the stone walkway, carrying their sweet smells away with it. It is a beautiful summer evening by anyone’s standards, but the night ahead is foreboding. 

It wasn’t always this way. Before The Bites most people paid no attention to the cycles of the moon. Even in the beginning, the Deniers were adamant that the epidemic was not caused by our celestial friend. According to them, The Swarms were sent by an angry God who was punishing us for our various sins. But as time progressed and the epidemic spread, the link became clear.

The Swarms always come during the New Moon. Millions of scorpions overrun towns, villages, large cities, devouring anyone in their path. The first Swarm caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Some were fortunate enough to escape with only a few bites, but after a couple of days the fever took hold. The Bitten, as they came to be known, began showing signs of sickness 48 hours after being wounded by the insects. Their temperature rose to near-fatal highs and then the hallucinations started. Hospital wards were full of patients screaming at the top of their lungs, and though their words were unintelligible, were absolutely terrifying nonetheless.

Then one night all was still. The fever was gone, the wailings stopped, and the patients were nowhere to be found. Hospital staff, family, friends, neighbours, anyone who knew someone who had been sick joined together in the search. Media outlets quickly picked up the story and the world spent the entire day in a panic. Where did these people go? Would they come back? Are they dangerous? Millions of questions without answers – at least for another few hours anyway.

That night the Full Moon shone brightly in the sky.  Already on edge from the events of the past few weeks people locked their doors and windows, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling that everyone shared.  Some settled in for a restless sleep, others spent the evening glancing nervously around the house. But no matter where they were or what they were doing, everyone heard the wailing begin. It started as a low moaning and quickly worked it’s way up into an ear-piercing cry, one that made fingernails on a chalkboard sound like a lullaby. Just when you thought you couldn’t take it anymore, that the screaming would make your ears bleed, the wailing stopped.  And then they attacked.

The scorpions were different this time. Most noticeably they were huge, much bigger than the average man. But that wasn’t the most frightening part.  These scorpions weren’t all insect – they were human too. Some had human arms or legs, some had the body of an insect but the head of a person, and some were still wearing their hospital gown.

They came in droves, breaking down doors and windows, clawing their way down through the roof. The human-like insects were vicious in their attacks, devouring every living thing they came across. Once they got in there was no escape. People tried to fight them off with anything they could – few were successful. Those that were, found the only way to stop these monsters was with a couple of bullets to the brain. The Bitten would lie twitching on the floor, green sticky blood oozing from the holes in their head – and then they would vanish.

The lucky people, the ones who survived the night without being eaten alive, began to stockpile the next day. The world was in chaos. Looters took everything of value from anywhere they could find. Neighbours turned on neighbours.  Families broke apart. Everywhere you went you could feel the weight of the panic, the way the air envelopes you on a hot and sticky day. 

Some of us worked together. We formed groups and societies with the common goal of staying alive. We were ready during the next New Moon. The scorpions swarmed and fewer were Bitten – though we still lost far too many. And we were ready during the next Full Moon, but still people died. With every moon cycle we are more prepared, have better defences, more effective tactics. And with every cycle there is less and less of us.

It has been 7 months since the first Swarm and humanity has not fared well. It is estimated that only one twentieth of the world’s population remains Unbitten. We spend our days looking for answers, searching for ways to prevent the next attack. So far nothing has worked. We have tried isolating the Bitten before they disappear, tying them down, putting them in cells, but they always vanish. And so we look to the sky. Wondering why the Moon sent the scorpions, nervously awaiting the next attack.

And now it is time to batten down the hatches, kiss your loved ones, and cock your gun. Because the full moon is clawing its’ way up, and the wailing is about to begin.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hospital Recap: Day One

Hospitals are never fun. Even when you're there to have a baby you can't think of anything but getting the Hell out of Dodge. Nurses and doctors are constantly poking you with small, medieval torture devices, asking you loudly about your bowel movements, and coming in and out of your room at all hours of the night - making sleep impossible. Following these general rules my hospital stay did not disappoint. Here's a recap of my first day there:

Day 1:

I love people watching - I find it fascinating. How they interact with the ones they're with, how they interact with strangers, it never ceases to amaze me how many different characters are out there. Luckily for me, I had plenty of entertainment in the waiting room where I sat for hours while the staff searched for a bed for me. An older couple was sitting next to me (I'll call them Joe and Eileen) and were making small talk with each other to pass the time. Suddenly, in walked Trevor (another made up name, I tend to do this a lot) with his hair tied in a messy ponytail and his pants below his ass. A typical look for some of today's youth, but one that nevertheless seems to evoke feelings of rage in people with any sense. After a few minutes Trevor left the room and Joe loudly exclaimed "It looks like he made a doody in his pants! How does he even walk like that? " Eileen looked amused but slightly embarrassed, the rest of the room smiled to themselves while nodding their head in approval. Encouraged by the sympathizers in the room, Joe continued "He looks so stupid! Why would you wear your pants so low that you have to walk around like you crapped yourself?" At this point I burst out laughing. Satisfied that he had made his point, Joe finally listened to Eileen's shushing and quieted down. It was a simple exchange but one that brought a smile to my face and helped me take my mind off of the pandemonium of the last few days. Thank you Joe for speaking your mind!

After finally locating a bed for me (this was a VERY long process, one that had people fighting not two feet away from me about who's responsibility I was, I guess they thought they embolism made me deaf) I settled into my room. Luckily for me it came fully equipped with a walker (not meant for me, just being stored there), a TV that didn't work, an IV machine that beeped constantly, and a window overlooking the construction yard. I was all set! The day's events had worn on me and, after feeling too nauseous to eat the meal they brought me (I'll get to the hospital food later), I settled in for what I hoped to be a good night's sleep.

No such luck. As soon as my head hit what was being marketed as a pillow I realized I had forgotten how non-existent hospital bed linen could be. Let me preface this by mentioning that, while I do enjoy my creature comforts, I am by no means a snob about it. I've stayed in shitty motels, slept on floors at parties, camped in the mountains, etc.. so I am not a stranger to discomfort. But this pillow was not a pillow. It was a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper with a pillow case wrapped around it. Had there been a pen handy I would have pulled the it out of the case and written my grocery list on it. This was STRIKE ONE against having a good night's sleep.

Beeping - constant fucking beeping - is an ADHDers nightmare. I don't know why, but any repetitive noise makes me want to strangle someone (strange then, that I fell into the House music scene. Maybe the mind-altering substances made me more tolerant). The hospital itself beeped incessantly. My IV machine, my roommate's IV machine, other patients' heart monitors, anything that could beep decided to do so all night long. STRIKE TWO.

And finally, the pain. Oh God, the pain. Every time I took a breath it felt like someone was stabbing me in the ribs with a thousand dull knives. No one seemed concerned about this but me, and the regular-strength Tylenol I was given shrank in terror from the pain it was confronted with. All of this was complicated by the fact that I couldn't move my leg because even a slight shift in position would cause a mind-numbing ache that made me fantasize about amputation.  STRIKE THREE.

Sleep did eventually take me, but it came in short spurts, usually interrupted by a nurse checking on me or my roommate. I was slightly amused at one point when one of the hospital staff shined a light in my face, presumably to see if I was still alive. I smiled to myself when the light was gone because I used to do this to my son. (I was a crazy first-time mother terrified at the idea of crib-death. My son weighed less then 5 lbs. and so it was impossible to tell if he was breathing. After accidentally waking him a few nights in a row while checking his vital signs, I discovered that if I shined a light in his face he would squint, but continue sleeping. I used this tactic for at least 4 months! The poor child will probably have an incredibly strange association with strobe lights. Hopefully they don't bring on a craving for breast milk!)  I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one brilliant enough to come up with the flashlight trick. Thank you Karma, for showing me what a pain in the ass I was!

Day One finally rolled into Day Two, where a whole new level of boredom helped me make some unexpected friends. I'll introduce you to them in my next post.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pulmonary Embolism: Don't Panic

It all started with a pain in my leg. After days of walking around on, what I thought to be a pulled muscle, I decided to self-diagnose. I visited page after page of symptom checkers and many fretful hours later I concluded that I had deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Now, I have to admit that this is not uncommon for me. I am constantly telling people that they are idiots when they have given themselves a diagnosis based on something they read online, however this has not stopped me from convincing myself that I have had every ailment under the sun. Stuffy nose and low grade fever ? Why YES! I do have Ebola! Hacking cough and pain in the chest? How the hell did I get Leprosy? As you can see, I took my own DVT diagnosis with a grain of salt.

It wasn't until later in the day when I came home from work that I started to really worry. My parents were at my house watching the kids and my Mom's first reaction to my leg pain was "Oh My God! It must be a blood clot!" (After all, I get my medical knowledge from somewhere). My dad told us we were both ridiculous but as the night wore on I decided to call a medical hotline. To make a long story short, they told me to get my ass to the hospital ASAP.

The doctors in the ER said it was unlikely that I had DVT but treated me for it to be on the safe side. The sonogram technician said it was unlikely that I had a DVT but, much to everyone's surprise, they were wrong! Finally- I was vindicated! One of my diagnoses is right! But, oh shit, I don't want to be right!

I was sent to a specialist who checked me thoroughly and was ready to send me home with blood thinners and a stern warning to rest, when I casually mentioned how I pulled my rib muscles rolling cinnamon buns on Christmas Eve. He stopped in his tracks and asked if the pulled muscle had caused trouble breathing.  "Yes....." I answered.

"And have you had shortness of breath since then?" he asked

"MmmHmmm..." I said. I could see where he was going with this and I didn't like the direction he was heading.

"How on Earth could a young, healthy woman pull a muscle while rolling buns? I have rolled pastry many times and never pulled anything! And you couldn't breathe after? Couldn't even move you said? This didn't seem odd to you?" He continued to lambaste me (in an albeit joking way) and then reassured me that he wasn't angry with me, but with the doctors who failed to diagnose me with a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). Perhaps I wasn't such a sleuth of internal medicine after all.

After many phone calls and consultations he sent me for a heart sonogram which showed that the embolism was causing stress on my heart. I was admitted to hospital and told that I would be there for at least 4-5 very long, scary, painful days.

And so begins my journey to learn how to relax. This may be something that is easily achieved by many, but has always been foreign to me. I have the attention span of a gnat and prefer to be in perpetual motion. How am I supposed to sit still in a hospital bed for a week (4-5 days feels like a week to me!) let alone take it easy at home for 6 months? Me, who sees a mark on the window and starts to clean it, then gets distracted by the pretty Robin outside and runs to get my camera, but on the way spots a cookbook and decides to look up a recipe for summer rolls, then realizes I don't have the ingredients so grabs the keys and heads to the car in the garage, but once there is frustrated by all the clutter and decides to start cleaning and, well, I think you get the point.

From all of this (and some encouragement from some wonderful friends) "The ADHDers Guide to Relaxing" was born. Join me on my quest to learn how to sit back, leave the spot on the window be, and enjoy just simply watching the Robin do his thing!