Issue 14 • Winter 2022

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ISSUE 14

WINTER 2022


letter from the editors

Dear Reader, Welcome to Issue 14 of The Muse. As we welcome the new year, it is important for us to reflect on the past year and its encompassed difficulties. With the pandemic continuing to cause uncertainty, we would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our healthcare, community, and government officials for guiding us all during these times. This past year, The Muse received a record number of submissions from unique individuals with diverse educational, professional, and cultural backgrounds. We are very grateful to each one of our contributors who have eloquently demonstrated their stories and experiences through their art and writing. We appreciate your courage to convey your stories, and your trust in The Muse to share them. We would also like to highlight the incredible work of the entire team at The Muse. Every single member has done their due diligence and has worked harder than ever before. This issue would not have been possible without you, and for that, thank you. Despite the barriers and restrictions that the pandemic has created, we are pleased to continue collaborating with Keeping Six Hamilton—Harm Reduction Action League and their Quarterly Zine to support their endeavours in serving as a voice for those with lived and living experience of substance use. Their Zine shares personal stories and artwork from these individuals in an effort to reach a wider audience and promote understanding and compassion for the community of drug using individuals. We would also like to thank McMaster University's Office of the President and the Department of English & Cultural Studies for their continued sponsorship of The Muse. Their generosity has supported The Muse beyond measure and continues to make our work possible. Finally, to our readers: thank you. We appreciate you joining us on this entire journey, whether you have been here from the start or even if this is the first issue you have read. We hope to continue receiving your support and opening your eyes to the medical humanities. Sincerely,

Yousef Abumustafa Editor-in-Chief

Alexandro Chu

Editor-in-Chief


table of contents John Grey

4

Linda K. (Stormyfalls) Miller

5

Lia Dostlieva

6

Violet Drake

7

Akankshya Kashyap

8

Kelsey Gao

9

Sherwin Altarez Mapanoo

10

Renee Cronley

11

Jagoda Zwiernik

12

Niles Reddick

14

Carlene Gadapee

16

Samantha Savello

17

Maid Čorbić

18

the colours I hear

Renata Pavrey

19

my covid 2021

Kateryna Repa

20

Sarah Somerset

22

Juliene Tripp Weaver

24

Roger Camp

26

Amaia Salazar

28

Prof. Darryl Whetter

30

E.D. Watson

32

Rick Blum

33

twenty two and still wearing diapers

Mitch Balladares

34

wishes for doctors who don't believe

Pamela Sinicrope

40

Rachel R. Baum

41

at a low point in your sky & in the radiology waiting room the promise of medicine dark hypoxiarcana white family as disease and antidote gastroscopy/obscurity when the colours burnout & hark the white noise an island, the wing, human nature & termination

in her genes solving for x in a pandemic control your body asthmatic relationship with people

is elation a bad thing my body: an experiment in longevity soul catcher, tough guy meets stroke & a tumor the size of a lime

hallucinations from soldiers' two: a memoir of love, death and intercontinental silver

requiem for part of my left shoulder sounds of the ER, 3 a.m., from a gurney in the aisle

long haul year two


at a low point in your sky AUTHOR John Grey Yes, it's December, within and without. The sun is at its nadir, just as you are. The arc of the sky's golden swing is about to turn into a shovel, dig a hole in the ground beneath your hospital mattress. The clipboard at the bottom of the bed is a prelude to an obituary. The encouraging smiles on the faces of the nurses are just more darkness and chill. Your children are here, at your bedside, a son with nothing to say, a daughter who can only blubber. Both are more like symptoms than cure. Neither is nearly as effective as the pills the doctors prescribe. At the end, you'd rather lie back on your pillow, employ your brain no longer as a thinking machine but as a simple filter for the past. Good times at Claremont High, summers on the Cape, sand and romance, first car, first job let life linger back where it began.

4 | JANUARY 2022

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Lana Turner and International Poetry Review.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash.

in the radiology wating room AUTHOR John Grey My sensibilities would be much better off if there was no young girl seated in the chair opposite. Her hair is long and brown like any other, And her nose bisects her eyes, the way it should. But the bottom half of her face has collapsed. Even in the young, cancer can't behave itself. Its ravages won't let her smile. Her mother struggles to do it for her. "Next," says the nurse, and mother leads child by the hand, through a door, that softly closes behind them. I’m buoyed by the love, ravaged by the condition.


the promise of medicine AUTHOR Linda K. (Stormyfalls) Miller The Black Death A killer of millions One-third of Europe gone Infected flea-bearing bacteria Terror washing across countries Terror like that seen before Smallpox terror Yellow fever Malaria Typhus Influenza All of them run off the tongue like blood from wounds newly opened and anxious to thrive Slowly herbs, potions, poultices, pills, concoctions, compresses joined the fight against viruses and bacteria and bugs medicine men witches healers doctors paid in trade paid in money our medicine grows better and better the costs grow higher and higher Linda K. (Stormyfalls) Miller has two books of poetry. Her first was called Coming to be. Her second is available on Amazon: Poems to Amuse, Bemuse, and Entertain. She also has had poems published in books (A Vision, A Verse Volume 1; All-Time Favorite Poetry Book; The Poets Choice; and On Earth as it is in Poetry, 2018 Anthology) and magazines (Orchards Literary Journal, The Spoon River Quarterly, New Earth Review, Bardic Echoes, and The RTL Proxy). This year three of her poems appeared in Pandemic Evolution Days 1-100 with Matthew Wolfe. Photo by Tanalee Youngblood on Unsplash.

the terror never ends the need never ends Diseases win in the end When the cost of their cures so far exceed burial costs ISSUE 14 | 5


dark ARTIST Lia Dostlieva

Earlier this year I was diag‐ nosed with MDD (major depres‐ sive disorder) and my everyday routine and social life have changed significantly since then. Some people turned out to be really supportive, while oth‐ ers kept making discouraging comments or jokes. I talked to my female friends who were also coping with MDD and they described me many similar episodes from their experience. This type of attitude is still widespread in our society and aims to create social pres‐ sure towards women’s attempts to speak up about their prob‐ lems in order to mute them and deny their agency. Thus, not only gender itself but also men‐ tal health issues are frequently being used as the reason for manipulating the social image of a specific vulnerable social group. So I compiled a list of harmful replays and toxic ad‐ vices given to us by other peo‐ ple along with our own inner comments and doubts. Then I created a set of collages which are mirroring and illustrating these two worlds: the world of “normal” people who are being intolerable and the fragile world of female patients who lack so‐ cial acceptance. This project aimed to give a voice to women’s experience and make this issue more visible.

Lia Dostlieva was born in Donetsk, Ukraine. She is an artist, cultural anthropologist and author. Her primary areas of my research include the is‐ sues of empathy, trauma, postmemory, com‐ memorative practices, and agency, and visibility of vulnerable groups. As an artist, she works across a wide range of media including photog‐ raphy, installations, textile sculptures, interven‐ tions into urban space, etc. since 2012.


hypoxiarcana ARTIST Violet Drake

This is part of a mixed media visual art series made entirely from original documentary pho‐ tography of medicine prescribed to recover from the first asthma attack I've had as an adult. It is a visual representation of the hazy anxiety that came with it due to my OCD and Hypochondria.

Violet Drake is a white settler disabled queer+trans writer, artist, actor, & activist born and raised in the coastal community of Lawn on the Burin Peninsula. Now based in St. John's, her multidisciplinary experimental practice has been self taught since youth, writing hybrid poetry and designing mixed media digital illustration since the age of 13. Her work has been exhibited and performed at artist-run centres, galleries, stages, festivals, and classrooms throughout Ktaqmkuk (colonially Newfoundland). Co-author of transVersing, she has recent and forthcoming publications locally and nationally.

ISSUE 14 | 7


white AUTHOR Akankshya Kashyap White is the colour of the coat I wear for most part of my days, its pockets holding my mini universe my pens, scraps of paper, a micropore, a purse and a half­ eaten chocolate from a day I skipped lunch to finish writing at the pile of discharges, the whole bunch; the corners of its pockets bleeding blue from the nib of the pen I lost the cap heaven knows when, and the buttons hanging loose clutching onto dear life from the overburdened threads, like Bed no. 53 and 56 are holding onto theirs their wives on the floor beside them with their silent prayers. White is the colour of the lies I tell you As I walk on a tightrope between your right to know and to know the right amount, so I tell you about hopes and miracles when you ask me about death, and I tell you about probabilities like we learnt in ninth grade math; you see, I don’t want to scare you so I tell you “there are options we can explore” but there are times I wonder, are my white lies even white anymore? White is the colour of the walls In the doctor’s room where I secretly cry because sometimes hope isn’t enough and miracles don’t work, and I never got to properly say goodbye. 8 | JANUARY 2022

Dr. Akankshya Kashyap is a Post Graduate trainee in Pathology in Assam, India. They got introduced to Medical Humanities a while back and have been interested in Narrative Medicine ever since. This piece was written during their Internship days and reflects the array of emotions that they were going through at that point of time. Artwork by Sabrina Sefton.


family as disease and antidote AUTHOR Kelsey Gao

The trouble with Evan is from a trouble with Evan's father, And the trouble with Evan's father is from a trouble with his father. Tragedy can repeat, and worse, Tragedy can be inherited. He is a boy who pranks and steals, But is hurt on the inside; Only wanting attention and love, As all children do. Evan thinks, "Bad attention beats no attention." What if you are a parent? Your kids don't just want gifts or money; They want a piece of you – they want to be your friend. And boys – they need love too. A hug does more than a rod; Affection is the best medicine. Disease can be rooted in things outside the body: Kelsey Gao is a third year health sciences student at McMaster University. She is interested in narratives in healthcare and is looking to explore this interest further through a career in medicine. Kelsey is from Toronto, Ontario. Artwork by Sabrina Sefton.

A family problem is a health problem; A relationship problem is a health problem. Troubles in the home can breed trauma That lasts for generations. Emotional wounds – they don't like to heal.

encourage, And encouragement can assure your kid That they can conquer the world.

Yes, if family is the cause of a child's degeneration, Treating the family must be the antidote. Can an abused child learn not to The trouble with Evan is, at last, not a trouble with Evan, abuse her children? But a trouble placed on Evan. A frightening question for a young girl. Author's note: “The Trouble with When bad kids get to the Evan" is a two-hour special detention centre, edition of the Fifth Estate aired Is it already too late? on CBC. It tells the story of an How do we make it stop? How is the cycle brought to an 11-year-old boy who has been a problem for his family and end? teachers since he was in kindergarten. For 14 weeks, It's an encouraging tale for cameras were placed in his parents. family's home in Hamilton, You – mum and dad – revealing how much harm can You are the best doctors, be done to a child by the people teachers, and social workers. who love him most. Love can heal, attention can

ISSUE 14 | 9


gastroscopy/obscurity AUTHOR Sherwin Altarez Mapanoo He entered the overcrowded room, empty, carrying a plastic bag of paraphernalia: half a liter of dextrose solution, anesthesia, needle, tube, bandage. While waiting for his turn, he couldn’t help but examine every detail of the space: blemished walls and ceilings, debilitated fan, dirt on the floor - visual pollution. He was trying to remember everything. He killed time. Time almost killed him. Thirty minutes passed; the nurse finally called his name. He lay on the dirty white bed as directed, with no tinge of anxiety, relishing every aspect of it: the pain of the injection, the rhythmic sound of the machine, the bitter chemicals in his throat, the flowing glucose in his veins, the artificial oxygen in his system, the uncertainty. A moment of vacuity. He woke up only to find out the doctor’s diagnosis: a scratched stomach (or heart).

Sherwin Altarez Mapanoo is a multidisciplinary writer, researcher and nomadic visual ethnographer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Art Studies (Interdisciplinary) from the University of the Philippines and a double post-graduate degree (with distinction) in International Performance Research and Theory of Art and Media, Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom and the University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia, respectively under the Erasmus Mundus programme. After years of being nomadic, he is now settled in the Philippines and has recently renewed his penchant for weaving words together. Artwork by Aditya Kalra.


when the colors burnout AUTHOR Renee Cronley Once when we were rainbows, we put the pink back in their cheeks with chest compressions and oxygen. And when mottling turned pallor mortis, we bled the blues with their families and then alone in the staff bathroom. We followed closely behind torrential rains, repairing broken bones and hearts, under the scope of our arches to give them a chance to see tomorrow. But we knew there were hurricanes coming. And that we weren’t prepared. So before the waves could grow too large we pleaded against partisanship and conspiracy until they crashed over us in a cytokine storm and spilled beyond our reach. They were no longer in our atmosphere. And we drowned in the emotional ecosystem, diluted into apathy so the tears could dry up. Then there was nothing left for sunlight to hit. So we disappeared.

hark the white noise AUTHOR Renee Cronley

Renee Cronley is a poet, writer, and nurse from Brandon, Manitoba taking a lengthly maternity leave. She studied Psychology and English at Brandon University, and Nursing at Assiniboine Community College. Her work has appeared in NewMyths.com, Love Letters to Poe, Black Hare Press, Discretionary Love and is forthcoming with SmashBear Publishing, and The Stripes Magazine. Artwork by Aditya Kalra.

Those faithful public service angels burn bright on their pedestals with their stethoscopes twisted into halos falling around their necks like divine nooses as they chase the cacophony of monitors and alarms until they gracelessly fall weeping in hallways ready to be reaped as involuntary martyrs.

ISSUE 14 | 11


ARTIST Jagoda Zwiernik

an island

the wing

My body is a land. An ISLAND - the unknown and disturbing landscape on the one hand, and the known tranquillity and peace on the other hand. Everything falls silent. My room. My ocean. My bed. My boat. My wild dreams shifted with fear and uncertainty. My room, four walls which becomes my new whole world.

The artwork "The Wing” tells about the silent life of what lives undercover- under the clothes, not visible for outside world. It’s about the silent battle of dealing with chronic pain, fear, helplessness and struggle to adapt to new conditions.

12 | JANUARY 2022


human nature The artist touches on how the pandemic has been affecting a lot of us and she wants to make a difference by raising awareness about mental health issues, deeply convinced that we can make it through together if we look after each other. The piece conveys how our reality was influenced by the pandemic, forcefully changed by external factors, social isolation and the chronic stress associated with it. For many of us, it is connected with the necessity of difficult adaptation to new conditions, an uncertain future and a huge psychological burden.

termination

Jagoda Natalia Zwiernik (b.1984, Zielona Góra, Poland) is a visual artist that has been living and working in Edinburgh, Scotland for several years. She studied Interior Design & Architecture at the Institute of Visual Arts of the University of Zielona Góra and Faculty of Sculpture and Spatial Activities at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland.

ISSUE 14 | 13


in her genes AUTHOR Niles Reddick Tessa’s framed baby pic‐ tures were propped on top of the piano and hung on the walls of our hallway. They didn’t fore‐ shadow her future, but we should have known it would be disastrous because of the alco‐ holism that poured through her genes on her maternal side. One of our family members once said that we should have sent her off to rehab instead of college, because she would end up there anyway.

14 | JANUARY 2022

We first became suspicious when the Live Safe app on our phones tracked her staying out until 2:00 a.m. on fraternity/ sorority row. We didn’t act be‐ cause neither of us could preach, since we’d done the same thing that most freshmen do. However, once the store across the street from her dorm, named University Liquors, started charging her debit card, we knew we were in trou‐ ble. We had a long-distance call and shared our concerns, but she reassured us she was fine; she had not missed class, and her grades hadn’t dropped. She said she was “just having fun.” I didn’t want to rain on her pa‐ rade but reiterated I wasn’t pay‐

ing for parties and that I was paying for an education. It wasn’t until the DUI after midterms, the arrest, and the four-hour trip to bail her out of jail that we realized she couldn’t manage her newfound freedom in college. We withdrew her, discovered she was failing all of her classes, brought her home, and learned we still had to pay for the next semester’s dorm charges. We told her she was back to her pre-high school curfew, enrolled her at the com‐ munity college, and helped her find a full-time job. My wife Tammy had dabbed her eyes the whole trip there and back, blaming herself for Tessa’s transgressions. She


said we had been too protec‐ tive and should have let her ex‐ plore for herself more. I said it was in her genes, she came by it naturally, and she couldn’t handle alcohol. Tammy felt like I was attacking her dys‐ functional family, but I said I was just stating the facts. When we got to the jail, the officers were nice enough, told us it was no big deal, and arrests of students happened every week. Tessa didn’t look flattering in the orange jump‐

Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in twenty-two anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over four hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/ Photos by Jill Burrow on Pexels.

suit, although it was, in fact, her university’s colors. She told us she felt okay, was sorry, and that she understood our need to bring her home. The ride home was silent, ex‐ cept for the gospel music Tammy played on CDs, as if those hymns could erase ge‐ netics. We stopped for an hour in traffic because of an eigh‐ teen-wheeler that flipped over the median and shut down the west bound lanes completely. Watching the paramedics pull

the lifeless truck driver and load him in the back of the am‐ bulance was a chilling re‐ minder… It could be worse.


solving for x in a pandemic AUTHOR Carlene Gadapee

requires us to accept that x=unknown, that x is irrational. That x cannot be easily solved for, and x can cancel you out. We know that x may mean ex, as in extubation, but only if you survive. Ex-lovers. Ex-friends. X in a pandemic may mark the spot where you stood when you were exposed. Extrapolate the odds: how close were you? How long were you nearby? Exactly who did you see and did they test positive or negative? Plot the X on your graph, and then find the why.

16 | JANUARY 2022

Carlene M. Gadapee is an English teacher in northern New Hampshire, USA. She is the Associate Creative Director and Education Consultant for The Frost Place. Her work has been published in Think, Smoky Quartz, English Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Littleton, USA with her husband, a bossy chi-pin dog, and two beehives. Artwork by Angel Cai.


control your body AUTHOR Samantha Savello I told them I was having headaches. Bad ones, where I saw flashing lights. “That’s called an aura,” the doctor said. “And that’s okay, just keep taking the pill.” Over the years, the headaches got worse. They started to happen every day And I wouldn’t stop bleeding. “That’s okay,” they said. “Just keep taking the pill.” When I was too dizzy to stand, I stopped taking the pill. I went to a new doctor. “Migraines with aura?” he asked. “That means you’re at risk of stroke. You should never have been on estrogen.” He told me never to take the pill again; I could try something else, an IUD maybe. A few years later, I did get an IUD. It was supposed to make my periods Lighter, but they only got heavier. “This isn’t working,” I told the doctor. “It’s fine. Just keep giving it time,” he said. Months went by like this. When I wouldn’t stop bleeding, I went to a new doctor. They did an ultrasound. “The IUD is completely ineffective,” The doctor said. “It’s not in the right place.” They ripped it out of me and inserted a new one. Stabbing, pinching, pain. Three people stood over me and watched The ultrasound screen, to make sure that My second IUD didn’t go in wrong like the first one did. When they were done, the nurse handed me a printed card. It read: “Congratulations. You’re now protected for 5 years with your Mirena IUD.” The card was stamped and dated, just in case I forgot.

Samantha Savelloe is a poet and writer from Long Island, USA and currently lives in Philadelphia. She is also a marketing analyst. Artwork by Angel Cai.


asthmatic relationship with people AUTHOR Maid Čorbić I have had that layer of life since I was little to fight severe asthma and no one knows how I actually feel when I'm alone because everyone around sees only a smile They can't pay me, how much when they ask me "How are you?" I agree with them that everything is fine and in fact the situation is much different I have this problem to express and I can't take it lightly and I wish I hadn’t been born with it and to have a better life for myself and future generations I don’t think any disease is funny though people mocked me on purpose just because I was chasing dreams and the desire to have equals somewhere I charted at the bottom of my soul that I will be just what I am give smiles and expressive hopes that the world is not some grumpy thing Because again, time can actually say everything but asthma is a very severe disease indeed where today in this fast-paced era no one understands that I just want a better life! I’ve spent my whole life in hospitals because of it it may be harmless but it is dangerous when it showers you something that is invisible and you resist in fear not to die suddenly so young!

Maid Čorbić is a poet from Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina. His poetry has been repeatedly praised and rewarded. He is a moderator of the World Literary Forum for Peace and Human Rights in Bhutan. He is also the editor of the First Virtual Art portal led by Dijana Uherek Stavanovic.

18 | JANUARY 2022

Artwork by Karthyayani Ramesh.


the colors i hear AUTHOR Renata Pavrey I see colors for sounds, Taste shapes and hear textures I recognize faces based on Auditory rainbows Colors that the sounds produce And not the voices themselves Someone’s screaming rivers of gushing aquamarine Footsteps heavy like leaden rain-soaked clouds Waiting to burst forth into my space; I hear a cobalt blue voice Green coils of smoke slither into my room A chorus of ultramarine Accompanies dusts of lilac and lavender; Somewhere in the background Icicles of blue crystals Sparkle and glimmer with queries Colors of conversations Soak into the fabric of words Bleed into each other And present a palette of different hues; A quilt of dialogue That shows more than it tells; They say silence is golden But I see no color at all When everything is quiet

Wrapped in a musical shawl Shimmering colors transport me To dance land, as the music plays A deep, glossy, crimson cello The piano dazzles like a checkerboard Rose and salmon spiral out from flute holes Burnt sienna speaks from the guitar’s core A yellow triangle floating in space Shows me it’s the trumpet Numbers and days have colors, too Today is Monday I know because it’s orange People talk about Monday blues But I see Monday as a golden orange orb Of possibilities and hopes For the week ahead; Three is a cheery lemon Five is a vibrant coquelicot But thirty-five is a depressing beige Colors wash over me ambivalently Truth radiates phosphorescence Lies, hate and disappointment Are darker than the blackest black; We all perceive the world differently Diversity can be a glorious thing When you have a harlequin of hues to hear

Renata Pavrey is a nutritionist and Pilates teacher. They have worked with children with autism for their dissertation and have been studying dietary intervention in neurodivergency. They researched nutrition in schizophrenia as part of their Registered Dietitian studies in clinical settings. Artwork by Karthyayani Ramesh.

ISSUE 14 | 19


my covid 2021 AUTHOR Kateryna Repa 1 day - The temperature fluctuates between 37.1 -37.4 C, nausea and headaches, symptoms appeared on the 8th day after contact with a patient with Covid. 2nd day Morning: - 37.7 C, headache, nausea, breaking bones, weakness, pain in the left side, good appetite. Testing for Сovid, complete blood count and protein content. Evening: - 37.5 - 38.7 C, lower back hurts, good appetite. Day 3 Morning: -38.4 -38. 2 C, breaking bones, good appetite, blurred consciousness. Confirmation of analysis for Covid, blood and protein is normal Day: -37.5 - 37.7 C Evening: - 37.5 C, runny nose, a little hard to breathe I take antipyretic three times a day. 4th day Morning: - 38.2 C, the runny nose has passed, pulls the left kidney Day: -37 C Night: -38 .4 C I take antipyretic 3 times a day. 6th day Lunch: - 38.2 C Evening: -38. Two C, burning in the chest Day 7 Morning: -38 C, wheezing in the chest, loss of smell, prescribed antibiotics, vitamins and cough pills, Evening: -38.5 C, appetite appeared I take antibiotics, antipyretics and cough, lung pills, vitamins. Day 8 Morning: - 38 C, weakness, feeling good, a little cough, expectoration, Evening: -38 C, difficult breathing, wheezing, dizziness 20 | JANUARY 2022


Day 9 Morning: - 38 C, weakness, difficult breathing, good appetite, blood tests and protein content. Evening: -38 C, difficult breathing, wheezing, fainting, dizziness. A visit to the doctor, antibiotics for up to 10 days, and many pills. I take antibiotics, antipyretics and cough and lung pills, vitamins. The protein content is three times higher (inflammatory process). Death of the infected Covid who was in contact 17 days ago. Day 10 Morning:. -38 C, the condition worsens every minute it seemed to me that I was dying, severe weakness, the temperature did not drop, antipyretic drugs did not work. Calling an ambulance, the introduction of intravenous hormonal drugs. The hospital refuses to take, leave for the treatment of the family doctor. The family doctor does not sign the declaration on the treatment; I am treated at home alone. Evening: -36.9 C, feeling good Day 11 Morning: -37 C, dizziness, weakness Evening: -36.9 C Taking prescribed drugs 12 day - 37.1 - 38.2 C, dizziness Taking prescribed drugs Day 14 -36 .5 - 37.2 C, well-being, a little cough, dizziness, poor memory. Postcoid symptoms: Skin rash, weakness, poor memory. After 2 weeks, the rash passed, periodic weakness, memory is restored . A certificate from a doctor about the authorization of vaccination after 3 months.

Kateryna Repa (1979, Odesa, Ukraine) graduated from Odesa Hydrometeorological University. Lives and works in Odessa. Works with painting, graphics, media art, sculpture, art objects, and photography. She also participates in personal and collective exhibitions in London, Berlin, Italy, USA, South Korea, Ukraine, etc. Her works are in private collections and a museum in South Korea and Philippines. She took part in the 58th Venice, Columbia, Lithuanian Biennials, as well as the Every Woman Biennale in New York. In 2019, she was awarded the Alexander Pushkin medal and founded the eponymous brand of women's clothing and accessories. In 2020, she won the third International Leonardo da Vinci Prize as a Universal Artist in Florence.

ISSUE 14 | 21


is elation a bad thing? AUTHOR Sarah Somerset

Mum keeps telling me that the exams are looming and that I only have two weeks to go before holidays start. I don’t care about the exams because all I want to do is sit outside un‐ der the pear tree, enjoy the af‐ ternoon sun and listen to music. The lyrics are mindblowing. I like music of an older generation, such as Jamiroquoi, and beyond that, Stevie Won‐ der. I spend hours under the pear tree and Mum keeps pleading with me to come in‐ side and study. She says soon the exams will be over, but why would I study for exams when beautiful music is talking to me in the sunshine? I am surprised when the follow‐ ing day, a doctor and a nurse ar‐ rive at the house to talk to me. Our dogs greet them with great excitement and the doctor and nurse pat them. They ask me a barrage of questions about how I am feeling. They seem very worried about me, but I just find it annoying. I reluctantly agree to go with them to the Emer‐ gency Department. We hop out at the ambulance stand and

they escort me past the COVID check-in to the reception. Then I have to stay in the waiting area with my sister Imogen and a lady who seems to be assigned to watch over me. We are lucky to find a seat in the crowded waiting room. Patients and their loved ones, with wearied ex‐ pressions, are lining up at the reception window to give their details and await their turn. A stoic mother and her disabled young son have nowhere to sit and have to stand in the corner of the room. Two hours later I am escorted through the glass doors to a curtained cubicle. I have to lie on the hospital bed. By now, Mum has arrived and she sits on one side of me, with Imogen on the other. A guard positions himself outside the curtain and sneaks a look at me every 15 minutes. I sense he is embar‐ rassed to be guarding me, par‐ ticularly when he has to accompany me to the loo. “The system is broken,” he ad‐ mits. It’s humiliating for me to be ac‐ companied to the loo.

“I feel like a loser,” I tell Imogen. A doctor enters the cubicle to take a blood sample. Now that the tests are over, it must be time for me to be moved. Fi‐ nally, it’s five o’clock and I have spent the afternoon in the cubi‐ cle. Another doctor appears and says it’s too late for me to be assessed and I will be trans‐ ferred to another hospital where I will be assessed in the morning. Just before 10 p.m., I am wheeled out to an ambu‐ lance. I try to get up to walk into the ambulance but they in‐ sist that I stay put. I am placed on a gurney and they strap my legs and torso firmly to the stretcher and wheel me in. It had never crossed my mind that I would run away so I find this ridiculous. Thirty minutes later, we arrive at the hospital where I am shown to a room for the night, still under guard. The next day, I am shown into a room where I am introduced to a psychiatrist, a doctor and a medical student. I tell them how happy I was spending time in the sunshine in the garden and how the lyrics were speak‐ ing to me. I protest at being taken to a hospital under guard. They tell me that I am manic and that I will be detained for


seven days. I am taken to a locked ward where there are only three other patients. We each have a room to ourselves and share a com‐ mon area in front of a nurse’s station behind glass windows. A CCTV camera surveys the room from the ceiling. It is light, airy, spacious and minimal. The ceiling to floor windows look over a courtyard lined with fake lawn, beyond which I can see blue skies and distant eucalyp‐ tus trees. Magpies and miner honeyeaters fly in and strut across the fake lawn to amuse me. I would still prefer to be un‐ der my pear tree, though. The other patients are very dis‐ tressed and I don’t feel that I belong here. The health profes‐ sionals insist that I am manic and keep increasing the medi‐

cation in order to slow me down. They tell me I talk too quickly, but that’s just how I am. Talking too quickly does not mean I need to be medicated, does it? Over the week, they keep in‐ creasing the dose of the medi‐ cation and I resist it. The nurse asks me to take a tablet and I refuse. Then she threatens to inject me unless I give in. I put the tablet in my mouth but keep it under my tongue. The nurse guesses my ruse and prompts me to open my mouth to show her that I have swallowed it. I spit the tablet onto the floor. They bring me a new one and I oblige them by swallowing it. In the locked room, I can’t even pour myself a cup of tea. I have to ask the nurse to bring me one. Despite these deprivations and lack of freedom, I continue to be elated. Why must I be medicated to subdue my ele‐ vated mood? Why must I be forced to take medication that is starting to make me feel slow and sluggish when I would rather remain in my natural high state? After all, my elation hurts

no one. I think there is some‐ thing wrong with a society that persecutes someone by depriv‐ ing them of their elation. Author’s Note: This was written by the mother from the point of view of the daughter, when the latter was experiencing a manic episode. In South Australia, pa‐ tients may be detained under the Mental Health Act.

Sarah Somerset is from Adelaide, South Australia. Before the pandemic her stories concerned expatriate life in Japan, and some of them can be found in The Font - A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, and The Writers' and Readers' Journal. Since the pandemic and subsequent Australian border closures, her writing has been set in South Australia. Sarah enjoys sunset beach walks and is an aspiring sailor. Painting by the protagonist's sister. Artwork by Aditya Kalra.

ISSUE 14 | 23


my body: an experiment with longevity AUTHOR Julene Tripp Weaver Having lived with my HIV diagnosis since 1989, I credit my survival to viewing my body as an experiment. When I got my diagnosis it was assumed I would die early. That was the norm. There were no good an‐ swers. Because I was a budding herbalist, studying herbs and herbal remedies, it was natural I turned to herbs. For twelve years I used alternative options and watched my lab results de‐ cline at a slow and steady rate. The early marker, a CD4 blood test, monitors T cells or the white blood cells that fight in‐ fection. In the One on One pro‐ gram at Public Health my name was not attached to my lab re‐ sults. Eventually, I got one of the best AIDS doctors in Seattle through a referral from a co‐ worker where I worked in AIDS services. All the AIDS doctors were busy with full panels, so a referral helped. One of my most impor‐ tant decisions was to keep my status private, even at work, and not share widely, it took too much energy and put me at risk of stigma. By January 2002, with my CD4 count close to 50 (well be‐ low the marker of 200, when it’s

advised to take Western medi‐ cations) an eye infection started while I was on vacation. Visiting my partner’s family in Atlanta, during the Martin Luther King holiday, my right eye started to itch and get red. I thought it might be pink eye. Being out of town without my remedies, I did nothing. It spread from my eye across my skull on the right side of my face with growing sharp agonizing pain. It was nothing like the pink eye I had before. Finally home, three days later, I made a hot compress with goldenseal to keep me till morning. First, I called in sick, then called my doctor. He said he could see me that afternoon. My partner drove me to the office. My head was too in‐ flamed to comb my hair. Turned out I had shin‐ gles, which occurs in quadrants. Those of us born before the chickenpox vaccine became routine (in 1995) are suscepti‐ ble. With an active case of chickenpox, which I had as a child, the inactive varicella zoster virus lies dormant in nerve tissue waiting to reacti‐ vate. My eye was so painful and swollen I was afraid I would

lose vision. With medication started and an eye patch, my partner made me tea with skull‐ cap, white willow, California poppy, St. John’s wort, astra‐ galus, and a couple drops of Polk root tincture. The next day my acupuncturist made a home visit. He suggested my doctor prescribe steroid eyedrops to protect my retina. But for that I needed an ophthalmologist ap‐ pointment, and I could not bear going out again. Both medical profession‐ als recommended ice packs in‐ stead of heat for the swelling, so I switched to comfrey poul‐ tices, which we had in the freezer for emergencies. My acupuncturist gave me an herbal formula for inflamma‐ tion. Swollen and discolored, my eye looked like I’d been in a fight with a hard punch. On Western antibiotics for sixteen days, through the scabbing and itchy hell of healing, I used clove oil on my scalp and Bella Donna homeopathic tabs under my tongue. I took colostrum, milk produced during breast feeding to support the growth and health of an infant, to strengthen my immunity against


another possible infection. My doctor said it could come again and most likely on a different place on my body. When I turned sixty, I took the Zoster vaccination; later when Shingrix became available I took it as soon as possible. My traumatized eye has ongoing nerve damage from the shingles, called post-herpetic neuralgia. Any movement near my forehead causes distress, itchiness, and pain that sears like a sharp piece of glass. Driv‐ ing sometimes scares me. A breeze blowing across my fore‐ head causes intense discom‐ fort and itching. After the shingles cleared I knew it was time to start Western meds. It is com‐ mon for people to get sick when they start treatment, especially with a low CD4 count. This surge in sickness when one first starts highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is known as IRIS, or immune Reconstitution Inflammatory Syndrome. In March 2002 my labs were drawn in preparation to start HAART. My CD4 came back at 64 and my genotype was wild type. Having ‘wild type’ virus is a good thing; it means the virus in my system had not

been exposed or resistant to any of the antiviral medica‐ tions. Nervous about starting meds, but committed I had questions. Do I need fat in my meals? Yes, for Viread. Can I eat grapefruit while on the meds? Yes, but at least four hours after I take the pills. I knew if I missed a dose I could develop resistance. The prescriptions for my first cocktail were 3TC, Viread, and Viramune; only the Viread was a once a day dose, so it was a twice a day regimen. Based on my research I asked for a prescription for Carnitor (to replace the amino acid Car‐ nitine which these medications deplete). The AIDS pharmacy filled everything but the Carni‐ tor, which was not covered by insurance. I ordered it as an al‐ ternative supplement from a Buyer’s Club. In retrospect, I waited too long to start medications. But, my view of my body as an experiment helped me survive. Many who took the only medi‐ cation available at the begin‐ ning, AZT, died. Western medicine needed time to learn how resistance developed and about the cocktail approach of

highly active antiretroviral ther‐ apy (HAART). It was the gay community coming together to advocate, forcefully, that helped move science forward to de‐ velop newer and better drugs, and to shorten the length of time to approval. Now it is recommended to start meds when you first learn your status. The herbs I used and continue to use, plus my proactive approach to my health, sustained me through the emotional and difficult early years.

Julene Tripp Weaver is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. Her work is widely published in journals and anthologies. Two anthologies in process include: Covid, Isolation & Hope: Artists Respond to the Pandemic, in pre­sales now, and, But You Don’t Look Sick: The Real Life Adventures of Fibro Bitches, Lupus Warriors, and other Super Heroes Battling Invisible Illness, with two of her essays about living with HIV/AIDS. (she/they) is a poet and night clerk at a public library. Her work has appeared recently in Pensive and The Healing Muse, is forthcoming in Rattle, and was named the 2021 Winner of the Able Muse Write Prize. Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.

ISSUE 14 | 25


soul catcher AUTHOR Roger Camp My family doctor, a good woman by the name of Sleep,

Without warning he flicked on the sound, the silent picture shifting to a talkie,

whose goal she once told me, eyes crinkled with amusement,

the whooshing and swishing, the dizzying realization this black and white image

was to keep me alive, forever. Hearing an anomaly in my heart, a murmur

was no abstraction but my own heart pumping life.

she sent me to a cardiologist where an impatient image of my heart

Stepping outside, my syncopation shaken, I felt something taken,

appeared on screen. His finger tapped the face of my flap

knowing technology can rope your heart and shanghai your soul.

that failed to open fully, like one might jump-start a watch.

tough guy meets stroke AUTHOR Roger Camp When I reached the kitchen counter I failed to grasp its cool marble its soothing touch slipping through my ailing fingers as I gently crashed miming a three-point landing.

When she woke she said my words were slurred, a warning of a serious threat to life. They did the usual tests, scans, pokes and probes. They found nothing, nothing showed.

Like an overturned turtle I studied the ceiling, as Pooky licked my face. Deciding to reject this dying script and the requisite goodbye kiss, I crawled my way back to bed sliding in with my sleeping wife.

My voice reverted to normal as the fingers of my left hand foundered, unable to clasp tiny things: buttons, pills, tweezers and a little death.


a tumor the size of a lime AUTHOR Roger Camp for Richard Benedix, M.D. It started with indigestion, first a gurgle, soon eructations day and night. Bankrupt from self-diagnosis, it was time to see the doc. Cigar chomping, old school, Dr. B

the size of a lime. Chopping off several feet of my intestine, tossing it in a bucket, filleting a handful of lymph nodes, adding them to the mash for prevention. My last night in hospital, they wheeled in an old man. Trembling with fear, he sought my advice.

believed a man knew his own body. Calling in favors, I saw the surgeon Friday.

The pride of survival prompted me to blurt out

He asked me to set a date. Tomorrow? He liked my confidence,

a pronouncement that he would live. It was misdirection to the extreme

making the outcome likely, adding to his win column.

as in the end I would live and he would die.

They found the obstruction in my colon, a tumor

Roger Camp lives in Seal Beach, CA where he tends his orchids, walks the pier, plays blues piano and spends afternoons with his pal, Harry, over drinks at Saint & 2nd. When he's not at home, he's traveling in the Old World. He is both a cancer and stroke survivor. Photos by Georgie Devlin and Anna Shvets from Pexels.


28| JANUARY 2022


hallucinations ARTIST Amaia Salazar

This project consists of the construction of visual experiences extracted from narrative fragments compiled from the book "Hallucinations" (2010) by Oliver Sacks. My objective was to explore repeating figurative images described by persons afflicted by the Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Through this artistic scene, my intention is to bring the viewer closer to a representation of hallucinations that Charles Bonnet patients experience, which they see as a film projection in real time. The images they see take place in a silent atmosphere, and they are frequently perceived as a means of contemplation. Through these media, I want to expand the viewers’ gaze to the figures, objects and scenarios, as each one tells a different narrative story. I want to capture from the focus of a third person, the visions and actions of the character who experiences them. Each work is accompanied by a brief description of the experience its representation was based on, in order to convey a greater understanding of the piece. The testimonies shown here were specifically chosen from people who met the following criteria: they were not completely blind, and they became aware of the hallucination and its associated experiences through several senses. The above will allow us to explore the representation of different perceptions that surround the visualization of Charles Bonnet hallucinations. As we know, they do not faithfully represent the experiences, since every person has their own imagination and subjective interpretation and it is impossible to accurately represent the hallucinations. Therefore, they are artistic interpretations of what these sensory phenomena could look like.

Amaia Salazar holds a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), two undergraduate degrees in Fine Arts and Design respectively, as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Management from the Francisco de Vitoria University (UFV), alongside other prestigious achievements. Amaia is currently a teaching fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the UCM. Her education in visual arts is complemented by experience in cognition and emotional intelligence, having studied in the Cognitive Neuroscience course at the Nirakara Institute and Psychology at Oxford University. Her artwork and research have received several awards and recognitions including the ARTSFAD Awards (Bcn, 2019).

ISSUE 14 | 29


from soldiers' two: a memoir of love, death and intercontinental silver AUTHOR Professor Darryl Whetter, PhD I’ve worn a piece of my father’s throat on my wrist for twenty-five years. His throat and maybe his soul, his him, his artificially stretched life. It’s a sterling-silver cuff bracelet that was smelted down, at my re‐ quest, from the tracheotomy tubes that kept him alive, by de‐ sign but also accidentally, for thirty of his fifty-two years. A simple silver C, it is burnished but otherwise unworked. No de‐ sign stands in minute relief on its flat, half-inch width, ever ready to imprint the skin of oth‐ ers if rarely my own. By circum‐ ference it reaches seven inches then hangs, mouth agape, for just over one more. Its 43 grams of sterling silver, a not in‐ substantial weight for jewelry, if I can even call it that, this man bangle from a mangled man, once helped keep it safe on the bottom of a lake in Canada’s cottage-famous Georgian Bay. The day I lost the woman who forged it, one of the days I lost her, I also lost the bracelet, watched it sink underwater past the reach of my fingers then even sunlight. Now, more than two decades and three roman‐ tic cohabitants later, it be‐ grimes daily here on the other side of the planet in sultry Sin‐ gapore. 30 | JANUARY 2022

I wear that silver C on my right wrist, for my working hand, though Dad’s farm-born parents may have secretly joined Mom’s in wondering whether my writ‐ ing fiction and poetry really con‐ stitutes work. Somewhere around the time of his half-un‐ expected death I heard or read of the Sikh kara bracelet being worn, in part, to remind the wearer not to misbehave or act dishonourably. Aside from its brief loss at the bottom of a cool lake, my private kara has encircled my wrist all my writing life, from my early twenties to, now, my late forties. Unlike mine, the kara (from kari, for ‘link’) is usually a complete cir‐ cle, part of great unending chains— of being, of faith, of community. My bracelet is ut‐ terly, vulnerably unique. I have only these borrowed pieties when admitting that his de‐ formed, un-long life is a circle stretching forward into mine. If you can reach up and scratch the top of your head, your cerebellar tonsils are sit‐ ting obediently above a rearbrain border called the foramen magnum. Anyone unlucky enough to be born, like our father, with a Chiari malformation in the brain can usually last into their early twenties, as he did,

before discovering that the cerebellar tonsils had previ‐ ously herniated and swollen over into the spinal canal. Pick your mythological or historical allusion for breaking on through to the other side. Caesar’s Rubi‐ con, Pandora’s box or sun-chas‐ ing Icarus. The Windsor-Detroit border of my second novel ex‐ amines the intersection of dif‐ ferent laws for alcohol, marijuana, strippers and prosti‐ tution. We two professor sons and our how many lovers, my brother’s daughters, the thou‐ sands of university students we have taught between us over the decades—how many have been knowingly or unknowingly influenced by whatever rogue chromosome stepped across borders in our father’s brain then spine? Most of us know so little of how our amazing bodies work, but trickle-down medical science surely puts spine, heart and brain at the top of our cringe-and-pucker lists. Who can differentiate the sight or function of all those slick mem‐ bers of Team Digestion? Kid‐ neys, those glistening, puce fruits; the vermicular spleen; the flank steak of the liver—what, exactly, do they do? Still, we all worry about the spine. Would


we have cared so much in the nineteenth-century, before elec‐ tricity changed both the species and the planet? The spinal cord. Let nothing sever or fray the cord. The personal computer our dad, ever the teacher, brought into the home in the early 80s—I adore my 64—would initiate our increasingly wired lives brokered between the prosthetic souls of hard drive then network. My collection of smut poetry, which is probably illegal as pornography here in Singapore, quotes novelist and multi-media artist Douglas Cou‐ pland’s line, “I miss my pre-In‐ ternet brain.” I often miss mine too (you quaint old thing, you, Concentration), though I’m also acutely aware of how differently we all might have lived with our dad’s freakishly rare condition, syringomyelia, if the Web had existed before the 90s. How much easier it might have been if we could have reached out to anyone who had even heard of the disease outside upper-year classes at med school. Every family, it seems, has lost someone to cancer. You’ve met diabetics. Your ele‐ mentary or secondary school may have had someone who was legally blind. Picturing a grandparent with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s is practically the

Professor Darryl Whetter is the author of four books of fiction and two poetry collections. His most recent books are the climate-crisis novel Our Sands, from Penguin Random House, and Teaching Creative Writing in Asia, with Routledge. A Canadian, he was the inaugural director of the first Creative Writing master’s degree in Singapore. His essays have been published by Oxford University Press, Routledge, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, The Brooklyn Rail, The Walrus, etc. Photo from Umnoide on Unsplash.

default. Allergies and asthma you get. The top results in a Google search for “syringomyelia rate Canada” concern syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles spaniel. When an obscure dog breed gets more Google press than your dad’s disease, welcome to unchar‐ tered territory. Assuming, as we so often do, that affliction rates are similar in Canada and the US, one estimate finds just 8.4 cases of syringomyelia per 100,000 (humans, not spaniels that are both knights and kings). In writing circles, John Gardner is famous for being Raymond Carver’s formative teacher and for reminding us that the following gem has been attributed to everyone from Shakespeare to Dosto‐ evsky to Tolstoy:

There are only two plots in all of literature: someone goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. My first novel, if not my life, finds its hero going on a journey in large part because a stranger came to our father’s spine. Here I am, these decades later, still running, in hectic Singapore. Dad’s stranger was named Sy‐ rinx, from the Greek for ‘pipe’ or ‘channel’ (hence the first half of syringomyelia). A syrinx is a fluid-filled cyst inside the con‐ tested real estate of the spinal cord, something where it shouldn’t be, disrupting and dis‐ lodging.


requiem for part of my left shoulder AUTHOR E.D. Watson Place my mother kissed, and then my lovers caressed by tender thumbs where neck makes shoulder, grazed by chins of everyone I ever hugged, stung by sun when I drove across the desert and back again, where I balanced my waitress tray where the yoke rubbed: cancer then eight stitches the spot now cut and sent away to some cold lab— that fractious patch of skin worked hard, was loved. I suppose they’ll cremate it with others’ bits of skin and spleen; skin remembers unmet loves and dreams the thrill of flesh for flesh, embedded with old griefs like black pearls. I hope they have a funeral each time they empty out the kiln and fling our ashes at the sky dancing stomping singing to whatever gods preside the field, screaming hallelujah for the kisses hallelujah for the knife.

E. D. Watson (she/they) is a poet and night clerk at a public library. Her work has appeared recently in Pensive and The Healing Muse, is forthcoming in Rattle, and was named the 2021 Winner of the Able Muse Write Prize. They are a candidate for certification through the Institute for Poetic Medicine, and believe poetry is a healing practice available to everyone. Artwork by Cezara Ene.


sounds of the ER, 3 a.m., from a gurney in the aisle AUTHOR Rick Blum boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . beep . . boop . beep . . . beepoop . . beep . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . tingaling . . tingaling . boopaling . . tingaling . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop Bev can you get 204A boop . On it . ding . . ding . . ding . . ding . . ding . . ding . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . beebop . . beebop . . . . . . . beebop . . beebop . . . . . . . beebop . shhhch 97-year old woman with heart failure comin’ in in 15 minutes shhhch . . . . . . . . . . beebop . . bee . . . . . . . We need some blood, Honey . .. wheeee eeeeeeeee . . . . You’ll feel a pinch . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . KA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUNKA THUN . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . All done . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop Good Lord. 7 o’clock can’t get here soon enough . You got that right, sister . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . boop . . . . . . . . . THUN

KA THUNKA

Rick Blum has been writing humorous essays and poetry for more than 30 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul and, most recently, old geezer. His writings have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and poetry journals, which he will not name out of an inflated sense of modesty, and in the hope that you will simply assume these are well-known publications. And maybe some are. Artwork by Cezara Ene.


twenty-two, and still wearing diapers AUTHOR Mitch Balladares It started at a random place at too early of a time. A movie the‐ ater, nine years young. In the dark, I was sitting beside my Tita Jhoana, the fourth sis‐ ter of the five girls my Mama Lola gave birth to, with my own Mama being the eldest. We were watching a family movie, the ones you see during Christ‐ mas time. It was the usual Tagalog comedy film starring the current famous celebs, with all of its subpar budget and a lit‐ tle too on-the-nose slapstick hu‐ mor and conventional plot. And as I barked out a laugh when the main character cracked a joke, I thought I wet my undies with a little pee. It was sudden. It made me flinch a tiny bit. I immediately felt the dampness as it crawled. “Ta Jho,” I called to her, a little panicked. I was nine. “Why do I still soil my undies like this? And in the middle of a movie, too.” “Ta Jho,” I repeated, voice somewhat louder. “Can you please come with me to the banyo?” “Ha? Baket? What happened to you?” She whispered back, care‐ ful not to disturb the others who were watching and giggling be‐ side us. “Eh…” It was shameful to say. “I think… naihi ako. Peed a little.” “What? Let’s go to the comfort room. Now.” That was how I was unceremo‐ niously dragged into a stall of the movie theater bathroom. She had me pull down my pants, together with my allegedly soiled undies, as she scrambled

to open her bag to grab some tissues. I already saw what had happened before she did but did not say anything. Maybe it was for the element of surprise, but I was actually smelling another, more metallic element. When Tita Jho turned around, she exclaimed, “Hala, it’s your first regla! Quick, squeeze your undies until you get blood on your hands. And then, wipe that blood on both of your cheeks.” “Po?” “You will get clear skin if you do. It’s the placenta, says the el‐ derly.” Tita Jhoana explained as I looked down at the light smearing of blood across the cotton cloth of my undies. Was there even enough blood on the undies for that? I should have gone for the source, at that point. So, I did what the elderly believed. I quickly swiped my in‐ dex and middle fingers on the barely bloodied cloth and wiped whatever it was — placenta, my mind supplied — on both of my cheeks. For clear skin. “Let it dry for a minute,” she said, so we waited for approxi‐ mately fifty-something seconds. After that, she slapped a sani‐ tary napkin that came out of blue packaging right at the crotch of my undies. Tita Jhoana had me stand up, pulled up my undies and my pants for me, led me out of the cubicle, washed my hands and face, and then we were suddenly jogging to the part of the movie theater entrance where there were about five steps of stairs. The movie in the theater was a giant muffled noise.

“Come on. Go and stand at the top of the stairs, then jump back down, quick.” “Tita, why?” I asked, wondering how the reason behind risking an injury could be just because, apparently, I got my first period at nine years old. “It’s for your blood flow,” she ex‐ plained, leading me to the top of the short flight stairs. She went back down, holding up her arms as if poised to catch me. “The elderly said that if you jump down from five steps of stairs, you will only bleed for five days a week and no more. I also did that when I was young and my period is consistently five days long. Dali na, jump quickly, so we can go back inside already.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped. I felt Tita Jho catching half of my body. The sanitary napkin moved. The area itched the rest of the movie and I believed I walked silly that whole night. Tita Jho was a little excited about all of… that, telling me that she would immediately let Mama know about this unexpected develop‐ ment once Mama gets off from doing double-shifts at her work‐ place. … To Tita Jho’s disappointment, my body did not drop any amount of blood since that day at the movie theater — perhaps I jumped from too high of a place and that caused my period to resume when I was in sixth grade, three years later. Tita Jho told me that maybe the first one was a false alarm and that my body somehow knew it


Mitch Balladares is a Filipina writer who is currently taking up Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at De La Salle University Manila. She has been published in Philippine literary journals such as Katitikan (2019) and Luntian (2020). She is also the current Editorin-Chief of Philippine-based literary journal ALPAS Journal. Photos from Pexels and Unsplash.

was too early for a nine-year-old to have a menstrual period. And for sixth graders, getting your “first blood” was already the norm as my biologically female classmates started to get their own periods at that time as well. My body was changing alongside my peers, she ex‐ plained. To be fair, the first “real” period I had was indeed five days long. As was the next month after that, and the next, but then for the fourth month of being a dalaga, around the time when I was supposed to have my monthly visitor, she did not ar‐ rive at all. My cycle ended there. Well, at least, the normalcy of it. My pe‐ riods went irregular. Yet they were very heavy during the rare times when they actually ar‐ rived. Tita Jho said it was kinda usual for fat teens because of the added weight and body chemicals. I just need to be vigi‐ lant of when it comes and when it skips. I had to mark my calen‐ dars for it so I would be able to keep track and anticipate the “next one” even though it was an irregular period. There was nothing to be worried about. At that point, though, as a twelve-year-old, I used to some‐ how “like” the hassle-free feel‐ ing of not having blood leaking out everywhere for a whole month or even for a couple of months. I remained unbothered at that time. Whereas my fe‐ male classmates worried over PMS every single month, I only had to worry about it less, I just did so whenever my very spe‐ cial, yet shy visitor arrived. … It was tolerable at best, and I had secretly thought I was spe‐ cial for not always having peri‐ ods. It seemed like I was lucky until I reached the age of

fifteen. I was at school when it started. I was having those particularly heavy periods after three months of not having any, and during lunch break, my seat‐ mate, Kirsten, pulled me aside so suddenly. Something tugged at my chest. My mind identified it as nervousness as I stared at my friend’s face as she started to speak. “May tagos ka, your skirt’s stained with your period,” she whisper-hissed to me. Panic seeped into my skin. This was inevitable and the first course of action was to do something, but I stood there for a full five seconds as my heart rate kicked up a notch. “Hey, Em-jey, do you have an ex‐ tra uniform?” Instead of the usual quick panic-induced actions, I felt my‐ self slow down. “Hala, oh, no, I didn’t bring any,” I whispered back, and my voice register was weirdly lower and calmer than my head. I wrung my hands as my chest throbbed. “But I can call Tita Jho… to bring some… I really did not know. Hala, girl. Thanks for telling me.” “Of course, you don’t know, you can’t see it, ano ka ba.” Kirsten smiled, teasing. “Tara, let’s walk to the payphone at the guard‐ house. You go first, and then I’ll walk behind you so no one will see.” Biting my lip, I was able to nod. It was embarrassing, getting my skirt stained red with period blood. Who wants to see that? Oh, and who knows how many people already saw it at this time of day? Since when did I have it? The embarrassment joined the shame, and they both crawled in my skin and settled low, in my puson, that vaguely felt like the ache when blood was about to come out of me.


We reached the guardhouse in record time. Kirsten slotted eight pesos and dialed Tita Jho’s phone number after read‐ ing it from the emergency con‐ tacts part of my school ID. Tita Jho picked up after a few rings. Kirsten started to speak, “Hello po, Tita Jho? Opo, she has her period right now and it got a lit‐ tle heavy, and her skirt’s all stained… Opo, yes po. She’s go‐ ing to wait for you here at the guardhouse…. Opo. Okay, po.” The call ended quickly but it felt ages to me. I felt like what stayed in my puson was about to burst. I wanted to cry, I think, but only one part of me re‐ mained to excrete bodily fluids. “Thanks,” I told Kirsten. “You can go back to the classroom if you want to. It’s fine. You have helped me enough.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” The words came out shaky. Kirsten did not comment on it any further. She nodded and went back to the high school building. I was left alone, sick to my stomach, bleeding through pieces of clothing. Tita Jho arrived a full thirty min‐ utes later, saw me pale, and im‐ mediately herded me to the nearest bathroom and I was finally able to breathe normally again. The next morning, before I went to school, after confirmation that my period will stay heavy for the rest of the week or so, Tita Jho handed me something while I was in the bathroom about to put on my undies. She handed the thing, wordlessly, in a bundle. I inspected it inside the bathroom. I frowned. It was, indeed, a pair of panties that I was sure I owned, except that there was a baby diaper at‐ tached to the inside, through a semi-loose running stitch at the

back part of the article to keep it from moving around. I took a deep breath. I was fif‐ teen, a whole teenager, and I was about to wear baby diapers again. And it was because of blood, instead of the other, “nor‐ mal” excretions babies

made when they were still in di‐ aper age. I never thought my own diaper age would ever have a comeback. It was not sup‐ posed to be a trend, yet here we were. Was this still… normal? It did not feel normal. Then I remembered how Kirsten hurriedly covered up for me and how embar‐ rassed I was throughout the whole ordeal. But diapers, for a teenage girl? It sounded funny in my head. I stared at the weird panty-diaper amalgamation for a while. It was for me to no longer have tagos at school. I closed my eyes and stepped into the holes of my underwear. That part was familiar, but the heat and the itch of the cotton and synthetic fibers were some‐ thing I could no longer remem‐ ber from my infant and toddler years. Maybe because the feel‐

ing was supposed to stay in that part of my life. Again, here we were still. Since then, Tita Jho would al‐ ways prepare panty-diapers for whenever my period goes in‐ sane, because my flow fills up an overnight pad in just an hour. It became my well-kept secret with Tita Jho, with the extension of my Mama who was busy with work at the time. It was the best secret I shared with Tita Jho yet, and only be‐ cause of one question: Who would ever believe that a girl went up the stage to get her High School Diploma wearing an XL-sized baby diaper sewn into her panties? Right. No one. … That was my new normal until my last year of college. My peri‐ ods were still irregular, panty-di‐ apers were still a thing, but I learned from Tita Jho to sew them myself as I lived in a dorm situated across the university for convenience. I also unlocked the achievement of becoming an expert in removing blood stains from everything. And I mean everything—from panties to shorts, to skirts, to pillow‐ cases, to bedsheets and blan‐ kets. At that point in my life, I thought perhaps I could even give a lec‐ ture to aspiring serial killers. “How to Remove Blood Stains 101.” Use ice to melt hardened stains. Then use body-scented soaps. Scrub until it bleeds. Rinse, repeat. It became this big anomaly and source of humiliation in my life. Something I was tight-lipped about. My friends complain all the time about their PMS or dysmenorrhea, but I could not share anything at all because everything was too abnormal for me to share. Well, to be fair, I only experience


it half the time, but my repro‐ duction system’s own process of doing things required me to live like a giant baby who goes to college and writes poetry. It was also time I deserved a medal for sprinting to the baby diaper aisle at the supermarket to grab a few packs only to make a beeline for the cashier. It stayed like that; a bloody sport I played with my bloody self, but not quite, up until the last quarter of 2017. I went six months without a single drop of blood. I was very bloated, very miserable, and very moody for no apparent external reason. And then suddenly, one morn‐ ing, blood everywhere. My dorm room was Blood City. As if a murder took place but no one had died. I was thankful that Kirsten, who became my college dormmate and was taking her pre-med courses in the same university, had classes all day. If she were there with me when I woke up and saw all the blood, she would have thought that I had risen from the dead and was about to ascend into the light. It took me three hours to re‐ move the stains. Baby diapers flew out of the windows and I had to look in the adult diapers section of the supermarket that afternoon. One month of that and I knew had to report back to Tita Jho about it. “I no longer have to sew them,” I told her via phone call. “I now wear them di‐ apers as old people do.” I shared the joke with Kirsten af‐ ter she got back from her class that afternoon. She did not laugh and was not amused, and she urged me to see an OBGYNE. … The doctor said I had to un‐ dergo a transvaginal ultrasound. Something with a camera will

go inside my vaginal canal to look at what was happening in there in case there was anything that was causing the nonstop bleeding. I had to take some pills that forced my body to stop bleeding a few days before the procedure, but a little bleeding was still there when the day of my procedure arrived. I was not even conscious about something literally going up in‐ side of me, rather I was too con‐ scious of the fact that I may bleed on the camera. This was a legitimate concern I raised to the nurse as she placed a con‐ dom on the transducer. She lubed it up well and told me that I should not worry over a little blood. They had me drink lots of water half an hour before the ultra‐ sound so that I could empty my bladder. Once I did, I had to change into a hospital gown bare-bottom. The sonographer instructed me to lie down on a reclining chair so that she may start with the procedure. The transducer probing inside was mildly uncomfortable, and it stung my vaginal canal when the sonographer changed the angle. I laid there, legs wide open, trying to make sense of the numbers they were busy jot‐ ting down, and the small, circu‐ lar things I kept seeing on the screen. The doctor talked to me after she was able to read the re‐ sults. She said I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. She also said that my ovaries are smaller than normal and that with the rate my bleeding is go‐ ing, I should be given a blood transfusion. Tita Jho declined the transfu‐ sion because she thought that it was too much, and so the doc‐ tor resorted to giving me a re‐ seta for iron supplements and a

specific brand of birth control pills. The birth control pills managed my period well and it was the first time in my life that I regu‐ larly menstruated five to seven days a month. But then, its sideeffects devastated me. It fat‐ tened me up, my mood was at an all-time low, and I could no longer eat breakfast without throwing up. My face was very swollen, and my acne spread down to my shoulders and chest. It was a small price to pay, I figured, in exchange for the amelioration of my period problems. After a year, in 2018, despite my constant battle with the pills, my period magically disappeared on me yet again. I was advised by the OB-GYNE to drop the pills altogether, monitor my flow for six months, and report back to her the findings. But at that time, I had to venture out of the university and transi‐ tion into my first job in an adver‐ tising company. At the same time, my relationship with PCOS started to interfere with simple things, like a night out with friends. I was with Kirsten and two of our high school classmates be‐ cause of an impulsive decision to go out. We suddenly decided to go for a food trip around Maginhawa in Quezon City and then maybe rent some room at a KTV and order a bucket of Smirnoff Mule. It was fine early that evening. I had not gotten my period for about four months. I noticed the familiar tingling when we were at a food joint eating some ice cream, so I brought my small napkin pouch to their two-cubicle re‐ strooms that had a damp floor and semi-functioning flush. I had not prepared for this at all, and what I only kept in my bag


was two pieces of overnight napkin, the usual thirty-six-inch ones for heavy flows. I thought it would be okay, so I placed the napkin on top of the small red dot of blood in the middle of my underwear. I took a deep breath, washed my hands very thoroughly, sprayed alcohol on my palms, and went back to my friends and resumed the night. That was what I had hoped at the time, but my best friend and my most favorite surprise visitor had other plans. By the time we went to the KTV, only an hour after my bathroom run (but hell, it felt so much shorter than that), my pad al‐ ready felt heavy and full. I tried to keep myself calm, excused myself from the group as Kirsten sang Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” and quickly changed my pads with my last one, hoping that it would tide me over the night. But as we drank, and sang, and laughed, my visitor was as ac‐ tive as I was and even perhaps enjoying her stay, taking her va‐ cation from her usual Laguna de Bay and upgrading it into an all-out Boracay trip. But I did not have any pads left. After an‐ other hour of singing and drink‐ ing, around eleven that night, I poked Kirsten, asking her if she had any to spare. She said she was not able to bring any because our night out was decided so quickly. I took a deep breath and nod‐ ded. I tried to change the way I sat on the couch in between songs because I was afraid to bleed through anything. But in the middle of a laugh, I felt a glob of something so hot and so wet exit my canal. I stilled and the wetness immediately spread. I took a deep breath and moved a little farther from

my friends on the couch. Thank the Gods that it was dim inside the room because I already bled through. I looked around and took some tissues from the holder provided on the table and wiped the leather covers, chucking it inside my bag. I promptly excused myself for the third time that night and tried to bring my already tipsy self to the bathroom. I was right. And this sobered me up a little bit because I had already bled through everything, my underwear and my cycling shorts were soaked, and of course, my wine-colored dress was already stained. The pad I had on was colored black and dark purple with all the blood in it. My puson started to ache with the little panic that seemed to come home to settle there. I ripped the napkin off and it came off so easily because of how bloody everything was. I tried to roll it as much as I could and chucked it in the trash can with a hard thud. What now? I took a deep breath and looked at the bloodied mess I had made. There was no vending machine for napkins in‐ side the bathroom. I would have to do something… Biting my lip, I grabbed the tissue roll and started to fold it as thick as I could and placed the thick tis‐ sue strip in its pseudo-pad ap‐ pearance in the middle of my underwear. It would have to do, unfortunately, and that was the thought that held my tears back, even though it could not stop the flow of blood. I stood up, triggered the flush, and checked how much of my dress was stained. It was just a small patch of darker red on the already dark red-wine dress. A small patch but it meant the world for me that night. I was relieved.

And then a knock came on the door of the cubicle. It was Kirsten, “Ma-ja? Okey ka lang? You alright?” “Yeah…” I opened the door after making sure there was no blood to be seen and went for the sink to wash my hands. I looked at Kirsten, “I may have to go back to the dorm early. You guys con‐ tinue if you want.” “Ha? Baket? Why?” “Period stuff.” “Oh. Okay. Paano ka na? How are you gonna go home?” “I’ll get a Grab.” “You sure? ‘Di ka naman lasing? You’re not too drunk?” “Okey lang. My puson is really starting to hurt now, and it’s too heavy…” “May tagos ka na? You bled through your clothes? You know you have to have that checked again.” “Yeah, and yes po, Doktora.” We both laughed, and I was a little consoled, and she waited for me to have a GrabCar booked before returning to our friends. I sat sideways inside the car so I would not make a mess of the driver’s car, which thankfully, I did not. I dragged myself up to the dorm room, cleaned myself, and removed the stains as best as I could, de‐ spite the alcohol in my system. I wore a fresh adult diaper to sleep. The next morning, I woke up be‐ fore Kirsten who occupied the top bunk, all sore and miserable, and very wet down there and even under myself. I did not know how I slept but the blood spilled out the sides of the dia‐ per, making a map of the world out of my blood-stained bed sheets. I started to cry and stayed there, lying in my own pool of blood, a wounded warrior sacrificed in the heat of a World War.


All the hours scrubbing away blood from all kinds of fabric my backside was meant to get acquainted with was one thing. I could get used to that, perhaps. But this time, how this impacted me, it was harder. It affected me differently this time. It felt like a cross I was already too tired of, a cross I was bearing for years, and it was a cross that I will be bringing with me for the next years to come. It was harder, not only physically, but also so‐ cially and mentally. There were times when I could not go on swimming trips with colleagues in fear of bleeding all over the place. I could only wear baggy bottoms and skirts so I could obscure the adult dia‐ per bulge. That vicinity was al‐ ways damp and uncomfortable, and I had no choice but to smile and carry out tasks for the day. I had started to bleed, but in a more figurative way, too. … The lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gave me no medical support as my PCOS started to latch onto me. My pe‐ riod was gone for about three to four months before starting again last March, the day after I went home to Laguna because of ECQ restrictions. A few weeks before July ended, with me bleeding for four months straight, a package ad‐ dressed to Tita Jho came to our house gate. She handed me two bottles after unboxing the pack‐ age. Herbal supplements. She told me that she had read arti‐ cles on the internet and watched YouTube videos about how to help my condition, and that Maca Root and Spirulina capsules were her best bet to help me manage my period and to help me from wearing adult diapers, which I had been doing for the past four months. That,

together with dieting and regu‐ lar exercise. Tita Jho said that she read about how Maca Root can help balance hormones and Spirulina’s fatty acids can help manage the pain associated with PCOS. I started to take 1,000mg of Maca Root and 500mg of Spirulina every day. After two weeks of intake, I low‐ ered my daily consumption of carbohydrates and started to do Zumba for an hour a day. Just after two months of follow‐ ing that routine, I noticed changes in my body. My weight, which was around 205 lbs when the lockdowns were declared, went down to 174 lbs. Currently, at the time of writing, I only use the small day pads for the ran‐ dom days when I get a case of light spotting. It was hard to keep it up, all the medicine and the dieting and the exercise, but this was a lot easier than when I had birth control pills. This was something Tita Jho was happy about, and I am too, be‐ cause of the improvements and

the fact that my suffering started to ease up, like seeing a little light at the end of a bloody tunnel. Even though I no longer wear adult diapers, for the time being, I still keep a pack full of them at the back of my wardrobe just in case I need them again. I no longer fear blood for I have already bled er‐ ratically for years, a reason I never would have thought of when I was nine and smearing blood on my cheeks. But the pain and the frustration of something that could not go away feels more like an open wound. There is still no perma‐ nent cure for PCOS, and some‐ one diagnosed with it can only alleviate some of the symptoms through various medications and find ways to live around it. As I continue to improve my ev‐ eryday life, trying to live with the tiny cysts in my ovaries, here is to hoping that I would not have to turn twenty-three (or any other age) still wearing diapers for blood.

ISSUE 14 12 | 39


wishes for doctors who don't believe AUTHOR Pamela Sinicrope after wishes for sons, Lucille Clifton i wish them pain without diagnosis. i wish them beauty to cover it or a single ibuprofen. let their humming shoulders singe their skin while they inspect, ankles buckling when they want to, fingers shifting sideways, dreams of tennis balls, piano keys and firm handshakes— just beyond reach. i wish them a friday afternoon, late and wondering if they should call, i wish them a full bottle locked inside a child-proof cap, the answering service on a saturday,

Pam Sinicrope is an editor from Rochester, USA. She has a doctorate in Public Health and en‐ gages in research to eliminate health disparities with a focus in cancer prevention. She has served as a student editor for the Howling Bird Press and is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in poetry at Augsburg University. She has been writing a chapbook about the experience living with rheumatoid arthritis. Artwork by Celina Liu.

40 | JANUARY 2022

a voice that interrupts to say, i don’t believe you later, i wish them flares that come more than they go, that blossom, red and swollen then disappear in the exam room like you wouldn’t believe— what crazy is— a doctor who tells them, you look fine to me. let them think they don’t know.


long haul year two AUTHOR Rachel Baum Another physician's assistant laptop The doctor is MIA because you Are not (ever) sick enough Pull tight around you your 65 year old White woman hospital gown of invisibility Recite the wasted time fillers Weight height blood pressure pulse Review your meds are you safe at home? Then do nothing there is nothing to do You are nothing you and your Unknowable phantom illness Cancel the skeptical air the bored ceiling Void the defensive dismissive clinic Take this fusion of ache and bone This corroded pipeline of fatigue Leaking shards of electrical filament Rachel R. Baum is a professional dog trainer, former librarian, licensed private pilot, kayak an‐ gler, and COVID long hauler. She is the author of the blog BARK! Confessions of a Dog Trainer and the editor of Funeral and Memorial Service Readings Poems and Tributes. Her poems have appeared in High Shelf Press, Ariel's Dream, Drunk Monkeys, Wingless Dreamer, Poetica Re‐ view, Bark magazine, and others. Artwork by Celina Liu.

Form elusive words that clamor and scream Without sound from outside the elevator That everyone uses and the only one to climb Down the indifferent cellar stairs Is you.


People tend to think of humans as being different or of more importance than the natural en‐ vironment that surrounds us. However, what we fail to re‐ member is that humans are a part of that same natural envi‐ ronment. In fact, our health is often impacted by what sur‐ rounds us, such as the air we breathe, the food we eat, and so on. Moreover, human health is often dependent on elements such as plants, from which we derive medicines from, and have done so for a very long time. I believe that this is vastly important to remember, espe‐ cially due to recent news that show we are continuously putting our planet and the na‐ ture it holds at risk. I took this opportunity to depict parts of the human body, and parts of nature under an x-ray to sym‐ bolize that beneath it all, hu‐ mans must work with nature to maintain balance on the planet and health as a whole, both mind and body.

Karthyayani Ramesh Cover Artist

42 | JANUARY 2022


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ISSN 2563-7274 (Print) ISSN 2563-7282 (Online) published January 2022 themusemcmaster.ca