I’m sitting on a gurney in the emergency room. I’ve lost count of how many visits this makes. A flimsy cotton gown is wrapped around me, I feel the chill from the opening at the back and I shiver.
The gurney is covered in thin white hospital issued sheets, the hospital name stamped but faded at the worn corners. My arms are wrapped tightly around myself and I am rocking back and forth. It is something I do to comfort myself. Tears are spilling down my cheeks as once again a nurse checks my blood pressure and readies an IV to put in my arm. I feel the TAP…TAP… of her finger against my clammy skin as she checks for an entry site. I do not question her, but flinch as I feel the pin prick of the needle enter my vein.
The nurse tries to engage me in small talk, wanting to know why I had taken the pills. I am silent. I refuse to talk. She shakes her head as if to say tsk…tsk. The IV is put in, and the nurse hands me a cup filled with a black chalky substance.
“Down the hatch Christine, you know the routine.”
Though I don’t want to drink this awful tasting drink, I know if I refuse, the nurse will get angry, so I reach out and reluctantly take it from her hand. My hands shake as I bring the cup to my lips, and I shudder taking the first swallow. I drink this black chalky substance to counteract the numerous pills I had hastily taken hours before. I have long learned that this substance is activated charcoal and it is an emergency measure used when someone swallows a toxic drug or chemical. Activated charcoal is given in the form of a thick black, liquid suspension either orally for conscious victims or through a tube and into the stomach for those who are unconscious or unable to swallow the liquid.
The nurse gets a bedpan and puts it beside me on my bed. She stands and watches me from about a foot away. She knows from my last visit that I had tried to take the cup of charcoal and throw it across the room. My defiance is not going to be tolerated this time. As this black chalky substance enters my mouth, I want to gag. I almost do, and the nurse says quite crossly,
“We don’t like giving this stuff, why do you keep doing this to yourself?”
I can’t tell her why I keep on overdosing, why my thoughts are consumed with darkness and doom. In my head, I am asking myself “why should I tell her, she won’t understand.” She shakes her head in frustration as if to say “stupid little girl” and abruptly tells me,
“The doctor will be in soon,”
I’m sitting on the gurney, and though my head is foggy, I hear the sounds of the ER around me. I hear patients moaning in pain, the whispered voices of the doctors in consultation with specialists, discussing a line of treatment, and a nurse chirpily asking
“Are you warm enough m’aam? Are you warm enough sir?
“ Would you like me to bring you a blanket?”
This courtesy doesn’t extend to me. I get a cursory glance as the nurses pass by; their annoyance palpable. As an overdose patient, I know I am an annoyance to the ER staff. I have been here so many times this past month. The ER has become a revolving door. I am in, I’m treated and then I’m out again. Sometimes I’m admitted, and when I am, I am sent up to the psychiatric floor, where my stay can be from two weeks to almost a month.
As I sit on the gurney in the ER, waiting for the doctor, my thoughts are everywhere. I look around me. I feel the crust of the charcoal around my lips, and clumsily try to wipe my mouth. I’m so tired. I want to sleep and my eyes begin to droop. I curl up on the gurney, grabbing the sheets and pulling them tightly around me. I lay down; my knees are to my chest. The last thing I see before I drift off to sleep is the tubing from the IV, and I faintly hear the drip…drip… of the liquid in the IV going into my arm.
Today I realize, more than anything the hospital served as a safe, albeit punishing, haven. A place where I knew I could be saved however briefly from the incessant torment going on within my mind. Little did I know then that once I worked through the inner torment that drove me repeatedly into the ER, that I would be free. I didn’t know then that it was the same me that swallowed those pills that would have to climb up from the darkness and undertake a journey through the very torment that threatened to consume me and out into the light. Today I reflect on those days and know that my story, being lived out in so many places, by so many others, also has the power to heal, and that sharing it may help someone else see the light after the darkness and hopefully help them find their own courage to walk out of that pain and into a new life of strength and overcoming.
Christine MacFarlane is a Saulteaux woman from Peguis First Nation. She is an emerging writer and is graduating from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Aboriginal Studies in June 2011. Her story “Choosing the Path to Healing” appeared in the 2006 anthology Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, and a creative non-fiction piece titled As A Child appeared in Yellow Medicine Review in 2008, and has a new piece titled “Mother: An Essay” in Yellow Medicine Review Spring 2011. Christine is at her happiest when she is engaged in writing. She has a regular column in the Native Canadian newsletter, titled Life’s Journey and freelances for Anishinabek News and First Nations House magazine that is based out of First Nations House of the University of Toronto. She writes about issues that are close to her but is also open to exploring new venues to get her writing out there.