When I was five I spent six weeks in the Hospital For Sick Kids in Toronto. I walked and ran awkwardly, as though something was wrong with my hips. There were also some other symptoms which, when combined with the hip problems, had the doctors thinking I may have had a cancer.
So they started doing tests. Which came back negative. So the doctors told my mother it would take another week. And the tests got more and more memorable. I can remember huge machines that clicked and whined. And lots of needles. I think the reason that, for as long as I can remember, having a needle stuck into my arm has been no big deal is because of my time in the hospital.
Nurses used to come into my room at weird times of the night to take me places, or to change my sheets because I was wetting the bed. But in the morning I’d wake up with a dry sheet, and thinking it had all been a dream.
I was in a room with at least one other kid. At least I only remember one other kid. He had casts on both legs. So I found a wheelchair and started pushing him around the hospital. All of my memories of him could have taken place over a day, or over a week. I don’t have time markers from that part of my life. We moved around every few months, and the hospital was a weird non-day, non-night place.
But I think it was a few days. Because I remember the nurses looking at us as we rushed by and being used to it happening.
We managed to get into a service elevator and pushed the bottom button. When the door opened we were in the giant laundry room. And then someone caught us in a place we weren’t supposed to be and that was the end of our adventures.
My only other memory of him was the day they inserted giant pins into his legs. I remember him being in a lot of pain, and feeling guilty or ashamed because I didn’t notice just how much pain he was in until after I asked if he’d like to go out in the wheelchair again.
He left either that day, or the next.
I had a recurring memory for a long time about one of the tests they did on me. In some of my memories from when I was really young, if there’s a woman, I replace her with my mother. There was one night, for example, where the babysitter got really upset with me, and started to beat me.
He put me in the kitchen with his girlfriend, and would take television breaks between spankings. And I would cry, and scream and look at this girl or woman and ask “why?”. And I remember her looking at me with sympathy in her eyes, and shrugging. Then her boyfriend would come back in and start again. I can remember him asking questions I couldn’t answer.
In one of the only two therapy sessions I’ve shared with my mother, I asked her why she let this guy beat me for so long. But she denied it had been her, and was sure I had made it all up to begin with.
So it was basically at that point I realized two of my most unfavourable memories of my mother, the two most painful abuses I had suffered through, didn’t actually — at least not directly — involve my mother.
The beating in the kitchen, and the electric shocks in the basement of the hospital.
One of the last tests the doctors performed on me at the Sick Kids Hospital was in a small room, where I laid down on my stomach. The nurse put long, thin needles into my back and hooked them up to a machine. I don’t know how long the test lasted, but I screamed the snot out of my head the whole time.
They were running electrical pulses down my spine to test my nerves. Or something. I can remember my whole body tensing, and even contorting.
Between shots the nurse would stroke my back and say encouraging things. But for years I thought it was my mother standing beside me.
After the sixth week of testing hadn’t found anything conclusive my mother finally pulled me out, against the doctors advice. I’ve always had a hard time running, I can’t sit cross legged for long, and the first time (after infancy) I ever touched my toes was in grade eleven gym class.
Both situations — kitchen and dungeon — were just unreal enough that, as long as I didn’t ask anyone, the possibility they were hallucinations or dreams was always there.
I recently had a test similar to the one I had in the dungeon, but on my legs. I’ve been having prolonged periods of numbness in my right leg and foot, I think it’s been six months since I first noticed it, and we’re trying to figure out if it’s related to the diabetes.
So two weeks ago I had what I believe is called an “EMR test”, where a nurse shoots electrical pulses down your leg and the computer basically times the reaction period. Or something. I was late for the appointment, and she kept telling me I was responsible for everyone else being late that day, and I was really tired, so I didn’t speak to her.
It’s weird, it has only been a couple of weeks but I can’t remember if she put needles into my legs, or used suction cups or sticky tape. But this time the pulses were basically bearable.
But after the appointment I spent about an hour walking around the clinic, waiting for my mother, and thinking about my Little Self and my memories.
I go back for the second round on Tuesday.