Memory Is A Wicked Thing

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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.




About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Classic, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Diabetes, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Memories, Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Memory Is A Wicked Thing

  1. Yo is Me says:



    you took the breath right out of me.

  2. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Yo is You, and Clare.

    I’ve read this a few times since posting it and I think it needs an edit… I find it’s a little disjointed between some of the paragraphs.

    And I may have made the headline a little more obscure than I meant to… it’s a play on Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. It’s about an evil carnival, among other things.

    Thanks, as always, for your comments.

  3. Yo is Me says:

    i think it flows well. memories and history and the present are all choppy things. i like the way this flows. i have choppy memories sometimes, too. like a flash, and then a flood of memories triggered by something small.

    i used to say “something shady this way comes” when a guy my sister used to date would call or come by.

    i love your writing.

  4. thordora says:

    Gabe….I have memories, terrible memories, that float like a dream and make me wonder.

    I know they’re real, even if I wish they were dreams.

    I hope your legs are ok. Hugs.

  5. bromac says:

    I wish my memories weren’t fading with every dose of lamictal I take. The pdoc swears it isn’t the cause. Off topic, sorry.

    I really hope all goes well with your legs. Thinking of you.

    Oh, btw, how is the mama doing?

  6. Holy shit. I didn’t know this stuff. Well, I can’t profess to know everything about you. However, this is pretty heavy.

    Purple nin-JAH feel sad for nin-JAH.


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