Four years ago, almost to the day this post is being written, I went into the hospital for the first of several stays to deal with a health issue that had begun a few months before. That stay and those subsequent (including a later surgery), as well as the rest of my treatment and recovery process, left me with a lot of medical related trauma I still struggle with nearly daily. I actively try to avoid thinking about that time, but as the anniversary comes around flashbacks become more frequent. One memory that sticks with me is the gown I wore during those first few days.
It was yellow, with a red stripe around the neck. I remember thinking it was actually sort of pretty, as far as hospital gowns went. I mentioned this to one of the nurses, only to be told that was the gown they gave to all patients who were fall risks. One of my numerous armbands had the same warning printed on it. To them that’s what I was, a fall risk.
In the moment I couldn’t help but think how funny it was that I had been labeled as such. A full-time wheelchair user for nearly two decades, my ability to walk is more myth than legend at this point. I’m well aware trying to walk would be disastrous (if comical), so all the reminders seemed a bit much to me.
Of course the warnings weren’t for me, they were for the people who might come in contact with me. They let hospital staff know immediately what I was, or wasn’t, capable of. It remained up to me to explain my needs in full, which by and large went well enough. But the initial visual cues of the gown and armband helped lay the groundwork.
In the years since that hospital stay, I’ve done a lot of healing. I will likely always have scars from that period of my life, both physical and mental, but I hope with time the pain that caused them will fade. In the meantime, I’m left trying to reassess my capabilities and my needs, as well as how best to explain them.
I’ve thought about that gown and its significance often in the last few years. I’ve come to wish I had something like it to convey to the world my fragility, something that explained my needs without me having to reopen old wounds. I’m not sure there’s anything as painful as, accidentally or intentionally, tearing open something that had been on its way to healing.
I am so tired of bleeding to heal. But I don’t know any other way. It’s not as if there are grapic tees or outgoing messages for these situations.
I haven’t really been doing nothing, but panic attacks aren’t polite conversation.
Hi sorry I missed your call, I was dealing with a flashback. It will definitely happen again.
Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on what I think people’s expectations of me are. That comes from a lifetime of society devaluing the accomplishments of people like me. I’m left feeling like I’m not allowed to not participate, contribute, prove my worth somehow. But I can’t, at least nowhere near consistently; and there’s no easy way to explain that. There’s no easy way to tell people that in so many ways I am still a fall risk.
My ability to function varies. My definition of function varies wildly. I am far from reliable currently, and I’m not sure that’s going to change soon. I’m not sure how much I actually want it to.
I’m writing this from a room I rarely leave, surrounded by comfort objects, anxiety aids and stim toys, most of which show their use plainly. This is my safe space. I’ve healed here. I’ve let myself hurt here.
The thought of venturing too far or too long outside this space is honestly a little terrifying, and would be global pandemic or no. That might change some day. I think I probably need it too. There are things I miss about the world, people I’ve been too long without. Not to mention I miss creating trouble away from my keyboard. But for now I’m still a fall risk, and the world doesn’t know how to catch me.