Last night I relived one of the worst experiences of my life. And the cause had absolutely zero correlation with the memory. Fair warning to readers, this post will be emotional, painful, possibly triggering, and explicit. Read at your own risk.
At about 8pm I was changing into my comfy clothes after a long day of bring poked and prodded by doctors. I began my day with 26 shots of Botox to my head for my migraines and the doctors’ appointments all progressed from there. Needless to say, I was exhausted and was looking forward to pjs and Netflix. Ad I lifted my shirt off I felt a burning sensation over my port and looked down to notice a red splotch of inflammation the size of my palm over my port. Like any diligent #spoonie, I immediately called my home health nurse who told me that my port was likely infected and I needed to go immediately to the closest ER.
I followed her orders and promptly hot in my car for the five minute drive to my small town’s local hospital. This was my first time going to the ER completely alone and it’s a decision that I deeply regret. My parents were an hour and a half away and had work in the morning so I didn’t want to disrupt their functioning by having them come all the way down for what I thought would be a quick in and out visit for iv antibiotics. All of my friends from school were either gone or off with their significant others because it’s fall break here. I was alone, but I thought I could handle that.
Now if you’ve stuck with me through that lengthy introduction I hope you can get a feeling for the atmosphere of last night. I promise this has a point.
So I arrived at the hospital around 8:20pm and was sent back to a room rather quickly. The doctor observed my port and determined that I appeared to have a case of cellulitis so it was the tissue around my port that was infected and hopefully we had caught it before it reached my port itself. He instructed the nurse to give me an iv of vancomycin, an antibiotic I’d never received before, and then he left the room. About 15 minutes after the iv was started my entire upper body became unbearably itchy, and I began to have muscle spasms. This is called Red Man Syndrome and is apparently a common reaction to this drug. My muscle spasms, however, were not usual of this reaction as mine were in my vagina and urethra. This was the worst pain of my life, and I’ve dealt with severe chronic pain my whole life so trust me this is no exaggeration.
As the pain intensified I searched desperately for the nurse call button and pressed it over and over and over; I needed help but I didn’t get know how badly. Several minutes passed without response from any hospital staff, and the pain only intensified. As I lay there sobbing and crying for help the flashbacks began. The pain from the Red Man Syndrome triggered my PTSD.
I haven’t written much about this because I still struggle with it to this day, but I have been raped several times by four people since I was 14. This sounds astounding, but unfortunately this is the reality of many women in our world. And I suffer from the lasting effects through flashbacks. Normally they come in my nightmares or in instances that mirror the circumstance of any particular attack. This time I was awake, the pain mimicked the feeling of the broken beer bottle my assailant had thrust into me over and over as I laid sobbing and helpless, a 14 year old alone and petrified. Last night I was that girl again, according to the call button record I had been in that flashback a little over 45 minutes when the nurse finally came in and found me hyperventilating, covered in snot and tears locking my thighs together with all my strength. It took a little while for her to calm me down, and to explain she didn’t understand the first time I told her what my pain felt like. It didn’t resonate until I blurted out at her “this hurts as much as when I was raped”. This phrase now haunts me, I had never trusted a stranger with this information before. Eventually she got me calmed back down and back to reality through a combination of drugs and talking. But the memory still lingered with the pain. When I called my mother this morning to let her know how it went in the ER last night I shared with her my experience, something that hurt me to my core because I never wanted my mother to know what I’ve lived through, but I needed her understanding to help me through my shame from last night.
I now think back to yesterday morning, sitting in the waiting room before my neurologist appointment and typing “#metoo” onto my Facebook page. I thought little of the action, other than that maybe I could bring to light the number of survivors of sexual assault and harassment that exist in our social media circles. I had no idea how poignant it would become so much later in the day. I had a full on flashback to being raped and became hysterical in front of a perfect stranger, and she didn’t bat an eye. This begs the question, have we become so desensitized to survivors that we think this is normal? How have we allowed this to become part of our culture? Why does this happen? Why is the shame of our experience placed on the victims? And most importantly, what are WE going to do about it?
So yes, #MeToo, but that’s not where my advocacy will end. My story goes further than a hashtag, as do the stories of my fellow survivors regardless of sex or gender orientation/status. This is a fight for a more civil world. So please join this change, call out assailants no matter how “small” an attack may seem. Check your own behaviors, because harassment isn’t always a catcall or a grope. And lastly, listen. Listen to the stories of survivors. Listen to the stories of observers. Listen to the voices of change. Validate the experiences of your peers. And if you can stomach it, listen to those who have done wrong and wish to change, because that is where we will truly win.