You’ve seen the Hollywood propaganda a dozen times. The intrepid hero is caught by the bad guys, tied and stripped, revealing a knotted chest and bulging biceps. He remains defiant, but then the sadistic torturer arrives, eyes gleaming with cruel delight. The camera cuts, but we hear sickening thuds, blood-curdling screams, and the brutal grind of metal against metal.
Yet the hero remains true, and he dies nobly without betraying his comrades.
I call bullshit. Amnesty International has been telling us it is so for a generation, and now I know it firsthand.
The Opening Salvo
This blog has been quiet seven weeks, but not because I was kidnapped or tortured. I’ve been silent because I fell ill.
That sentence feels so impotent. It’s like suggesting that Everest is just a big hill.
It began harmlessly enough on a Wednesday night with a difficult migraine that robbed me of sleep. I’ve had hundreds that bad in the last decade. I popped an Imitrex and waited for the sweet trickle of relief. It didn’t come, and I grew a little panicky. I called in sick to work, something I never do, popped a second Imitrex and crawled into bed. It still didn’t work, and now the pain crested my threshold, a full ten out of ten.
I’ve endured more than 6,000 migraines over the last 19 years, but now I found myself in an undiscovered country. Not to find a even a modicum of relief after swallowing two Imitrex was, in my experience, unprecedented. I thought the obvious, that my pituitary adenoma had ruptured, and my life might be in danger. But some part of me didn’t want to wallow in drama. Instead of calling an ambulance, I drove Kristina to work, and headed for emergency.
The Record is Hazy
The recounting that follows may be inaccurate. If so, Kristina can correct the record in the comments, if she chooses. I don’t really know how it all played out.
At emerg, I was admitted within minutes, hooked to an IV line, and injected with yet another migraine drug and an antihistamine. I was placed in a cubical with an old woman who had had a stroke. I had a CT scan and returned to my cell.
Time stopped. I was there for barely a few hours, but it felt like a week. I learned quickly that half a day of intolerable pain had stripped my humanity from me. That poor old lady was facing a life-altering illness, but all I wanted for was her and her husband to shut the fuck up.
I am so ashamed.
The CT scan was negative. My doctor — I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up today — wanted to dope me up, but since that generally doesn’t help, and we’re amongst the working poor, I refused. I couldn’t pay for a $40 cab ride. In one of my life’s stupidest decisions, I drove home.
I know Kristina called, but I couldn’t find the phone, even though it was on the bed beside me. The hospital had told her that I left against my doctor’s wishes, and she was scared shitless. She called my sister, and I finally answered and let them know I was alive.
Kristina tried to make me drink that night, but I was nauseated. I threw up the few morsels of food I forced down. I apparently refused to cooperate with her in any way; she said that I was my difficult mother reborn. I do remember her words, but I simply couldn’t act. As with the old woman at the ER, I wished she would just be silent.
And then muscle spasms, perhaps from dehydration. Neck, back, shoulders, arms, feet. Wrenching me. Pulling me from myself. Every movement brought excruciating pain, and I screamed throughout the night.
I don’t remember sleeping. I believe that I lived a month in that one day.
On Friday, the hallucinations started. I would close my eyes, and colors and images would fly through my mind at warp speed. Most were geometric and pleasant enough, but a few frightened. All were exhausting. When I snapped awake, I’d ask Kristina how long I’d been out, only to learn that my hour had been 30 seconds.
We don’t have sick leave, so she had to work. We need her pay cheque. My sister Lorraine arrived from Hubbards, arranged to get a prescription of (marijuana-based) Sativex from my doctor, and my brother-in-law Don went to fetch it. I wiped away tears waiting for him. He was gone for weeks.
When he arrived, he explained that the pharmacist said I should take single dose and, if it didn’t help, I could take another in a few hours. But I had used it before. I unwrapped the bottle and pumped three burning sprays under my tongue. After they left the room, I took two more. Maybe, just maybe, the pain was dialed back a fraction. I tried to rally my courage.
The Slow Return
The following week was a blur. I’ll hit a few lowlights. I know that I was moved to my sister’s house while Kristina and my family members worked on an important fundraiser, and I hated both of them for the pain they caused me. Yet some tiny part realized I had to ease my girl’s anxiety. While there, I imagined social-media friends would worried about my silence, but I couldn’t log on because I couldn’t see the letters on the screen. I went back to see my endocrinologist in the hospital, but I did so in a fucking wheelchair.
Eventually, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, the pain softened to a nine. Weary beyond belief, the joints in my spine now seemingly fused, I kept my 90-year-old self company. I apologized to Kristina, read status updates on FB with great difficulty, and thought that maybe I would live.
I missed the benefit to raise money for my sister’s cancer treatment on Thursday. It was a huge success.
The migraines slowly became less painful, back to my usual 7s and 8s, and the spasms occurred less frequently. I discovered that the world had gotten along fine without me.
But my recovery was not smooth. I’ve been exhausted since, not to mention shaky and off-balance. On two separate occasions, I lost touch with reality, believing myself to be trapped in a different world where the laws of physics no longer applied. Panic rose like bile, and only years of martial arts discipline brought me to a stark meditative state which allowed me to sleep. When I woke, the psychosis had gone, but the fear of its return lingered.
But now I know the truth. I can take a punch better than anyone, but now I can imagine myself tortured by some brutal regime, and I know that I would cave within a week. I would sell out my comrades and betray my country. Anything to make it stop. If I were innocent, then I would proffer the most convincing lie my mind could conjure.
So imagine what humanity does to prisoners of conscience. Imagine the thousands tortured under the One Percent Doctrine. Imagine what Omar Khadr and Maher Arar endured despite their innocence. Explain to me why business always trumps human rights, or why Dick Fucking Cheney hasn’t been tried at the Hague for war crimes.
Torture is inhumane, and evil, and barbaric.
I have always supported the work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and have sent Amnesty money as often I can afford. This experience has convinced me I need to do more, and that you need to join me.
Together, we are mighty. It will always be better to light a candle than curse the darkness.