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Christen N. Sowards

Story Time: 8 years ago today I found out I was dying.

A misdiagnosis had caused an impacted ventral hernia to go unnoticed. The pain and discomfort were been explained away by the incorrect diagnosis. I was told it was my normal now and I had to live that way. For nearly three years I did. No one knew the danger. I was big, strong, and capable. I made people feel safe.

Most days I was fine.

I survived.

Sometimes the area became less constricted. It would occasionally get a trickle of fresh blood. My body would fight. Necrotic tissue and septic fluid would enter the rest of my body. I would have 101+ degree fevers appear out of nowhere. I'd win the fight in a day or two, and things would return to normal. I usually thought I had food poisoning. Nothing visible to anyone else was apparent. A small problem. Cost of living.

Most days I was fine.

I survived.

Eventually, we figured out it was a small hernia. Attempts were made to fix it. It was a "small one". Easy fix. They fixed it. Easy! Except… they didn’t. I kept getting sick randomly. More frequently. The fix tore back open a couple years later. Oddly, this made things better for a bit. Oh, there was pain and discomfort. Circulation improved. But the wound was bigger. And its cycle of constraint become nastier.

But most days I was fine.

I survived.

Eventually I had another fever. A bad one. The doctors wanted to get a scan of me. After the scan, the faces were serious. The concern was quiet. The awkward quiet where no one knows what to say. They took a look at me with a big thwumping machine of cold metal. I don’t have a problem with confinement usually. I don’t have an issue with tight spaces. I did. Suddenly. I wanted to panic. I knew I was being looked at in a way that was too close. They were going to see something bad. I wouldn’t be able to deny it anymore.

I didn’t want surgery.

I wanted to be fine, like most days.

There was a cloud on the image where the constriction inside had been happening. A fuzzy haze in the pictures. There were silences. The kind where someone goes in another room and gets another person. Where words become sparse calculations. Where they are leaving you in machines in lonely rooms as they analyze. As they make sure.

“You are dying. Inside. Slowly.”

“If we don’t deal with this in a couple days, It will kill you.”

I think I chuckled. I mean, that couldn’t be right. I had been suffering with this stuff for years. It wasn’t so bad. Just flare ups here and there. A fever and a night or two of sickness. Yeah, maybe I thought I was dying then. But even there in the cold thwumping tube-machine, I felt fine. Mostly. Scared? Sure… but dying. Me? By a corruption from within? No! That wasn’t… it wasn’t. But I was.

They insisted: die in a few days or surgery and I would be fine.

I could stop dying.

So I went. I trusted that those who could see were seeing right. I stripped down to nothing. I lay down. I was lifted by strange hands. My skin shot through with the chill of cold metal beneath me. The instruments and tubes made me feel unsafe. But I trusted that things could be better, and I empowered those who could heal me to do it. I surrendered to the waves of drugs claiming my senses.

They tore and cut me, enough that I woke up.

The room was full of it.


Death from inside me. A corruption and sickness that was so potent I was later told it nearly choked my saviors. Gagged them and burned their eyes. So much unseen poison and damage. Pounds of it. For years I carried that burden. I acted okay. I acted normal. Others accepted the situation, because well, that was easy. I wore okay. They saw okay. It was okay. I was safe and made others feel that way. And it was easier. For everyone.

But… I was dying inside filled with so much poison it choked others.

And when I woke … when I let it get taken… I wasn’t.

For the first time in years. I wasn’t carrying that toxin and pain. I wasn’t full of death. Oh I hurt in new ways but they were healing ways. And to describe the feeling of dying… receding. We don’t have great words for it. It was instantaneously evident. A little less weight on my chest. More restful sleep. A thousand, thousand little ways things felt lighter. Cleaner. Better.

And the death inside me was gone.

And most days I am fine.

But right now, I am not fine. Because the body of US—It is full of death. Poisons of bigotry, profiteering, and disregard. Seeping necrotic fluids of entitlement and separation. Our colors are fading and our potential is stained by shortsightedness, self-deception, and corruption. We want to be seen as strong and safe but we are so full of poison. The divisions we make to protect ourselves are just letting it grow.

I know dying this way.

I lived it most days for years.

We need to be vulnerable. To get naked on the cold tables of introspection and accountability. Let our systems be seen by fresh eyes with concerned looks. To feel the cold tubes of new, pure air enter our beings to sustain us when we can’t breathe. We need to let the ideas flow and the experiences share. We need the blood of our kind—ALL OF OUR KIND—to reach the places that need to heal. Because we are slowly dying.

Trust me I know the feeling well.

We need to cut the death inside us out.

So that most days, we all survive.



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